‘In Our Own Voice’ Offers Interesting If Lackluster Look At Women Veterans

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Four women stand at chairs on a bare stage, clad in military garb. For the next 60 minutes, these women veterans will speak at length about their respective journeys, from deciding to enlist to the surreal experience of returning home. This is In Our Own Voice: Women Veterans Tell Their Stories, appearing at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity in the modest downstairs theatre at Tom Noonan’s Paradise Factory in the East Village.

For all of the interesting content present in this show, the way it is staged often falls flat: one can only be intrigued by standing and talking in various formations for so long. An interesting directorial choice I observed was that the piece often wavered in between no-fourth-wall monologuing and sometimes-clunky scenes, where one woman remained her character and the others assumed temporary personas such as mother or father. While I always find it a delight watching women demonstrate the ability to tell stories involving men without needing actual men onstage, the monologue form showed itself to be consistently more successful.

The actresses give generally solid performances (with special note to Katrina Perkins and Caitlin Kless) but due to the sparseness of the piece’s staging, too often did the bulk of the work end up on their shoulders. While the spoken content is typically strong, in a piece of theatre specifically—a form that engages staging, design, performance, and written/generated texts to tell a story—having one particularly-effective aspect can sometimes have the unfortunate result of making the other parts (namely the barely-noticeable projections and confusingly-few patriotic sound cues) appear glaringly weak.

On several occasions I found the piece dipped its toes into hard-hitting subjects but hesitated to go to go any further. One woman spoke of coming out as queer to her father by telling him she was in love with a woman, and at the end speaks about a husband in such a matter-of-fact way that I almost felt like the creators forgot what they set up in the beginning. Another monologue about an instance of sexual assault was accompanied by the woman explaining how this was a rape she could not blame herself for, unlike the times she “laughed too loudly or drank too much.” However, since this piece was based off of interviews conducted with actual women veterans, it appeared moreso that these are simply the prevailing mindsets of many of these women rather than an unwillingness from the creators to deal with such subjects. Even so, I did find myself especially wishing there had been more representation than was present in the uniformly white cast.

An important word choice I have been careful to maintain when writing this piece is referring to these people as “women,” not “females.” While referring to women as the sterile latter term can often be found in dark corners of the Internet frequented by fedoras, from this piece I learned that it is also a tactic used by military men to degrade their counterparts: a particularly-memorable and chilling moment revolved around the women recalling how they would be told “Don’t say ‘girl,’ say ‘female.’ Don’t say ‘male,’ say ‘man.’”

The most affecting part of In Our Own Voice was when it explored what it was like for these women to assimilate back into society. Obviously it doesn’t seem easy, but I never knew quite how complicated it could be, and how much shame is associated with having everyday activities become troublesome tasks. They spoke of not wanting to see mental health experts, avoiding disclosing certain information to friends who would never truly understand, and in one case relapsing into addictions once the distraction of being away had ceased. Of course, one knows such things superficially to be true, but I found it important to be reminded that just because war has ended in one location does not mean war in the mind has as well.

Ultimately, I left the theatre dissatisfied but intrigued. Despite my dissatisfaction, it’s undeniable that these are stories I rarely see onstage, much less in a theatre piece written, directed, and performed by a team of all women. Perhaps it wasn’t a work of artistic genius, but the more these topics are shown to audiences, the more those audiences will get to talking, and from there it is my hope that work delving deeper into such subjects can continue to be made.

In Our Own Voice: Women Veterans Tell Their Stories, written by Beverley Coyle, directed by Colleen Britton, and featuring Caitlin Kless, Eirinn McGuiness, Katrina Perkins and Sionain Kuhner ran until July 11 at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity at The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street.

Photos of Caitlin Kless, Eirinn McGuiness and Sionain Kuhner by Colleen Britton, photo of Katrina Perkins by Joshua Merkle.

‘Corner’s Grove’ Is A Cozy Nook Of A Play

cornersgrove

The play that I am writing about, Corner’s Grove by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin as directed by Gemma Kaneko at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, describes itself as a “reverent nod to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.” Thus, there’s probably a lot to say about this play through comparing and contrasting it to Wilder’s classic. However, seeing as I have a terrible memory for plays I have read years ago and never seen and the only things I really remember about Our Town are that it involves people named George and Emily and David Cromer once directed a production of it with real cooking bacon, I shall refrain. Not to fret—I will, of course, not refrain from bacon.

i don't have an explanation for this. image via

i don't have an explanation for this. image via

Corner’s Grove is a play that exists in dualities: it manages to be both quiet and loud, serious and farcical, speedy and lengthy. It follows the lives of a bunch of young people from the town of Corner’s Grove, not-so-subtly based on the town of Mountain View, California, where the playwright hails from. In the play’s two hours, which sometimes zips by and sometimes tends to drag, we witness a bevy of experiences: gender crises, alcoholism, marriage, funerals, shifting friendships, gentrification, love, leaving home, hating home, loving home. And, of course, losing Whitney Houston, a motif that feels like a joke upon its introduction but grows to be something more meaningful.

