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BWW Review: Forum Theatre celebrates #NASTYWOMENREP

"Men are like weapons. Women are like wounds."

That is a poignant line and an apt summation of the first part of Forum Theatre's #NastyWomenRep ethos. The first piece in this horrifying, yet deeply moving, work is Monica Byrne's What Every Girl Should Know, which takes place in 1914 and follows four teen girls in a New York reformatory. Together they discover their sexuality and personal power, and reveal the horrifying events that led each of them to there. Adopting birth control activist Margaret Sanger as their secret patron saint, they build a communal fantasy life where they travel the world, take lovers at will, and assassinate their enemies.

Between Ms. Byrne's powerful dialogue, strong ensemble performances, and an influential guide by director Jenna Duncan, this very unsettling work is subtly powerful. The four girls (Lida Maria Benson, Thais Menedez, Yakima Rich, and Emily Whitworth) are superb in their tortured life in this dormitory. They are able to ferociously navigate their fantasy to escape the horrors of what brought them together and each one is superb in their execution.

Ms. Duncan's stellar direction is accompanied by emotional choreography by Paige Hernandez, accompanied by Sarah O'Halloran's disturbingly awesome anachronistic sound design. Lighting Designer Sarah Tundermann does an exceptional job keeping the eerie feel of the girls' prisonlike existence. Likewise Paige Hathaway's set and Heather Lockard's costume are all perfect companions to this stellar production.

The second piece in repertory is Ruby Rae Spiegel's Dry Land, which follows the unusual friendship of Ester and Amy. Both competitive swimmers, they're struggling to stay afloat in their daily lives. Ester is plagued by self-doubt, Amy by an unwanted pregnancy. The play tackles abortion, female friendship, resiliency, and what happens in one high school locker room after everybody's left.

This second part is just as horrifying but on a completely different level. Ms. Spiegel's piece sits on the edge of uneasiness and does so perfectly. While the central conceit in Dry Land is vastly different from its partner piece, it does have some truly frightful scenes between the main girls, Amy (Emily Whitworth) and Ester (Yakima Rich). Ms. Whitworth deftly portrays Amy's vulnerability and Ms. Rich portrays Ester's naivety with strong determination. Thais Menedez provides some much needed relief from tension in an outstanding cameo.

Director Amber Paige McGinnis does a superb job of putting together this emotionally troubling work. The climax of the piece is terrifying and she follows it perfectly by an almost ballet like moment of silence watching the clean-up aftermath. Ms. O'Halloran, Ms. Tundermann, Ms. Hathaway, and Ms. Lockard all repeat their stellar technical aspects on this piece as well.

I purposely used a lot of horrific metaphors here to underscore the uneasiness I felt watching this piece. The horror that women have gone through (and continue to do so) is terrifying and #NastyWomenRep succeeds in its goal. Artistic Director Michael Dove briefly spoke after the first piece and mentioned that he was putting this together under the prospect of the nation's first female president. As it turned out, this piece resonates much louder considering the nation's political climate. Art can come together to help these nasty women stop being wounds.

#NastyWomenRep plays through Sunday, April 15, 2017 at Forum Theatre at the Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, visit the website or call 301-588-8279.

Note: Tickets for the two plays are purchased separately.

Photo Credit: DJ Corey Photography

What Every Girl Should Know :

Dry Land:

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