This show is a twofer, a 90-minute packed double-feature by directing power couple Brittany Price Anderson and Richie Schiraldi. The two shows (Wild Women and Oneironauts) are the result of the recent graduating body of Columbia College’s physical theater program, from which a new company has sprung, The Whisper Theatre Collective. Though the pieces have little in common, being the thesis projects of each director, the thread that binds them is the collective itself, populated by the directors/performers of the graduating class.
After performing around Chicago in May and June, The Whisper Theatre Collective is packing it up to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August with Wild Women and Oneironauts where its special blend of contemplation and side-splitting fun will likely lure in the crowds.
The Wild Women Triad
What is more fun than a political farce powered by iconic female characters? Not much! Wild Women, directed by Brittany Price Anderson, begins like a scene from Macbeth without Macbeth, with three mysteriously shrouded bodies posing dramatically and setting the tone—for suspense, action, drama! But soon they emerge, sniffling, babbling, interacting, and showing their true natures, as truth-telling clowns. As sages. Sage clowns.
The triad is a fixture in mythology, and when applied to women, often a bit reductive. There’s the virgin, the matron and the crone. Or the virgin, the slut and the lesbian. Maybe you prefer the goddess, the witch and the vixen? Or in the case of Wild Women, the baby (played by Claire Kaplan), the crying girl (played by Fate Richey) and the bossy old shrew (played by Gabrielle Wilson). However you parse it out, playing with these stereotypes and developing them into characters is a bit of brilliance that allows us to see through them while also reclaiming and honoring what remains of their truth. With a louchy grin, a delight at causing chaos and a fixation with being spanked, the baby stands on a platform, shrugging and mumbles “I dunno. I’m just a baby” after being appointed to a high position. Impish bossy lady delights in her own kind of mayhem, stirring up dissent from the audience and pushing the norms of polite society, while crying girl crosses all boundaries that no one gave her permission to cross (way beyond the front row), but stirring up so much empathy from the crowd that no one could bring themselves to protest.
What is more fun than a political farce powered by iconic female characters?
This play’s strength does not rest on witty banter alone, although there is plenty of it. It’s the characters who rule and propel the action. After hilarious introductions, they begin to tell a historical tale of womanhood through the ages, and with the seemingly innocent approach of a fairytale aimed at children, they enact it for us, weaving in and out of the moment and never breaking character. Soon though, the veneer becomes thin, showing the lunacy behind the fairytales, which they play up to great comedic effect. The creation myth is addressed, as well as Noah’s ark and a few other surprises, but this time we get to see the underdog’s perspective, and not without the hysterical interruptions and bumbles of the storyteller whipping us into and through the layers.
The most beautiful element of Wild Women is its ability to address not just the absurd injustices of history through the medium of grotesquerie, but also some misogynistic taboos in the most seemingly light-hearted of ways. With a few well-timed, grave breaks from levity here and there, Wild Women creates a tempo that is most moving and satisfying—you might find yourself slamming your laughing brakes on mid-laugh to get choked up, and that is some masterful maneuvering.
Dreams Unravel in Oneironauts
They appear in a huddle, the dreamers. And though they stay close to one another, it seems that each one of them is alone in their own dream. Did you ever try to work through your dream with a friend and find yourself saying things like, “You were there, but it didn’t really look like you, and you turned in to my 3rd grade teacher”? That’s the vibe Oneirinauts delivers so poetically, serving up a fluid and lush dreamscape–the mouth that can’t talk, getting lost and not being able to get your bearings, wonderment at some celestial observation and every other bizarre scenario that befuddles us while we rest.
Each of the five dreamers cycles through a lexicon of the nightmares and surreal moments that occur when our neurons are busy repairing their connections. There is something eerily familiar about it, perhaps proof that we all inhabit the same Matrix-like world when we sleep.
A larger theme emerges, the existential dread that has arisen lately in our subconscious hivemind.
Director and co-creator Richie Schiraldi describes the reasoning behind the name Oneironauts, “An oneirism is a dream-like experience. This project was inspired by the many lucid dreams I experience, and the conversations the ensemble and I have had about the shared symbolism and themes in our dreams. Our play and material stemmed from these images and themes, and we thought it was appropriate to call ourselves dream walkers, or Oneironauts.”
As we observe these stories unfolding in a constant stream, a larger theme emerges, the existential dread that has arisen lately in our subconscious hivemind. Orwellian in scope, this dark, cinematic energy is familiar as a secret handshake and it oozes in to everything in this show, from the deliberate Laban-like quality of movement, to the chimerical layers embedded in the musical score, created by Schiraldi in consultation with Jeffrey Levin. Even the lighting design by Rachel Levy conveys a subtle dystopian aesthetic. Timeless questions float to the surface: Are we machines? What is our place in the world? Do we have free will? Can we contribute to society?
While the Oneironaut ensemble (played by Ben Hestess, Brittany Price Anderson, Fate Richey, Gabrielle Wilson and Richie Schiradli) straddles the world of dreams, they also explore it in a seamless manner with this incredible blend of physical theater, dance and acrobatics. It’s hypnotic and riveting but it’s not all the stuff of nightmares. Moments of hope, connection and levity seep through in their gestures and there is a cord of connection and consciousness that runs through the whole show, keeping the audience riveted.