My New Theater-Going Technique is Unstoppable!

I will explain the above-mentioned phrase in the rest of this post. But before I get to that, let me just say that I saw Roaring Girle on Sunday and I enjoyed it. It was great see a show of this size and scope that actually tries to break new ground. The production cost/artistic risk ratio is not very encouraging these days. The few times this past year that Culturebot has ventured above 14th Street we have sat through a tepid homage to Chekhov, a tepid homage to Ibsen, a tepid homage to Shepard and several misbegotten riffs on other playwrights in the canon. (And by homage I mean they took Chekhov/Ibsen, et al, changed the names and locations and a few minor plot points and called it “new”.)

Now, Culturebot doesn’t want to get snarky and we are working on getting out of the reviews business to bring you more of a “behind-the-scenes” look at downtown theater. In the meantime, though, let me tell you why you should go see Roaring Girle.

Okay. Now. The main reason I titled this post My New Theater-Going Technique is Unstoppable! is because I had a really hard time getting to see this show. But you cannot stop Culturebot!! Culturebot will not be denied!! We actually wanted to do an interview with the creators of the show, but it didn’t happen. Oh well.

(The phrase is also a reference to the “Get Your War On” guy who has a website at My New Fighting Technique Is Unstoppable.)

I will admit that this show is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s the sort of theater that you have to work for. But I think that it’s worth the work.

What Alice Tuan and Melanie Joseph have done is create a fanciful and anarchic postmodern landscape that borrows freely from all eras. This production delights in unexpected juxtaposition, whether it is in the costumes, in the sets, in the acting, choreography or language. Elizabethan-inspired costumes are worn with sneakers, pleather and studs; Middleton/Dekker’s original script is sampled and spliced, interpolated with Tuan’s verse and modern idiom; a bodega awning reads “Speakers Corner”; actors declaim in verse and then in valley-girl speak.

In a sense, this production of Roaring Girle takes the original play and informs it with a certain television-inspired logic. While the language is dense, it switches from poetic to pedestrian on a dime, as if changing the channel from PBS to MTV. The plot (plots!) is convoluted and unfolds in short scenes, like Shakespeare, but also like a sitcom. The acting styles range from stentorian to hip-hop to high camp – and it is in this juxtaposition of fragments, the rapidity of the changes, that we find meaning.

There is plenty of overt political sentiment expressed in the play. Tuan and Joseph take on pretty much every major issue: gender & queer studies, the corruption of modern politics and the military-corporate-government-industrial complex, homelessness & poverty, labor relations, the contradictions of liberalism, even gay marriage (if somewhat obliquely). But ultimately the specific politics of the play is expressed in the presentational aesthetic.

The hero of the play is Moll Cutpurse. She is what we have come to call a Gender Warrior. She is transgressive in that she defies gender expectations and predetermined boundaries of sexual orientation. She espouses a certain rhetoric of freedom and love, yet is also a Machiavellian entrepreneur. She is a mass of contradictions in every way. The most signicant plot line in which she is engaged is the making of an illegal play (theater has been banned in this fictional kindgom) in which there is a false marriage that is actually a real marriage that pretends to be a fake marriage that is a real marriage. (I think.)

Thus Moll’s actions coincide with her physical presence to call into question all of our assumptions about reality. They call us to imagine a brave new world where the ideological and psychological guide posts on which we’ve relied have been removed.

It’s interesting because in Shakespeare’s Tempest (first produced in or around 1611, as was the original Roaring Girle), the character Miranda says the famous line, “”O brave new world that has such people in’t” and I’ve been told that this line, more than any other, encapsulates the spirit of the Elizabethan era. It was a time when the language was young and the physical world was being explored. It was an incredibly fertile and creative time.

On some level, Tuan’s use of language and Joseph’s staging are drawing on that same sense of adventurousness. While the world of the play begins as one of oppression, Moll Cutpurse’s machinations lead to liberation.

There’s a lot more I could say about the play, but it’s late and Culturebot has a day job. Hey, if we were a big money operation maybe I could get a copy of the script and an underling to transcribe and edit my thoughts. But we’re not and I don’t so I’ll make it short.

The acting is strong all around – some of downtown’s finest performers are onstage together giving good performances. The sets and the costumes are inspired and clever, I even liked the sound design. Overall I think the show succeeds and is worth seeing. But even though it’s being presented in a very mainstream way, I think it is important to approach it as experimental theater.

A brief, possibly pointless, side note. Last year I was watching Paul Zaloom’s show Might Nice and someone asked me if there was anything objectionable in it. I said no. After the show they found me and said, “What do you mean there was nothing objectionable in it! He had gay puppets that fucked each other and committed murder by dildo!! And that was the clean part!!”

I realized that sometimes, when you see a lot of challenging, nontraditional work, it is easy to assume that everyone else does too. But that’s not always the case.

And that’s why I say it is important to remember that (at least in my mind) Roaring Girle is experimental theater. They are doing things with language and presentation that you won’t see elsewhere. They’re not re-hashing the tried and true, they’re genuinely striving to make something new. And that is really important.

That being said, $35 is kind of steep. The production values of the show are really high, so the ticket price is understandable, but unfortunately most of Culturebot’s pals don’t have that kind of moolah to lay down. So when you go to see it, go to the Roaring Girle website first and look for the discount code, and then buy your ticket at Smarttix.


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