Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Female Genius is a Welcome (Semi) Return to Theater

The current lockdown in New York has upended theater. Live venues are closed and both artists and viewers are struggling with how to present stories. Luckily for the viewer, there are some interesting things happening now that have been in the works previously. One of the best experiences is The Female Genius. Originally planned to be presented live on stage at the Wild Project and streaming at the same time, The Female Genius is available for streaming now. It is presented by Thirdwing, a digital theater company. The streaming version was completed, and the live version was in rehearsals before the lockdown was announced. Thirdwing is now presenting the streaming version of the show.

The Female Genius is a series of six vignettes look at great female writers. The proceed forward in both time as well as self-assuredness to make a coherent whole. Because Thirdwing was created as a digital company, the production values of the episodes are excellent. These were created and are meant to be streamed, echoing back to the teleplays of the 1950s or 1960sin which the theater setting is quite obvious.

Delissa Reynolds as Zora Neale Hurston with Timothy Thomas

Viewed in order, the women at the heart of these stories become more confident and independent over time – with one exception. The acting ranges from very good to excellent. Interestingly the performances are captured in a unique way. They are not shot from the perspective of a theater audience perspective. They are shot with close ups, cuts and the full complement of the visual vernacular. Slight sets and a single location mean the viewer is always aware this is a play, but the scenes pull the viewer into the story without forgetting it is a theatrical experience.

The Female Genius focuses on 6 women: Mary Shelly, Emily Dickenson, Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand, Zora Neale Hurston and J.K. Rowling. None of these are one person monologues. Their struggles and processes are featured as they work through interpersonal dynamics with friends, lovers, admirers or enemies – sometimes in the same person.

In the first Mary Shelly confronts her own insecurities with Lord Bryon. It is an easy and light tale of struggle. In the second, Emily Dickenson berates her sister over access to her. Emily has no use for admirers in general and a male publisher in particular. In the third, Gertrude Stein grapples with her relationship with Alice. B. Toklas by mimicking male misogyny. At the halfway point in streaming these, the themes of male and female relationships seem to take over as Ayn Rand delivers a bonkers performance, that is stereotypically Ayn Rand. Maja Wampuszyc captures Rand in all her glory.

Krysten Wagner as Mary Shelly and Cameron Bossert

But in the fifth vignette, the story of Zora Neale Hurston deepens the narrative. Ms. Hurston was a black artist grounded in the Harlem Renaissance. This piece focus on her views on segregation and respectful treatment in the 1950s south. Delissa Reynolds, as Hurston, and Timothy Thomas are wonderful.

Finally, there is a story of J.K. Rowling that fails to take off fully. The actress (Meghan E. Jones) is great, but thematically we arrive back near the beginning of our story, with a woman who doubts herself and her craft.

The Female Genius works excellently as a whole experience. Playwright Rachel Carey provides six wonderful worlds that are fictional, but believable.  Working with Ms. Carey, Director Cameron Bossert creates an immersive world for the 7 – 10 minutes we stay with each story. Check them out.

The Female Genius
Playwright: Rachel Carey | Director: Cameron Bossert |Cast: Meghan E. Jones, Delissa Reynolds, Amy Lynn Stewart, Timothy Thomas, Krysten Wagner, and Maja Wampuszyc


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