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THEATER REVIEW The Condition of Femme
by Regina Victor
2018-03-14

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Playwright: Lauren Marie Powell

At: Circle Theatre at Buena Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: CircleTheatreChicaog.org; $28. Runs through: April 1

The Condition of Femme is compiled out of 100 interviews, much like Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, but focused on the femme experience—the experience of a person of any gender who identifies with feminine energy.

Penned by Lauren Marie Powell and directed by Amanda Jane Long, Circle Theatre's production uses a cohesive narrative to present the stories of many different femmes as it follows Reagan ( playwright Powell ) and her partner Cheryl ( Amy Powell ). Throughout, the two deal with the most difficult parts of being a femme: sexual assault. Reagan works for a rape-crisis hotline and Cheryl is proceeding with a trial against a sexual predator.

Reagan consistently internalizes her work as the hotline's callers recount their stories, vile subway encounters, and men of God who proved themselves to be anything but among them. Each person in the cast gives a fantastic performance, which is notable since the script can feel preachy. The earnest attitude the cast deploys makes the factual language feel natural most of the time.

Long's direction flows well, but it may have occasionally been stoppered by its desire to flow. Often things are happening onstage—projections, costume changes, rearranging the space and so on—while people are speaking. It distracts from the emotional text.

Cody Jolly's projection design is a strength, showing notable statistics: For example, approximately 30,000 rapes result in pregnancies each year. Rapists have parental rights in 31 states.

I was thrilled the production centered a spectrum of femme experience, and included femmes of color and transgender femmes. However, it struck me that though there are only two visible performers of color out of 12, much of the media in the projections design is attributed to Black and brown bodies. "Whistle While You Twerk," by the Ying Yang Twins, accompanies a montage of white women being spanked.

There is a long video of Black twerking butts for which the primary image and audio is Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda"—a song that is culturally significant for its lack of male presence and ownership of the beauty of Black and brown bodies. It feels like appropriation to hear the song as the background for a primarily white cast discussing a lack of power and consent.

The Condition Femme doesn't feel like it's for survivors; instead of empowering femmes, it is a bid for us to be seen as human. It reminds the audience that femmes are "physically weaker" ( that's verbatim from the script ) and emphasizing that stories like these occur daily. It is an important effort and an important collection of stories. But I am ready for femmes to take their power and use it—not plea for protection from a sick society.


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