Garvin’s play can feel insular at times. Understandably so, it is located in such a specific place and deals with very particular lived experiences so that it does this interesting thing where it manages to be both exceedingly general and exceedingly specific. This sometimes works in the piece's favor, as it is a bit of a delight to be watching what you think is a comedy, replete with goofy jokes and Teens Doing Dumb Things and shamelessly parading a clump of metal chairs masquerading as a car across a black box stage, suddenly peel away into seriousness. The characters work this way as well: Wally (Adin Lenahan), Emily’s (Brittany Allen, in a fine performance) sibling, appears to us first as a bit of a one-note flamboyant stock character, but as the play progresses layers and complications emerge that are both delightfully substantial and substantially sad. It’s also not afraid to be morally grey at times—it’s not every day that you see friends getting drunk at the funeral of their friend who died of alcoholism.

Doing plays in festivals is not always easy; one is faced with the often-cumbersome tasks of setting up and breaking down scenic elements in small amounts of time, runtime restrictions, and being just one name in a sea of other shows. Here, we have a play with a rather large cast and robust runtime trying to squeeze into a simple black box. Most of the time, this works. Kaneko has smartly managed to stage the play’s multiple scenes and settings as simply as possible, so that one gets the gist of what is going on without mourning the loss of tangible props such as champagne glasses. There are times, however, that the action feels a bit too tightly-squeezed. Many of the scenes featuring dialogue between characters sitting on the ground were difficult to see, even from the second row. However, Barbara Begley’s costume designs are a particular delight, easily compensating for the often-bare stage.

Overall, Corner’s Grove is a show with a lot of characters, a lot of ideas, and most importantly, a lot of heart. Watching Garvin acting in her own work as her version of Our Town’s stage manager resulted in experiencing her quite literally looking over her collaborators with genuine tenderness and left me with the reassurance that she truly cares about this piece, which is a rarer treat to find than you’d expect.

Corner’s Grove can be seen as part of the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, Friday July 10 at 8:30pm and Saturday July 11 at 9pm at The Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue. Tickets are $18 and benefit WIN (Women In Need) NYC.

Written by Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin; directed by Gemma Kaneko; featuring Alton Alburo, Brittany Allen, Hollis Beck, William Berger-Bailey, Gabriel Carli-Jones, Max Carpenter, Kelly Colburn, Tallie Gabriel, Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin, Michael Greehan, Par Juneja, Adin Lenahan, Stephanie Malove, William Vaughn, and Ariel Seidman-Wright. Costume design by Barbara Begley, sound design by Kyle Rogers, lighting design by Caroline Kittredge Faustine, scenic design by Carolyn Emery, stage management by Jaye Hunt.

Jane Dickson's Seen A Lot Of Times Square

Mardi Gras - 8th Avenue, 1983, oil on linen.

Mardi Gras - 8th Avenue, 1983, oil on linen.

Monday evening was the opening of painter Jane Dickson’s solo exhibition Seen at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects. The small gallery space on Forsyth Street was packed with people—including Dickson herself—sipping wine and enjoying the display of the artist’s simple yet entrancing paintings.

There is a history and personality to Dickson’s work, as it is inspired by her experiences as a resident of Times Square in the 1980s. The neighborhood was different then: the crime rate was something to be genuinely feared, sex shows were on every corner, and Disney had yet to get involved. However, her work does not look like iconic depictions of the 1980s; there are none of the familiar cultural markers we have come to associate with that decade—no Ray-Bans, big hair, or Madonna here. Rather, Dickson’s dreamy New York nighttime scenes have a timeless and sometimes-antique look to them, as if they could’ve been painted ages ago, reminiscent of classic red light districts or hazy far-off metropolitan hubs. They manage to be neon-lit and darkly dreary simultaneously, reflecting the indulgent and loud nature of the neighborhood while also including the sadness and seediness. Her work is similar to Edward Hopper’s lonely oil works or Toulouse-Lautrec’s vibrant portrayals of late 19th-centruy French excess, if his works were a little gloomier and a bit smoggier.

