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Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Getting Scatological at POTUS and Unique Looks at History in H*tler's Tasters and The Trojan Women: A Native American Adaptation

This week I saw a Broadway farce, an Off-Broadway history play and an Off-Off Broadway adaptation all written and directed by women.

"What did she say?", a woman sitting behind me at POTUS asked her companion as the audience roared with laughter after Julie White commenced the evening by yelling out "@!*%"!

Then, when the laughter died down, perhaps for those who didn't hear it the first time, she said it again. "@!*%"!

There are still those who will tell you that vulgar, scatological humor isn't becoming to a woman. That fallacy is proven wrong nightly at Selina Fillinger's laff-riot political farce, which is fully titled POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive.

Of course, Broadway audiences are well familiar with the comedic talents of Julie White, who would probably have gotten just as big a laugh if she yelled out, "&#$*"! Or even "#%@^"!

But her character, a White House Chief of Staff who is basically running the country and letting her incompetent boss take all the credit, is actually the grownup in the room and her humor is downright Shavian compared with bits directed by Susan Stroman involving Vanessa Williams' shoes, Lilli Cooper's breast pumps, one of Julianne Hough's bodily functions and, especially, just about every movement made by Rachel Dratch.

And as if being the subject of Shaina Taub's terrific musical Suffs isn't enough, feminist activist Alice Paul makes what you might call a special guest appearance in a small, but very pivotal role.

But rising above all the laughter, the line that got the biggest response on Wednesday night was when Hough's character proclaimed, "Affordable, safe reproductive health care is a basic human right."

Sadly, those ancient Greek war tragedies never seem to lose their relevance...

As explained in Founder/Director Diane Fraher's program notes, just as members of American Indian Artists, Inc. (AMERINDA) were going into rehearsals for playwright/director Sarah B. Denison's Euripides-inspired The Trojan Women: A Native American Adaptation, video footage of atrocities occurring in Ukraine began appearing on our television sets and computer screens.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Getting Scatological at POTUS and Unique Looks at History in H*tler's Tasters and The Trojan Women: A Native American Adaptation
Ria Nia, Johnette Janney & April Hayden
(Photo: Marlene Flores)

And so their production's aim to draw parallels between the 2000-year-old depiction of the inhumane treatment of the women and children of Troy by conquering Greek occupiers and the treatment of their indigenous ancestors by similarly inhumane white conquerors and colonizers, took on a new contemporary relevance.

Kanako Nagayama's set and Macy Symczak's costumes suggest at latter half of the 19th Century placement and while Denison's text keeps the ancient Greek names, the playwright worked with tribal historians to infuse the piece with imagery from her own Spokane background.

In a role adapted from Euripides' Queen Hecuba, Johnette Janney powerfully opens the play with a monologue of enraged passion, explaining how the invading colonizers have killed their men and have now gathered the women together to await word on how the conquerors will divide them as spoils of war.

This includes Cassandra (Annalisa Noel Hardin), who, with her ability to see the future, explains with energetic exuberance of how her sexual enslavement to General Agamemnon will lead to bloody consequences, and Andromache (heartbreaking Ria Nez), who has had one child killed by the occupiers and yearns for the safety of another.

Played with straightforward earnestness by a fine ensemble, a significant part of this theatre experience is the knowledge that you're watching actors whose ancestors survived an attempted genocide playing out their history on land people like them were forced from.

The Trojan Women: A Native American Adaptation plays through May 15th at Theatre For The New City, with tickets priced at $18, students/seniors $15.

There was a game on social media a while back...

...where if you take the Tony winner for Best Musical the year you were born and add the Tony winner for Best Actress in a Musical from the previous year, well, that's your dream revival.

Other people were getting fun combinations like Donna McKechnie in Annie or Bernadette Peters in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

I was born in 1959, so my dream revival would be...

Gwen Verdon in Redhead.

Which would be very nice, but...

Patriarchy disguised as Grrl Power

I didn't notice how perfectly the title of Michelle Kholos Brooks' history-based play H*tler's Tasters scanned with the name of that hit 1970s TV series Charlie's Angels until I was struck by the similarly of their logos; both depicting shadows of women in outstretched action poses.

Indeed, at least a couple of the play's four young women -- said to be of pure German stock, thus fit to test Adolph Hitler's meals for poison three times a day -- see the involuntary position they hold as an honor, and envision themselves as the equivalent of action heroes and movie stars.

A year before her death in 2014, 95-year-old Margot Wölk revealed the horrors of being one of 15 young women forced in to the position she was lucky enough to escape before the Soviet invasion.

Sunday Morning Michael Dale: Getting Scatological at POTUS and Unique Looks at History in H*tler's Tasters and The Trojan Women: A Native American Adaptation
Hannah Mae Sturges, MaryKathryn Kopp,
Hallie Griffin and Kaitlin Paige Longoria
(Photo: Zach Griffin)

But Brooks and director Sarah Norris cleverly mask the horrors with upbeat attitudes, cranking out a lively empowerment playlist as pre-show music and giving the characters familiar personalities you might see in contemporary Hollywood teen flicks.

So the sexy leader Hilda (MaryKathryn Kopp) and the sympathetic nerd Liesel (Hallie Griffin) keep the frightened Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria) and the realistic Margot (Hannah Mae Sturges) in line with fun activities like taking selfies, gossiping about the cute guards, daring each other to play truth games ("Who would you rather sleep with? The Fuhrer or Frank Sinatra?") and pondering the important issues of the day ("Is it the Fatherland or the Motherland?).

As the play progresses, the subtext of the rhetoric these young women are being fed might remind audiences of present day organizations and politicians who would try and sell female subservience as more empowering than feminism.

Things get serious at mealtime, when they go through the ritual of cleaning their plates and then waiting an hour to see if they've survived. Why an hour? Because Hitler's scientists said it takes an hour to see if there's poison and, as Hilda assures, Hitler's scientists wouldn't lie.

Curtain Line

There are so may breakfasts served in Noel Coward plays because so many of his scenes take place the morning after.



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From This Author - Michael Dale