Review: THE FIFTH WAVE from Macha Theatre Works

A searing examination of a sexual assault and what it costs us.

By: Feb. 12, 2022
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Review: THE FIFTH WAVE from Macha Theatre Works
The cast of The Fifth Wave from
Macha Theatre Works.
Photo credit: Joe Iano Photography

Like so many others, Macha Theater Works was in their final rehearsals back in March of 2020 when the pandemic shut everything down. Now, almost two years later they are back at West of Lenin and ready to give us this intense look into a "me too" incident with their World Premiere play "The Fifth Wave" by Jenn Ruzumna and Lisa Every. A topic that is, unfortunately, still all too relevant.

In their play Ruzumna and Every focus in on Maxx (Mari Nelson), a college professor who, 25 years ago had a very public moment where she reclaimed her own power following a sexual assault. Now, while the campus celebrates her for her story on the anniversary, another assault has been reported on campus and Maxx must decide where her loyalties lie and how much she is willing to risk as her own tragedy is dredged up.

With a touchy subject such as this, the authors could have easily fallen into the trap of becoming preachy, one sided, or accusatory. Instead, with some crisp dialog, they've painted a picture of a woman and her family who struggle to come to terms with a past tragedy and how it can color a current incident within their community. The play straddles that line of being a touch pretentious and a performance art piece (something which I detest) but manages to steer clear. There are certainly some elements of stylized storytelling here with an ensemble cast of what are labelled in the program as "furies" who fill in the others at the college but also act as a sort of otherworldly conscience for Maxx. But here it's handled quite deftly and only lends itself to the tale.

The tale does lack a resolution, but the argument could be made that so does the situation in our society. Instead of an ending we get platitudes for the hope of a better future which does work but I would have also liked an ending to the story they were presenting as much of the show concerns itself with the polarization of the campus and Maxx's family over whether the perpetrator did or did not do anything. But director Amy Poisson as well as Ruzumna and Every do a fine job in keeping the ending satisfying, nonetheless.

Review: THE FIFTH WAVE from Macha Theatre Works
Mari Nelson in The Fifth Wave from
Macha Theatre Works.
Photo credit: Joe Iano Photography

Poisson also shows some skill at crafting some interesting staging in an intimate space keeping the action very exciting and vibrant, plus she has assembled a top-notch group of actors to present this piece each of whom feel very present and engaged in this story and this subject. Hugo Munday and Leah Jarvik as Maxx's husband and daughter caught in the middle of this struggle bring in some wonderful moments. Munday weaves together a quite layered man without overtly telegraphing his character's intention making him interesting to watch. And Jarvik manages a daughter at odds with her mother's history and point of view superbly. Samuel Edgren tackles the dubious job of portraying the young man accused of the assault with grace and heart. He keeps him grounded making it even more difficult to believe he's done anything wrong. And as the furies, Sarah Burfoot, Jasmine Lomax, Maddy Nibble, Aly Peterson, and Ashley Salazar flesh out both sides of this world beautifully conveying both the story as well as the emotional and societal barometer of the community.

But it's Nelson who must take on the lion's share of the heavy emotional lifting of the play and there are few in town equal to her in the task. She has the uncanny knack to disappear into any role she portrays and giving the characters the gravitas of whatever the situation. And here is no exception. Her journey through her own grief as well as her coming to terms with the current situation is palpable and worth the price of admission. A stunning performance.

I'll admit to some trepidation going into this piece, but my fears were quickly laid to rest with this fantastic ensemble and work. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Macha Theatre Works' World Premiere production of "The Fifth Wave" a provocative YAY. And I, for one, am extremely glad they finally got the opportunity to put up this piece, thanks in no small part to their own tenacity.

"The Fifth Wave" from Macha Theatre Works performs at West of Lenin through February 27th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.machatheatreworks.com.



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