"Herland", the play, takes its name from a 1915 novel "Herland" by feminist writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In the novel, Herland is a failed attempt by women to come together communally completely without men. McLeod's play, set in Holland, Michigan, gets along without men, except for snarky pejoratives regarding 'Bob', Jean's (Lisa Blake Richards) former husband now shacked up with 42 year old Brenda.
Jean, is now in her seventies, ensconsed behind a deliberately locked door in her 'office', the former garage band/rehearsal studio for her husband Bob (whom we hate) and his Springsteen cover band. She interviews Natalie (Gladys Bautista), a lovely eighteen year old, who is nervous about a lot of things, including her own sexual orientation. Jean has back up: her old high school pals from the sixties: gossipy Louise (Judith Scarpone) who has never married and has a secret, and Terry (Laura James) who has been out of the closet for years and longs to be 'handsome.'
|Gladys Bautista; (center) Lisa Richards, Laura James, Judith Scarpone; and (back) Victoria Ortiz |
Photo credit: Philicia Endelman
As the clock ticks for these three women, with the help of Natalie (whom Jean doesn't have to pay because, she's an 'intern' right?).. these old pals begin to embrace the idea of moving in together as their golden years become undeniable. Tick Tock...
This production is the final stop in development for McLeod's play, having enjoyed a "rolling premiere" in two former venues with different directors and casts. Thanks to the National New Play Network, the show has had two previous openings with opportunities for McLoed to fine tune the show from one production to the next. Staged on a radical thrust platform at the Greenway Court (built in 1942 The Greenway has all of historic feeling of the era), Renè O. Parras, Jr.'s functional set and Tiffany Moon's deft direction bring the story to life. This is a 'straight' play that speaks to the inevitable stuff of aging, though the theme of Natalie's self discovery and a somewhat awkward but really hot tryst with Becca (Victoria Ortiz), a sisneutralish gender female, represents new beginnings. Actually, Becca presents as unabashedly butch.
The melding of the generations with Jean's desire to be 'cool' and her tutelage of Natalie .. who in turn tutors these Golden Girls to find themselves, is expectedly 'cute.' Not to use the term as a negative, these older women will not go gently anywhere.. and that is .. at least.. endearing if not.. well... cute.
Natalie's extensive research into the business of how to move into old age by women supporting one another brings a Powerpoint demonstration showing mostly the demise of communal enterprises that have failed for one reason or another. The most important thing to Louise is to have a Jacuzzi and crunchy veggies!
Moon's production is cinematic in nature with slight difficulty in understanding the passage of time from scene to scene, though it's clear that time is moving on. Somewhat awkward scene changes and a loopy dream sequence are all taken in stride as we advance to the business of mutual support while avoiding co-dependency.
In these: our times of #MeToo and Jean's telling Natalie she had been groped by a prospective employer when applying for a typing job, brings Natalie's feminism to the surface to remind Jean that she had actually been assaulted. This points up the gap in our generations. As the tide turns to women feeling assaulted from even an unappreciated 'glance' they perceive from a man, it's clear that the balance may not any time soon return to center. To attempt to define a 'center' is not the goal of this play, but it's clear things are way out of balance.
New beginnings and the radical dismissal of men by women for cause or "just because" lies in the future for Natalie as she embraces her Lesbianism and as Jean, Louise and Terry advance into their twilight years being supportive of one another leaving men in the dust. Rock On!
HERLAND by Grace McLeod
Through June 23, 2019
Greenway Court Theatre
544 N. Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA