BWW Review: Pipeline Collective's WELLESLEY GIRL Offers a Provocative View of the Future
Times are tough in the 25th century, judging from the world on view in Brendan Pelsue's Wellesley Girl, now onstage at the Belmont Little Theatre in a superbly acted and staged production from Pipeline-Collective. While our imaginations of how the 25th century will actually play out - what with various incarnations of that time period, as represented by the science-fictional universe of the myriad Star Trek iterations - Pelsue's interpretation, informed by the current political climate of the 21st century, offers a far more dystopian vision, but it's one which will hit close to home for every audience member left in thrall by the performances of director David Ian Lee's exceptional ensemble of actors.
In Pelsue's vision, life as we know it in these United States at this particular juncture in time has been reduced to (presumably) three Boston area suburbs, where the whole of the American population numbers fewer than 500 souls who, at curtain, are facing possible annihilation from a heretofore unknown band of rabble-rousers from Texas. The tough-talking Texans (apparently, some things never change, regardless of the passage of time) are demanding the last remaining citizens surrender in order that they might pay reparations and clear up the backlog of unpaid federal taxes for the past three centuries.
Pelsue's intriguing premise suggests that the Massachusetts folks have lived for several centuries behind the walled enclave of their communities (a plan hatched by the inquiring and informed minds of a group of MIT scientists/academics to protect their citizens from the dangers of an environmental catastrophe that has seemingly wiped out the remainder of the world's population, the troublesome Texans notwithstanding) and the entire population, more or less, are now members of the United States House of Representatives. Imagine 435 of your closest neighbors arguing politics at an even higher volume than they do today on social media, battling egos and one another to further their existence and to find a way to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.
The aftermath of a post-apocalyptic event that decimates humankind and forces the survivors to find a way through to a future that is ever-challenging and threatening, remains a riveting genre of popular entertainment these days, even as the current tenor of the times - with the United States now led by the first-ever reality television president, hankering for the construction of a wall to keep out the bogeyman, while creating a make-believe human crisis to distract from the very real crises engendered by political manipulation and alleged collusion with a foreign power for personal gain - renders Pelsue's play all the more relevant, provocative and disquieting. In fact, audiences might expect characters not unlike The Walking Dead's Michonne to slice her way through the darkness with her legendary katana or for Carol Pelletier to eviscerate the evil-doers outside the walls in perfect zombie-slaying form. However, such melodramatic and action-packed events will be saved for more egalitarian forms of entertainment than for a live play determined to make you think about the political choices made by you and your neighbors in this day and age.
Instead, the world created by Pelsue is far more mundane and straightforward: his characters don't battle aliens or reanimated forms of human "life." Rather, they face the very real and far more frightening specter of deeply red Texans seeking to enslave them. As the citizen-patriots of the remaining U.S. territories argue the best path forward, the lone voice of dissent seemingly belongs to Marie (played with passion and commitment by Karen Sternberg), the titular "Wellesley Girl" who is the sole survivor of the one town whose residents seceded years before from the "country" to seek a way of life that's less constrictive than that inside the walled enclave.
Marie argues vehemently with her neighbors and cohorts, which include her own husband Max - Galen Fott is convincing as her world-weary mate - who attempts to weigh all his options in order to divine the right decision, which may be impacted by the revelations of his relationship with Garth (Sejal Metha is terrific as the driven politico), the country's chief executive with whom he continues an over-the-hedge connection. Garth, however, seems only to be interested in gaining Max's vote rather than any deeper personal connection, due to her spousal relationship with Hank (her robot husband, winningly portrayed by Matthew Rose with the perfect vocal cadence and demeanor of Artificial Intelligence).
Congress is filled with firebrand political types, ranging from R.J., the foreign relations committee chair played with conviction by Patriq James, whose previous experience has been limited (what else could be expected when you are, for all intents and purposes, alone in the world?), and Scott (Garris Wimmer once again gives a memorable performance), the outspoken member of Congress, who goes toe-to-toe with him on most affairs of state. Heading the judicial branch of government, Jackie Welch is forceful and forthright as "Donna," the chief justice and sole member of the Supreme Court (she's the last surviving attorney in the United States and refuses to share the wealth of her legal knowledge with anyone else, which will ultimately lead to disastrous results if the current situation is allowed to continue).
Both sides - Sternberg's Marie and everyone else, essentially - are given the opportunity to present their arguments and Pelsue's spot-on dialogue allows for a surprisingly good political discourse, fraught with emotion and life-and-death decisions. Wellesley Girl is contemporary theater at its most compelling, practically demanding audiences to view the piece through the lens of their own personal, political perspective.
And in an unexpected coda to what has come before during the scant 90 minutes of Wellesley Girl, David Torres-Fuentes and Lane Williamson (as Marie and Max's two sons) show us the consequences of the town's ultimate choice, leading Williamson's character to ponder a query that is alarming in its truth.
Lee directs his cast with confidence, making use of the intimate confines of the Belmont Little Theatre to create an immersive atmosphere in which audience members may come to feel a part of the shrinking population of Americans seeking to do the right thing. While the subject matter is serious and thought-provoking, to be sure, Lee and his cast inject a sense of the whimsical, suggesting perhaps the vaudevillian theatrics of the quintessentially American political machine and dynamic they represent so emphatically.
William Kyle Odum's evocative lighting and sound design ensures that David Brandon's simple, yet effective, scenic design delivers the ideal performance space for a challenging script that allows for equivocation or compromise, yet demands something far better.
Wellesley Girl. By Brendan Pelsue. Directed by David Ian Lee. Presented by Pipeline-Collective at the Belmont Little Theatre, Nashville. Through January 12. For tickets and other details, go to www.pipeline-collective.com. Running time: 100 minutes (with no intermission).