From the title, I expected a play that talks about what women might be or do if they weren’t walled in by our patriarchal culture. A hot topic at this moment.
But this play just acts, quietly demonstrating what women can do, and are doing, as artists right now — even as the walls are crumbling.
Instead of gender politics, Women w/o Walls focuses on four people (who happen to be female) thrown together on a subway train. Soon, most of them begin to suspect it isn’t going where they want to go. And they can’t get off.
For the rest of the hour, they struggle — with themselves and one another — to come to terms with this unexpected fate. Can they fight it? Can they modify it, by making choices? Or sacrifices? Can they come to accept it, even though they don’t know what it is?
Very little is clear, and less is explained — to the riders or to us. We join them in trying to piece together what’s happening, and why. Eventually, their plight urges us to think about death, about crossing the ultimate threshold and what we may find there.
I won’t describe the play any further. It would harm your experience of it — and Women w/o Walls is an experience you owe yourself.
I will say that this year, I’ve seen three other “afterlife” plays — two stagings of Sartre’s classic No Exit (one refreshingly comic), and Lee Pollero’s deft Now We Wait, a 10-minute two-hander. In creating people who intrigue us, in exposing the poetry of daily speech, and (most crucial of all) in maintaining the painful ambiguity of what we cannot know, playwright Robin Rice puts them all in the shade.
And the young Broads’ Word Theatre company gives Rice’s subtly stunning script an equally subtle and moving world premiere.
Under director Frances Loy, the actors (Kristin Carey-Hall, Esther Mira, Jen Albert and Natalia Ochoa) have woven a close ensemble: They let the story flow among them, shifting speed and intensity, never losing momentum. Each actor etches a distinct yet mysterious character on our minds, holding secrets and yielding them up as she confronts the others — and the steadily increasing terror of their situation.
From the start, the familiar yet disconcerting set, designed by Aaron Lyons (Did somebody let a guy in here?) and masterfully painted by Caitlin McCarthy, prevents us from settling in comfortably. And the sound design (also by Lyons) keeps suggesting resonances far beyond the seemingly everyday things we’re seeing.
Brava! to Rice (Play Nice!, Alice in Black and White) for writing a deceptively simple, gripping meditation on our mortality. And to Broads’ Word for sharing it — and their rich talents — with us.
This is theatre speaking from our moment to the ages.
Women w/o Walls, by Robin Rice, directed by Frances Loy.
Presented by Broads’ Word Theatre, at The Lounge Theatres, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., LA 90038.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 7:00, through Dec. 12.