#liberated Takes On The Internet

Photo by Jefferson White

Photo by Jefferson White

#liberated, a play created by The Living Room and conceived and scripted by Lillian Meredith which runs at IRT Theatre through June 19th, employs two play structures simultanously with intriguing results.  On the one hand, it’s a morality play, in which a group of women (played with collective verve by Lillian Meredith, Tamara Del Rosso, Zoë Sophia Garcia, Gabby Sherba, and Madison Welterlen) gather to socialize and empathize with each other via a feminist club called WIPE.  They do Zumba together and drink wine with equal enthusiasm.  Into the mix comes a newcomer (Marianna, played by Taylor Shurte), who temporarily unsettles the collective and also seems to not really get it at first.  When the conversation turns to what pornography they watch, she demurs, saying “I don’t.”  Yet when that conversation grows and takes on dimension (encouraged by the statistic that 25% of Pornhub users are women and yet there is very little pornography made that isn’t male-oriented), she’s the one to suggest that they reconfigure the formula and make porn for themselves, starring themselves.  

And so, they do.  Roughly the first half of the show dedicates itself to this premise, playing out each of the women’s personal porn fantasies as the others capture it on film it so as to watch them all at the end of the project.  Ranging from an orgasmic birth to being penetrated with a cucumber (with a condom on it, though) at a farm stand while serving the bourgouis their farm shares, these porn fantasy enactments are both playful and campy but never quite dangerous – the performance is carefully (even defiantly, one might argue, given the content) positioned to about a PG13 level depiction of sexuality, which feels like the safer and more comfortable directorial choice to make under the circumstance (the intelligent co-directors are Rachel Karp and Jaki Bradley), but also perhaps doesn’t fully position its audience for a hard turn into the more ‘real’ world that lurks dramaturgically beyond.

It’s also Marianna who refuses to revert back to drinking wine and doing Zumba after the feminist porn project has reached its seeming conclusion.  “I think we should post it online,” she declares.  Despite the initial reaction against the idea (“That’s very public…”), they agree to post so that other women may be potentially inspired and join in the movement, or at least take pleasure in what they’ve made.  And so, they do, making a pact that they will ignore – to the best of their abilities – the trolling and deregatory comments that will inevitably follow.  

Which – spoiler alert I suppose – they don’t.  The video goes viral, and the online trolling antagonizes them to the extent that they begin to make retalition videos mocking that which the trolls suggest they do.  For example, “these bitches r crazy – were r the cum shots” becomes a squirt gun video with the women on their knees getting sprayed in the face with liquid.  As the comments escalate, so do the “inspiration videos,” and eventually the women piss off the wrong anonymous young angry hacker (male, one would generally assume), who breaks into their computers and publically reveals their addresses, social security numbers, the works.  This, in terms of drama, rachets up the stakes considerably and allows for brief but well-rendered argument as the women temporarily take sides against each other. (“This was your idea,” “I never said we should -” etc.)  The essense of the morality play ends here, in a state of defeat at the hands of the internet, filled with aggressive anonymous vitrolic male hatred, indefatigable.  The women have positioned themselves as individuals (and sexual feminist individuals at that) in the murky unregulated swamp of the worldwide web, and they have (the morality play version might assert) paid the price.  The fact that this price is – in moral terms – ridiculous and terroristic leads us to the other play structure that has been living secretly within, the call-to-action political drama.  

The last few scenes leave the rest of the play behind and set up (as the title indicates) a new vision of liberation, aggresive and apocolyptic, feminist and furious.  As fun-filled as the majority of dramatic content has been up to this point, the tension of the play doesn’t really kick in until these moments, in which there is an actual enemy (the internet, namely the male-controlled internet) and an army which is prepared to go into battle against said enemy.

Plays with narratives that function in as straight-forward a fashion as #liberated’s does tend to open themselves up to plausibility issues (why, I don’t know – we’ve been told too many stories at this point, I suspect, and so we pull apart the ones that don’t seem “believable,” whatever that word might imply within the context of something that’s explicitly pretend in the first place, i.e., theater), and I sometimes found myself trying to shut out the voice in my head that annoyingly questioned whether a self-made-and-published amateur feminist porn by six women in Brooklyn would really create such a viral stir and outcry, replete with across-the-board news coverage.  After all, it isn’t like there isn’t already feminist porn targeted at and made by women – quite a lot of it, actually, if you go looking.  The believability issue is somehow compounded by the theatrical fun and abstration of the porn itself as rendered onstage – it’s hard to deal with the idea that something as charming and whimsical as what we’ve been shown could evoke such a viral and repulsive response.  But while one interior dramaturgical voice complains, another reminds you that yes, this is the world we live in, and the comments section will always be filled with monsters that deserve slaying, and that whether or not this particular scenario seems fully plausible is entirely beside the larger point, which is that if you want to change the way our culture looks at female sexuality, you better start where the majority of those depictions are housed and duplicated and traded and compounded.

#liberated leaves us with the internet as our newest battle ground. Skirmishes are already being waged on social media pages across the country, comment by comment.  Escalation into an all-out war for control over online representation seems only a matter of time.

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