By Mitchell Buckley; Directed by Nicky Maggio
Part of the 2015 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 8.28.15
VENUE #15: Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St
by Jeremy Stoller on 8.18.15
Jordan Skinner as Avery. Photo by Julia Hardley.
BOTTOM LINE: Woman or not, God oversees a very messy humankind in this hardworking new play.
Avery (Jordan Skinner) has struggled throughout his life to hold onto anything of value. He seeks release for his feelings of outrage and disappointment at the personal and cultural injustices he's experienced (and he seems to take quite personally even those which haven't been doled out to him). His search makes up the bulk of this ambitious and sometimes perplexing play.
As a teenager, Avery's impulse to channel his feelings into creative acts is stamped out by a physically and emotionally scarring punishment from his father. From here on out, Avery's responses to injustice grow increasingly destructive. Years later, Avery finds himself jobless and without any meaningful relationships; he is in the middle of some minor vandalism when he sees the vision of an ethereal presence calling herself the Ghost of the Holocaust (and who is later suggested to be one of its most recognizable victims). He falls in love with her, and allows her calls for retribution to inspire him to acts of growing desperation. But it's his final endeavor of the play—a simple but misguided attempt at personal connection with another living being—that incites the strongest response.
The minimal set is made up largely of cages, which are filled at the top of the show with actors in animal suits who are released to play a life-and-death stakes game of musical chairs. The animals return later in the middle of Avery's tour of civil disobedience for a political debate that morphs into a familial argument.
The lines between reality, fantasy, and psychosis are blurred, even past the point of complete coherence. There are fascinating ideas here that are brought up but not fully drawn out; there is an abundance of theatrical conceits and images, dense monologues, and weighty ideas. The story might have registered more fully with a streamlined narrative that further explored a selection of these.
The titular conceit of a god who behaves like a conceited CEO unconcerned with quality of life for her employees or consumer base, and who has taken over the immortals on Mount Olympus, is explored in a rather cursory way. Buckley has imagined a particular cosmic framework that would be even bolder if we better understood its inner workings.
God is a Woman's cast is game for the play's challenges, and led by director Nicky Maggio, they bring emotional clarity to the piece. Skinner skillfully navigates the decades-spanning timeframe and volatile shifts in Avery's emotions, and Alexandra Allwine is particularly effective as a burn victim whose life has made her both cautiously vulnerable and a fierce survivor.
The cages remain empty for most of the play, but it's unclear that release is possible for Avery, in either life or death. Unable to reignite the spark of constructive impulse, he remains held down by a host of forces, both those of his own making and those outside his control.
(God is a Woman plays at VENUE #15: Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios, 440 Lafayette St, through August 28, 2015. Performances are Sat 8/15 at 2; Tue 8/18 at 7; Fri 8/21 at 3:45; Wed 8/26 at 2; and Fri 8/28 at 9:30. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit godisawomantheplay.net.)