Sunday February 8th was the opening night of The Civilians’ The Ladies, presented in partnership with Dixon Place, Chashama and Cherry Lane Theatre. I attended the first preview of this show on Friday, February 6th, along with many members of the Civilians, Mac Wellman, and Maria Irene Fornes.
The Ladies explores the lives of 4 wives of past dictators: Elena Ceausescu, Imelda Marcos, Eva Peron and Madame Mao. In a self deprecating, dry fashion, writer Anne Washburn and director Anne Kauffman have put themselves onstage as well — ok, actors playing them onstage. The stage Annes are interspersed into the play, piecing together the concepts for the production we are watching over coffee dates. This almost two hour one-act bounces between light and funny, dark and serious; succeeding in this flip of tones most of the time. The weak transitions felt too much like spoonfuls of saccharine used in order to smooth over rough spots.
Ok, I admit it, my knowledge of these first ladies was limited before entering the theater (sure I saw a touring version of Evita back in the day), but upon leaving, it was still fairly limited. And I just have to bring up my disappointment in the fact that my only pre-existing factoid of knowledge about Imelda Marcos was never talked about that the lady has more shoes than God. Yes, I left Chashama with solid images of each of these powerful ladies in my mind, with a sense of the lives they led (one exception, the Annes openly admit they have little information on Elena), but not more than a sense.
Even so, theres something very attractive about the relaxed atmosphere on stage. Anne Kauffman has created a friendly alienation for the audience; the actors know they are acting, we know they know, we are all in on this exploration together. And as a result, the exploration is not about encyclopedia knowledge, but about being a woman with second-hand super-power, and what affect that power has.
Jennifer R. Morris plays Anne Kauffman and Jennifer Dundas plays Anne Washburn (Jennifer Jennifer, Anne Anne weird). Nina Hellman, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Maria Striar and Alison Weller play the ladies as well as ensemble roles. All six create a strong, super cast. Performances are Thursday — Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm, ending on Leap day. Tickets are $15 or $12 in advance, visit www.dixonplace.org or call 212 219 0736.