The Echo Theater Company mounts a unique program, Nevertheless, She Persisted, five world-premiere short plays by female writers that explore the treatment of women in today’s political climate. Commissioned by Echo Theater for the Echo Associate Company, “a group of young actors who, over the past year, volunteered with the Echo: acting in readings or auditions, assistant stage managing, reading plays and casting readings, back stage dressers, deck crew, ushering, painting, set building, box office; the list goes on.” It is presented as an opportunity for the young actors to grow artistically.
The short plays are bold and edgy; they strike hard and unabashed. They remind me of what I learned in a class called Classicism in the Drama. A great, tough old professor, Doctor Ruth McKenzie, dictated as we scribbled furiously. A nugget I have always retained from her lectures is that Greek tragedy was not performed solely as entertainment, but was meant to be instructive. They showed the hubris of autocrats, the folly of the powerful, and the pity of their terrible ends. It was a way for citizens to experience vicariously the terrible results of overweening pride, such as Medea dashing the brains out of her children or Oedipus gouging out his eyes, all of which occurred offstage. It was, I imagine, riveting entertainment. The five short plays in Nevertheless, She Persisted, are classically gripping, horrifying, pitiful and utterly absorbing.
At Dawn, written by Calamity West and directed by Ahmed Best, takes place in a semi-dystopian future somewhere in the Southwest not far from the Mexican border, where the former madam of a brothel, Heidi (Kaiti O’Connor), ekes out a life. A sheriff (Joey Stromberg) and his deputy (Landon Mirisciotti), a brutal pair of Trumpian sexists, question her activities like jack-booted Nazis, the situation brutally rocketing out of control. With Rachel Zink as The Girl #1 and Lindsay Graves- Fisher as The Girl #2.
Yajū, written and directed by Mary Laws, starts with a mother, Hope, (Equity actor Julie Dretzin) weeping over a box containing the corpse of her beloved old cat that her daughter, Ray (Maya Bowman), brought into the house. Ray shows a placid demeanor greatly contrasting with that of her weeping mother. The mother cannot understand until her daughter starts to reveal some details of her recent life, including a new friend and a Japanese horror movie that affects her in unsettling ways.
An eighteen-year-old woman visits a prisoner in Sherry and Vince, written by Charlotte Miller, directed by Tara Karsian. An angry, acidic Sherry (Jacqueline Besson) quietly and fiercely verbally assaults Vince (Jose Corea) over the terrible things he has done to her and her family. She has reason.
Set in San Francisco in the early 1980s, Violet, written by Jacqueline Wright and directed by Teagan Rose, takes place at a party in an apartment that shy, willowy Dana (Ellen Neary) shares with Wendy (Erin Scerbak). It is a very low-key event, awkward and unsettling, especially when former farm boy Dave dances divinely with Dana while clutching a hammer behind his back. With Amanda Wagner as a brightly desperate Angela and Equity Actor Susan O’Connor as a disheveled street person searching for her lost daughter.
In Violet by Jacqueline Wright and directed by Teagan Rose, a very short, very powerful play that exposes the emotional cost of violent assault. With Lindsay Graves-Fisher in a raw performance as Violet and a consoling Rachael Olsem as Lea.
These plays and these performances are truly spellbinding and often difficult to witness. They compel concentration that cannot look away. In some moments I was able to withdraw my attention briefly to notice that the audience was utterly rapt in pin-drop silence. I also noticed that the audience lost some members at intermission. Maybe they were too affected, or they saw the one play that had a friend in it. Too bad for them. Their loss. I saw a lot of talent in the cast, the playwrights and the directors.
The first four shows were sold out. The other performances are selling fast. See this show while you can at The Echo Theater Company, Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles.