Back in February, after Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke out against the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, the Senate voted to silence her. During the comments following the vote, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recapped the events, he described Warren’s actions using the phrase “nevertheless, she persisted.” While this was intended as a jab at behavior those opposed to Warren’s views saw as inappropriate, it quickly became a rallying cry for the feminist movement. The Echo Theater Company’s new night of world premiere short plays titled Nevertheless, She Persisted consists of five pieces all written and directed by women. The playwrights were given only the title of the night as a jumping off point, and as a result, the eclectic mix of stories explores the challenges of being a woman in today’s political climate through a variety of settings and situations.
The evening was commissioned partially to create a performance opportunity for the company’s associate members, and the production design in the small black box space at the Atwater Village Theatre is sparse—a table and chairs are recycled for each piece, with minimal other props added as need be. It is a no frills celebration of women in the theater, and I applaud Echo Theater Company for creating this opportunity for so many female playwrights, female directors, and actresses.
The first short play is At Dawn, written by Calamity West and directed by Ahmed Best. Set in the future circa 2047, it stars Heidi (Kaiti O’Connor), who now lives alone at what was once a successful brothel near the Mexican border. She is visited by a Sheriff (Joey Stromberg) and his deputy (Landon Mirisciotti), who have received tips that Heidi may be providing illegal abortion services on her property. While the premise is interesting, the choice to set the play in the future never entirely paid off, and the twists in the plot relied primarily on shock value.
Next up is Yaju, written and directed by Mary Laws (writer of Blueberry Toast at the Echo last year). One of the standouts of the evening, it opens on a present-day kitchen where a teenage girl, Ray (Maya Bowman) has just informed her mother, Hope (Julie Dretzin) that their family cat, Mr. Whiskers, is deceased. While Ray initially claims he was hit by a truck, Hope quickly finds holes in her daughter’s story, leading her to fear her daughter may have a darkness in her she never anticipated. It’s a genre-bending story that combines surreal horror and comedy and features the strongest performances of the night. Underneath the more sensational story of the dead cat is some smart commentary about the expectations placed on teenage girls, and the difference between raising a daughter and raising a son.
Sherry and Vince, written by Charlotte Miller and directed by Tara Karsian, ends the first act. Vince (Jose Corea) is in jail, and Sherry (Jacqueline Besson) comes to visit him and in the process air her grievances, which primarily have to do with Vince’s role in the death of her brother but also date back to an event far more personal between the two of them. It is a solid piece with characters who speak like realistic teenagers on the cusp of being young adults, and while there is only time to skim the surface, the dynamic presented is interesting.
Do You See, written and directed by Sharon Yablon, is the most ambitious play of the five. Set in San Francisco in the 1980s, it begins simply with roommates Wendy (Erin Scerbak) and Dana (Ellen Neary) preparing for a rather sad party consisting of a few Jell-O shots, a bag of Lays, and an unmade packet of onion dip. What transpires from there is an overly complicated series of events involving Dave (Alex Waxler), a vaguely creepy guy with a penchant for violence, Angela (Amanda Wagner), an awkward coworker of Dana’s with self-esteem issues and a knack for trying too hard, and Violet (Susan Louise O’Connor), the mother of a girl who recently went missing from the neighborhood. It ultimately felt like too much plot packed into a short amount of time, and any one of the three stories on its own would have had more of a chance to explore the themes of coming of age as a young woman in a big city.
The evening ends with Violet, written by Jacqueline Wright and directed by Teagan Rose. It is the simplest story of the night, and also the most heartbreaking and effective. Lea (Rachael Olsem) returns home to her apartment after receiving a message from her roommate, Violet (Lindsay Graves-Fisher), stating that she has been raped. As Violet sits in the dark, devastated and dreading the necessary steps that will come next as well as resenting the society that has made crimes like this so prevalent, Lea comforts her and is simply there for her friend in her time of need. It’s fitting for the evening to end with a story that not only explores an all-too-recognizable situation, but is about women helping women.
Nevertheless, She Persisted runs at the Echo Theater Company’s space at the Atwater Village Theatre through September 10th. Performances are Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm. The running time is approximately two hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.EchoTheaterCompany.com.