Review Roundup: HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF at New York Theatre Workshop

With sharp humor and brutal honesty, Liliana Padilla's How to Defend Yourself explores what we want, how to ask for it, and the violator and violated inside us all.

By: Mar. 13, 2023
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Review Roundup: HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF at New York Theatre Workshop
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New York Theatre Workshop presents How to Defend Yourself by Liliana Padilla (TWITCH), co-directed by Tony Award-winning NYTW Usual Suspect Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown), Susan Smith Blackburn finalist Liliana Padilla and Princess Grace Award winner Steph Paul (The Last Match). Read reviews for the production below.

With sharp humor and brutal honesty, Liliana Padilla's How to Defend Yourself explores what we want, how to ask for it, and the violator and violated inside us all.

The cast of How to Defend Yourself will include Amaya Braganza (The King and I), Sebastian Delascasas ("Promise"), Jayson Lee (Hooded: or being black for dummies), Ariana Mahallati (The Sky's Forest), Teagan Meredith ("The Calling"), Gabriela Ortega ("Safe Haven"), Sarah Marie Rodriguez ("Manifest") and Talia Ryder (Do Revenge).

How to Defend Yourself will feature scenic design by You-Shin Chen (Walden), costume design by Izumi Inaba (Kill Move Paradise), lighting design by Stacey Derosier (Fat Ham), and sound design by Tony Award winner Mikhail Fiksel (Dana H.). Steph Paul serves as Movement Director. Casting is by Erica Hart, Nicholas Petrovich and Cindy Tolan. Rocío Mendez (On Sugarland) will serve as Fight Director, with Dawn-Elin Fraser (Slave Play) as Voice Director and Ann James (Pass Over) as Intimacy Coordinator. Production Supervision is by Tinc Productions. Katie Young (A Case for the Existence of God) serves as Stage Manager.


Maya Phillips, The New York Times: For as much as the play aims to engage the audience in a fly-on-the-wall view of a group of people - several of whom are meeting for the first time, developing and changing in relation to one another in this contained space - it still neglects to provide the necessary context to make the pre-existing relationships and the character arcs feel real. Likewise, there are occasional throwaway plot twists, like that worn-out trope of a surprise same-sex kiss between friends, that detract from the show's more novel reflections.

Jackson McHenry, Vulture: How to Defend Yourself's rational structure breaks down as the atmosphere in the class does[.] We go from a precise taxonomy of characters into eros-and-thanatos-style abandon, which is revealing in its own right. The production incorporates musical breaks between scenes, layering snippets of pop songs over characters dancing or practicing self defense, and then, near the end, breaks into a sort of dream ballet of a college rager. There are things the students say with their bodies that they can't express with words, and things they can't do to protect those bodies no matter how much they train.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Profound, funny, and shocking, one hopes How to Defend Yourself graduates to a bigger stage-truly, it should go to Broadway-just to prove A Doll's House does not have the monopoly on big endings.

Thom Geier, The Wrap: Padilla, who also co-directs with Rachel Chavkin and Steph Paul (the latter also choreographed the movement in the athletic self-defense workout sections), creates some indelible scenes in a smooth, fleet-footed 100 minutes, and pries grounded, naturalistic performances out of her young cast. (My only quibble is about the ending, a rushed montage of flashbacks that seems more muddled than clear, especially since it follows a stronger curtain-dropping moment involving an epiphany for Brandi about the effectiveness of her approach to the subject.)

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Liliana Padilla's insightful, too often rambling How To Defend Yourself takes place in an NCAA workout room where determined and well-intentioned Brandi (Talia Ryder) is instructing several women - and sometimes two men - in the art of taking care of themselves when faced with physical danger. If you've already guessed this is an exercise in 21st century women's empowerment, you're on the right track.

 



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