The setting of Occupation, a new play written by Merri Biechler and produced by Foundry Theatre Works currently running at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, is described as “America, almost now.” When the ensemble of five women takes the stage, they slowly reveal the sad, shocking realities of the world they live in through a combination of monologues and scenes, painting a picture of a war-torn, post-disaster version of the United States where women are forced to redefine their place in the world and search deep within themselves for a new sense of purpose.
The title Occupation smartly has two meanings in the context of the play—this version of America, which is both frightening and a bit too believable for comfort, is quite literally occupied by the government after what is referred to as “the CTE.” This stands for “coordinated terror event,” and the play picks up just before the five year anniversary of these catastrophic attacks. The five characters, however, are also largely defined by their literal occupations, which have become the easiest way for them to maintain a sense of self and identity in a divided world.
These women are so defined by their jobs that they do not even have names within the context of the play. The country is now split into “patriots,” those who support the occupation, and “civilians,” who are essentially the rebels. It is also important to note that with the exception of the occupying officers, all of the men are gone, having been deployed. The central character (Jennifer Ashe) finds a way to emotionally connect with her missing “civilian” daughter by quietly helping the resistance movement in an unexpected way. Another mother (Theodora Marcelline), whose own daughter played a pivotal role in the “civilian” movement, turns her beloved garden into a means of helping others struggling with grief. Their paths both intersect with that of a young woman (Monica Baker) who works in “data retrieval,” the grim meaning of which is gradually revealed. Another daughter (Olivia Powell) wears her mother’s old tap shoes and dance costume everywhere, both as a means of survival and in hopes it will help her find her missing mother. Finally, we have a patriot (Brynn Alexander), who makes unimaginable sacrifices to help the cause she has chosen to believe in for the sake of her own survival.
Directed by David Robinson, the cast is incredibly effective, delivering emotional performances that will stick with you. My only complaint is that at certain points the play’s 80 minutes felt almost too condensed. Moments intentionally involving characters talking over one another came across as a bit confusing, and I was almost disappointed when it ended for the best reason—it felt like there was still more to explore with these characters. Occupation manages to combine a rather high-concept world and premise with grounded, human stories that work perfectly on a small stage. It is essentially a tale of how different people respond in the face of tragedy, and how to keep going when, as the characters frequently point out, they have to “remind themselves to get up” in the morning and all sense of routine as they once knew it is gone. In today’s political climate, these messages ring more true than they perhaps ever should, and you’ll likely leave the theater wondering how you might react in a similar situation.
Occupation has three performances remaining at the Asylum @ 6470 (6470 Santa Monica Blvd): Saturday 6/18 @ 3:30, Sunday 6/19 @ 7:30 and Sunday 6/26 @ 5:30. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/3709.
To learn more about the Hollywood Fringe Festival, an annual, non-profit, month-long celebration of theater that provides an open access platform for artists to produce their work, click here.