Monday, April 2, 2018

Review of Organic Theater Company's Why Do You Always Wear Black?

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Why Do You Always Wear Black? It was based on the works of Anton Chekhov and it was devised by the ensemble and directed by Anna Gelman. It was a feminist exploration of female characters in Chekhov. Most of Chekhov's female characters conform to certain types, only some of them go crazy and some of them don't. Some of them are lovestruck throughout the entire play (Ariana Silvan-Grau), which reminded me of Sonya in Uncle Vanya. Some of them are trying to take care of everyone and are hard working (Taylor Wisham), like Varya in The Cherry Orchard or Olga in Three Sisters. There's the romantically depressed one (Kat Christensen), like Irina in Three Sisters or Masha in The Seagull. And the one who wants to escape and doesn't seem to care a lot anymore (Nyssa Lowenstein), who reminded me of Nina in The Seagull. I think going to the theater in Russia in the late 19th-century must have been like watching reality tv. People are depressed, want to get out of wherever they are, want to be in different relationships, have terrible mothers, and are always fighting. I think this is a funny but surprisingly moving show that used a lot of Chekhov's techniques to make me care about the characters even though the play is sort of making fun of them.

They had these crackers that they ate in multiple scenes during the show. They were very messy and provoked so many responses in the characters. Sometimes people were stress eating them, sometimes people would be bonding over them, sometimes it provokes a truce. But it is always messy, which I think was meant to show us the hardships of relationships, but that messy things can make people closer. My favorite cracker moment was probably when Silvan-Grau and Lowenstein were mad at each other, clearly, and they were seated next to each other on the floor. They just started having a silent competition of who was going to eat the most crackers, trying to get the ones the other was reaching for. Then eventually they both just started laughing and seem to have made up. It just seemed so real and so true, I guess: sitting down and fighting and then realizing how stupid you're being. It was such a beautiful moment for some reason, to see two people look at each other with a mouthful of crackers and realize what they are doing and how ridiculous it is. You care a lot about the relationships, even though they aren't always explicitly identified, because the actors are committed to the relationship in the moment. And when the relationships shift, they are committed to the new relationship.

I thought there was a very interesting use of movement. In the first scene they all ran in one at a time. The first person would look around. Then they would move on to the next motion as the next person came in and looked around. That went on with every single person. And as the movement continued, they started to get faster and more frantic. It was almost funny how angry everyone was getting at each other for sitting in the wrong place. In Chekhov there's not usually that much running around, but in the silence and the sitting around there is so much reckless emotion. The franticness of this scene showcased the reckless emotion that is in every Chekhov play. I think they chose the movement wisely; it wasn't like the movement in a Chekhov play, but it showed what Chekhov is trying to do with silence and language and makes it physical.

Men are hardly ever physically present in this show, but they have a lot of impact on the women's lives like they do in every Chekhov play. There's a monologue where Lowenstein was talking about how Russian women are given their father's name but with a feminine ending. And she wants to be her own person, and she knows she can be more of her own person if she doesn't have her father's name. But the only way to do that is to get married, but then she is still going to have a man's name with a feminized ending. It is sad that there is no way for her to escape a man owning her. And men are sort of looming over all women who have their husband's or their father's name. I think it was a really powerful speech that you would remember throughout the show whenever they would talk about men. Throughout the play there is a suit coat on the chair that Christensen keeps putting her arm in and wrapping it around her, so it looks like a man is holding her. She always seems to try and take comfort in it, but it never seems to actually help. I thought that was a cool visual metaphor they used.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful movement, analyzing Chekhov, and cracker contests. I think that people should go see this show. It is powerful because it removes the female characters from the context of the plays to show how much their decision are governed by male actions. But it also showcases the relationships between women in a genuine-feeling way. I really really liked it.

Photos: Anna Gelman

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