Dallas — What better venue for immersion theater celebrating fed-up wild women than The Wild Detectives bookstore, with its hot inner city vibe and backyard picnic tables and performance space?
House Party Theatre company member Haley Nelson, along with Sarah Hamilton and Kristen Kelso, produce DAMN!sels, an all-woman short play festival based on the stuff that actually distresses young damsels in today’s crazed, if not totally broken, social and economic climate. They are written, directed and designed by women. Only three of the 10 cast members are men. The works presented are forthright, questing and sometimes hilariously right on. The three plays are delivered in a raw 100 minutes, one following the other with short musical interludes by women musicians, with barebones sets on the deck, on the tables, and at the space next to the alley gate.
On Friday, the attentive audience shifted and moved their drinks as one show ended and the next began. Talk about being in the middle of the action.
The evening opens with Migration, by Anyika McMillan-Herod, co-founder of Soul Rep Theatre Company and a playwright familiar to Dallas theatergoers. Director Selena Anguiano plants us firmly in a bookstore with the owner, a middle-aged white man (Bert Pigg) chatting about being a middle-aged white man with a beautiful bi-racial girl (Morgana Wilborn) who loves her handsome black fiancé (Kazy Amoi) almost as much as classical jazz, which her daddy instilled in her from birth. The plot thickens when the orphaned-from-five young woman spots the owner’s red-headed wife (Angela Wilson) unpacking boxes and utters a stunned, “Mom?!” The play is essentially two fascinating monologues about the trials of interracial marriage in a world far from colorblind. Dialogue is used more as a trigger for personal memory than a revelation of character, but we have a strong sense of how both women depict the role of love in real life, and how personal memory can both sustain and delude us.
Break Room, a hilarious dark comedy by Janielle Kastner, is directed by Shelby-Allison Hibbs with clarity and fast-breaking comic pacing. Kastner marvelously weaves together into one play the personal angst and mini-victories of three women working in “brick and mortar retail” and trying to answer their life questions and invent themselves online. It’s a little like watching three strung-out stand-up comics sheltering each other like background singers or a Greek chorus or stinging each other like harpies. Martissa Lopez is painfully funny as a teenager trying to get answers from Yahoo about whether she could get pregnant from advanced petting, described in increasingly hilarious and intimate detail. Ally Harrison is a “seasonal employee” at the place, trying to make ends meet with a husband working in the oil fields and a messy toddler to raise. The best bit of the entire evening is her self-questioning about the time she’s invested in creating a fake blog life, for which she gets increasing hits and a candle company endorsement, compared to the actual time she spends in a real park with her actual child. Kelly Kielmeyer is a veteran retail worker with a running bitch about getting her humble Mazda slammed in parking lots. “Am I not worthy of my space?” she asks. Talk of a crowded planet and blog overloads make us laugh ands cringe at once.
Narrated: Saved, written by Eva MeiLing Pollitt and directed by Kristen Kelso, is essentially what its title suggests: a one-woman performance piece about the nightmares and terrors of a clinically depressed young woman as narrated by Claire Carson, with Zoe Kerr moving silently as the exhausted girl. Carson is on the tabletops and all over the place, as she tells of the woman’s numbing loneliness and heartbreak when her latest lover (Cole Cordell) walks out. A light glimmers toward the end of the fierce tirade, and we all feel relief for the young woman when Carson says, “That’s it. The play’s over.”
The time flies by, and the audience leaves with a wave of empathy for the women we’ve met during the evening, and three cheers for the playwrights who brought them to the house party.