We Play for the Gods

Written, drected, produced by 2010-2012 WP Lab
Featuring Annie Golden, Amber Gray, Alexandra Henrikson, Irene Sofia Lucio, Erika Rolfsrud
Women’s Project Theater at Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
June 11, 2012 — June 23, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 8, 2012

(L-R) Alexandra Henriksen, Amber Gray. Image by Chasi Annexy.

Workplace politics, collaboratively generated text (could there really be seven playwright visions and voices represented here?) and multiple roles illuminate a range of themes, honed in presentation by four directors, while multiple designers and producers round out the all-hands-on-deck team effort of the 2010-2012 WP Lab cohort.  And the end result in We Play for the Gods, running for through June 23rd at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is a moving musing on science and sex and emotion and career. The arcane nature of most scientific research questions.  The challenge of non-profit fund-raising. The debt anxiety of new graduates in the job market. And underneath it all, we are called upon by the theatrical imp character with some (largely unexplained) superhuman powers to pay attention to our lives and those around us.  We are asked, quite simply, to attend.

Marla (Annie Golden) has worked at her non-profit lab support staff job for over twenty years.  She fields calls, takes on extra burdens when other people slack off, takes calls from her infirm mother.  And adding to these stresses she has to deal with a new temporary employee Susan (Irene Sofia Lucio) who talks to herself, doesn’t know how to solicit test subjects (the job for which she has been hired), and becomes fascinated with word choice and inspired wordplay she scribbles on post-its that appear in surprising places throughout the show.  Susan as the newly minted MFA in poetry provides fodder for jokes about jobs and marketable skills, until she is the perfect person at the perfect time in the perfect place later in the play.  Lisa (Erika Rolfsrud), head of the institute and appears to have been a scientist at one point in her life, now primarily works her tail off fundraising. Lisa is intense and stressed and a true believer and presses her researcher colleague Simi (Amber Gray) for results on their current research project on the chemical properties of human tears.  Simi treats her research vials as if they were human creatures with complete personalities and at first relates more to them than to her human colleagues. Rounding out the cast is the Provocatrix or goddess or imp (Alexandra Henrikson) who speaks to each character in her own way, messes with routines, takes over the buildings public address system, to wake the characters up out of their routines.

The set design by Jennifer Moeller seems to have borrowed from the wall-of-IKEA-cabinetry approach of Chimera — a one woman show in a kitchen with a woman musing about DNA and identity in this past year’s Under the Radar festival.  In Chimera the white wall serves as a backdrop to a kitchen (and other locales) and provides doors and drawers through which things are passed, puppets emerge, props disappear.  In We Play For The Gods the cabinets and cupboards provides storage and entrances and exits and passageways into what become whole new rooms, riffing off of an office space with desks, and a lab space with vials and beakers.  Intriguingly, both productions make costume design choices involving rubber gloves — green for Chimera and purple for We Play for the Gods costumes by Moria Sine Clinton.

The gift of this quirky production is the sweet seamless manner in which the roles of these characters have been folded together, and how we feel the cumulative ache and laugh of their experiences. One character reflects at one point, after a sequence of actions that bring two previously distant characters to a point of connection: “I know what it is to give your life to something and for it not to give back.” From that moment of shared pain and connection, inspired in part by our trouble-making deity, our characters begin the next phases of their lives.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 12, 2012)

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