Red, fleshy chunks of watermelon skid off the stage into the faces of the audience.
Juice and pulp are scattered in a bloody mess from the back of the stage to the front.
All the while, the characters continue to invert language, destabilize scaffolds of sexuality, and destroy every piece of goddamn fruit in sight.
From March 7 to 9, Barnard Theatre performed “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” in the Minor Latham Playhouse. The play, written by Alice Birch, is strongly experimental, lacing together various vignettes and scenarios that deconstruct and challenge masculo-centric norms of society.
While the show was only an hour long, Director Colette Robert ensured it packed a punch, bringing together a high-caliber class of actors and entertaining the audience with maximum theatrical effects—even perhaps to distraction.
The opening vignette depicts a man and a woman, played by Diego Lomeli, CC ’21, and Nell Bailey BC ’19, coaxing each other with language closer and closer to sex. Yet, at every forceful verb and disrespectful piece of phraseology the man uses, the woman stops the advancement to correct his language.
Bailey and Lomeli were brilliant in capturing the essence of Birch’s linguistic analysis in this scene. When Lomeli would retract his patriarchal assertions, a childlike realization would creep into his expression, creating both a man who for a split second understood the implications of his forceful language and a child still naive enough to make the same mistake again.
In symbiosis, Bailey drew all power to her own character, micromanaging Lomeli’s language and commandeering him with her body. When the couple took to intense dry-humping, Bailey pressed Lomeli down on the table, at one point ramming her foot down on his chest.
To conclude the vignette, the intertwined couple stood upright center stage, and Bailey, with her legs wrapped around the torso of Lomeli, impressively arched her back, head nearing the stage floor, to form a v-shape on the body of Lomeli.
The vignette paved the way for the shape of the show: a sharp critique of patriarchal norms with an intensity splitting at the seams.
The watermelon fight, occurring near the end of the production, erupted nonchalantly from a level-toned conversation that saw Lomeli pick up an entire fruit, only to drop half of it while meandering across stage. Not long after, watermelon chunks were ripped apart, leaving stains on various garments of the cast and the seats of the front row. Why the characters revolted against watermelon in particular remains an enigma, but the energy in the revolt seemed to parallel the vehemence of the script’s social critique.
In a particularly grotesque scene, Phanesia Pharel, BC ’21, took a knife to her face, slicing out her tongue and letting the blood gush from her mouth (fake blood and prosthetic tongue). At once, Pharel debilitated herself from the ability to talk, revolting against the concept of language itself. The violence of the act was simultaneously haunting and riveting.
Nevertheless, while there was a profound countercultural thesis being asserted, episodes of humor made the performance accessible and frankly, more enjoyable.
In one scene, two grocery store clerks, played by Rupert Fennessy, CC ’21, and Pharel, requested that the woman lying in aisle seven, played by Pearl Mutnick, GS ’20, make herself decent.
The exchanges in this scene were timed to hilarity, with Pharel and Fennessy quipping in on top of Mutnick. As the store clerks kept repeating back and forth the importance of teamwork, on either side of the sprawled-out Mutnick, they would bob their heads, boosting the other up with dry, satirical lines emphasizing the efficacy of their team duo, as man and woman.
But Fennessy’s best moments came in later vignettes, as he would butt into intense heart-to-heart dialogues with unnecessary comments, empty of substance, and immediately recoil, mumbling apologies for his Falstaffian foolhardiness.
In tandem with the vignettes deconstructing all notions of patriarchal norms the set became increasingly dysfunctional over time. The set, minimalist in aesthetic, consisted of a table, chairs, and two vanity mirrors on either side downstage, with strips of fluorescent lights hanging above the stage.
By the end of the hour, the strips of lights had crashed onto the floor, the table had been turned upside down, and the curious plate of watermelon slices (which had occupied the table) was either oozing between the fingers of the cast or being digested in their stomachs.
The set’s progressive unraveling into chaos worked on two levels, both as a fantastic thread of inventive entertainment and a backdrop to the underlying theme of revolution contained in Birch’s script.
And yet, while the battle of the watermelon and the collapse of the set made the production spirited and alive, it detracted from the intricacies and tones of the script.
If there was a unitive interpretation behind the motif of the watermelon, perhaps the gorey battlefield would have had a more significant resonance in the play, but in this case, too much chaos snuffed out the attainability of meaning.
And when the female cast members stood resiliently in a line downstage, as the stage lights darkened for the last time, the moment of female solidarity jarred with the Fast and Furious free-for-all.
Despite this, if the show was anything, it was jolly well entertaining. Robert successfully produced a show that could make even the most passive of spectators spring from their seat. Of course, sympathies go out to the team responsible for mopping the stage floor.