Company One Theatre’s ‘Revolt. She said. Revolt again.’ delivers a strong feminist message
Warning to Donald Trump: A young British playwright named Alice Birch is taking a wrecking ball to the sexist assumptions that prop up your antiquated worldview. You would most definitely consider her “such a nasty woman.’’
This dismal Trumpian moment — with tens of millions of Americans prepared to vote for a man who sees women as “a collection of sex toys,’’ in the immortal words of Samantha Bee — is the perfect time for a production of Birch’s “Revolt. She said. Revolt again.’’
Not that there is ever a bad time for a work this original, trenchant, and scorching.
Now receiving its New England premiere at Company One Theatre under the razor-sharp direction of Summer L. Williams, the one-act “Revolt. She said. Revolt again.’’ delivers a series of in-your-face sketches in which women rebel against the roles they are expected to play.
Deceptively playful, then suddenly intense, the sketches possess an absurdist flavor that does not diminish in the least their gut-punch immediacy, especially as performed by Company One’s superbly versatile cast of four, which includes Christa Brown, Ally Dawson, Jeff Marcus, and the always-fearless Becca A. Lewis.
Director Williams is pretty fearless herself. A cofounder of Company One who was recently named associate artistic director, Williams has an oft-demonstrated gift for connecting with the intricate wavelengths of the most challenging writers, from Robert O’Hara (“Bootycandy’’) to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (“An Octoroon’’) to Jackie Sibblies Drury (“We Are Proud to Present. . .”).
Similarly, the director adroitly negotiates the tonal shifts, from funny to furious to melancholy, of “Revolt.’’ She is in tune with the playwright’s cryptic style. Birch, whose work shows traces of Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane, emphasizes in a script note that “this play should not be well behaved,’’ and Williams ensures that it’s not. Her staging generates a sense of barely controlled chaos while ensuring that Birch’s powerful feminist message is not lost amid the pandemonium. The play unsettles the audience further by periodically blurring the lines between characters and the actors playing them.
Birch is something of a codebreaker. Intent on revealing the anatomy of the power structures that shape gender roles, she sets out to deconstruct language from the start of “Revolt.’’ It opens with a hilarious but pointed vignette involving a woman who turns the tables, linguistically and otherwise, on a man who wants to have sex with her, throwing him into a state of utter confusion. The words “Revolutionize the Language (Invert It)’’ are projected in white letters on a wall, one of numerous slogans that will appear throughout the play on Brynna Bloomfield’s deliberately spartan set, which seems like a playground one moment and a battleground the next.
Next comes a sketch in which a woman translates her boyfriend’s marriage proposal by ticking off all the cultural assumptions that are left unspoken in that proposal. Though this is the most predictable sequence in an unpredictable evening, it does force the audience to ponder what marriage really means. That is followed by a surreal workplace episode featuring a woman who insists on taking Mondays off from work, resisting the increasingly intrusive questions and desperate blandishments of her supervisors (“Do you want to be paid as much as the boys?’’).
From that point on, “Revolt.’’ ventures into darker territory, ranging across questions of body-shaming, rape, the damaging effects of contemporary pornography on perceptions of sex, the identity-warping legacy left behind in one multigenerational family by a brutal patriarch, the commodification of dissent — and some ways to resist it.
In the dizzying penultimate scene, defiance surges to the forefront as a swirling cacophony of voices culminates in a kind of call to action: “There is a point at which the thought is not enough.’’
As we near the end of a presidential campaign that has been revolting in so very many ways, “Revolt.’’ somehow feels like a fitting exclamation point.
REVOLT. SHE SAID. REVOLT AGAIN.
Play by Alice Birch
Directed by Summer L. Williams
Presented by Company One Theatre at Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts. Through Nov. 19. Tickets $25-$38, 617-933-8600, www.companyone.org