Dickson’s paintings don’t have a lot of people in them. This is not the overpopulated Times Square we know today, where you’re lucky to walk a few blocks without running into some slow-moving tourist or walking advertisement. They’re far lonelier. Sometimes a body is seen in the distance, or one figure is the focus. There are a few paintings of women looking out of windows at the vastness before them: are they merely observing the world around them, or wondering if there is more out there than this?

There’s a distance to Dickson’s work; establishment names are blurred or partially-blocked, signs in view are generic, blinking vague descriptors like “HOTEL.” We’re not always sure what we’re looking at, or where we are. We’re just passing through, having ‘seen’ things rather than actively ‘seeing’ them. The lack of clarity feels like the end of a raucous night out, when the evening has fizzled out and you end up alone and the details of everything are just a bit smudgy, your eyes are beginning to blur, and the walk home becomes more of a trudge. Women are painted performing in nondescript strip clubs and peep shows, bathed in consuming red light with their faces cropped out or blurred, a smoky look at an underworld that feels voyeuristic, anonymous, and stuck in time.

Sometimes things are clearer, such as her depictions of a commute by car on the Brooklyn Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel. However, inescapable is the sense of dreariness, emphasized by the gloomy blues and slightly-nauseating yellow hue of dim lights in a tunnel late at night; these paintings capture the feeling of driving in a car alone night after night, surrounded by people but not interacting with any of them.

There, on the back wall, presiding over all, is a massive circular painting of an eye, in deep blues and oranges. Perhaps it’s Dickson’s eye, perhaps an all-seeing eye, perhaps an eye that has ‘seen’ it all. What the answer is, we’re not really sure. But we’re going to keep looking.

dicksoneye

Jane Dickson: Seen is on view until June 14 at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, 208 Forsyth Street. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 12-6pm or by appointment.

visual pun #1

first of all, I would like to point out that the subject line RHYMES.

ok. I have started to do a thing where I make a pun that has a pic to go along with it and then post it here. great. here it is.

mark wahlberg margarita

In honor of the new calvin klein ads featuring one justin bieber based off of ads good old wahlberg did in earlier years (or at least that's what the internet has taught me). Nowadays, instead of flaunting rippled abs and small underwear items, our pal Margy Marg can be found trying to erase racially-motivated hate crimes he has committed in his past in order to open some burger restaurants. There are a lot of burgers out there, Marg, do you really need to try to use your rich white celebrity power to get more out there? I realize your burger restaurant name is a pun, but really? r u drunk? drunk off margs???

ps: I am tickled by all of the talk/controversy(???) of how bieber's crotch was allegedly enhanced in size by the magic of photoshop. firstly, what a dumb thing to be going on about, and secondly the klein in CALVIN KLEIN means SMALL in German. g o t c h a ! Oh, how I love language.

green smoothie?

Today I did a thing that, if you asked me several months ago, I would not be in favor of at all.

I would not be in favor of the flavor.

But lately my brain-wheels have been turning in a new way. After all, I love vegetables. I could sing the praises of my favorite cruciferous greens for an eternity (broccoli and brussels sprouts, obviously)

broccoli and brussels sprouts cartoon love

However, I always very much supported the fruit/veggie binary. I was content to keep them separate. It didn't make sense to combine them! Salad with fruit that everyone seems to love? Absolutely not. I don't want to eat a strawberry in the same bite as my lettuce/peppers/baby corn/etc. So naturally I found the idea of Green Smoothies very strange. When I drink a smoothie, I want to taste nice fruit and other related items blended together in a satisfying glob that you stick a straw in. I don't want to taste vegetables. I can eat those in other ways!

But today, I attempted to change my ways. I strolled over to the corner grocery store and purchased, among other things, a bunch of bananas and a container of baby spinach. I chopped up the bananas and froze them. The next morning, I placed in a blender

  • one frozen banana
  • some almond milk
  • a few globs of peanut butter
  • AND A HANDFUL OF SPINACH LEAVES!!!

I watched it as it blended. It slowly got greener and greener. Would everything around also become green? Would my carbon footprint shrink down to nothing? I was convinced the green had ruined the tasting-good part of the smoothie. Plus, I was not ready to become the kind of person who willingly inserts green liquids into their gullet, because the next step after that is probably pilates in the early morning and we know I'll never do that. I get winded climbing stairs.

a true blue green smoothie

Shutting my eyes, I took a sip. THIS SMOOTHIE TASTED EXACTLY LIKE A PEANUT BUTTER BANANA SMOOTHIE THAT HAD NO SPINACH IN IT.

baby spinach leaves

This was flabbergasting to me, but also explained why everyone drinks these things. I promptly drank the rest. It is just cheating! Green smoothies are magic, just like 3D printing.

I think I will make another one tomorrow.