nytheatre.com review | Heather McAllister | August 12, 2012
The title of Charly E. Simpson’s play, or what she will, misled me. My expectations were entirely different than the world this play submerged me in. Twelfth Night, the Shakespearian comedy, is subtitled or what you will so I expected to enjoy a comedy of mistaken identity, silly disguise, romance, adventure and all with an ultimately uplifting tone.
or what she will is none of those things. It is dark, dangerous, and unforgiving. It reaches up from the bottom of a stormy sea and drags you down, gasping for breath. I left the theatre in tears.
The script is clever and strong, built around a quote of the novelist William Faulkner: “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” In this instance it seems to be a reference to our bodies remembering what our brains want us to forget: pain, humiliation, fear and shame. Simpson’s tale loops and eddies, starts and recedes like an angry ocean of pain.
We meet our precocious heros, sweet twin tweens, a boy and a girl, “Faulkner” and “Willa,” who’s lovely and loving “Mother” reads them Shakespeare – but never Titus Andronicus, never Othello – only the comedies. There is a present and involved “Father,” and “Julie,” the cute girl next door. And there is danger, personified in “The Man.”
The direction by Illana Stein is fluid, theatrical and oh so smart. Movement tells us what words cannot express. Words can be our protection, or a weapon. Books are strewn everywhere, roughly tossed overboard and washed ashore, frayed covers, broken spines, their insides turned out by this play. The characters suffer the same fate as the books they love. We discover along with “Willa” that your brain, no matter how clever, can’t outsmart your heart. Life is perilous, danger is everywhere, childhood innocence is unsalvageable, wrecked on the rocks hidden just beneath the surface. Those are the lessons I took from this play.
The cast, led by Monica Jones as “Willa,” are amazing. They are real, and raw, shocking and surprising. Heartbreaking in their honesty and each one a dark pleasure to watch.
The topic of horrors subjected to and by children is important to visit, so we can find ways to prevent them, of course. But it’s a very gloomy subject for such a sunny summer’s day. For me, even in the grimmest fairy tale I need a little ray of hope.
nytheatre.com q&a preview
by Illana Stein | July 16, 2012
What is your job on this show?
When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
I started out in theater when I was 5. Too small for sports and a little shy, my parents enrolled me in my first acting classes at Casa Mañana. My teachers at my elementary school were afraid that I wasn’t speaking up in classes and my mom thought, “That’s funny, she won’t shut up at home.” At theatre school, I met the most amazing and encouraging teachers early on and slowly broke out of my shell. A little bummed that everyone was working on Charlie Brown monologues and I was given Louisa from The Fantasticks, but I learned to master her self-discovery monologue about her mauve hair. Age 6 reciting, “When I was 16 yrs old…” I owe everything to theater. I pursued a career that began playing a turtle in Casa’s production of Brer Rabbit (where I painted my face green for the role and the Principal was convinced I had jaundice when the paint wouldn’t come off)…This was followed by being part of Kids Who Care a singing, dancing, acting troop (getting to tour around the world).. to directing a cutting of Moon Over Buffalo in High School…(about 50 shows in between)… to today. Once I found a place of acceptance and my true calling in theater- I have never looked back. I hope everybody gets that experience. Theater is a beautiful place where the most brave and generous artists work and the most beautiful stories live-because they begin with ourselves.
Why did you want to be part of FringeNYC?
I love being part of festivals like this where you can get to meet so many wonderful artists and so many different types of shows exist all together. There is something magical about that. Last year, I directed a new play, Darker by Catie O’Keefe for the Cincinnati Fringe Festival and it was such a wonderful experience. Festivals give emerging artists a platform for their voice to be heard and force artists to push themselves past their comfort zones of shows they are used to working on. You get an audience that ranges from first time theater goers passing through to die hard theater fans who will see 30 shows and can’t wait to experience it all. And I always love a good challenge!
Do you think the audience will talk about your show for 5 minutes, an hour, or way into the wee hours of the night?
Charly’s show, or what she will, is my favorite type of show to direct. I believe theater is a two-way conversation with the audience that begins when the lights go down. You will definitely be talking about this show the next day. What is the role of family? How do we communicate with those we love? And much more.. that I can’t divulge. The script goes where you never expect it to and that is exciting. The story will stay with you for a very long time.
People who like which of the following recent Broadway shows would also probably like your show: THE BOOK OF MORMON, ONCE, DEATH OF A SALESMAN, CLYBOURNE PARK?
The themes are universal so the script feels classic like, “Death of a Salesman”. The language is poetic and beautiful and haunting but tackles some very deep issues like “Clybourne Park.”
Can theatre bring about societal change? Why or why not?
I am most interested in theater that can bring about change-whether societal or one that begins with ourselves. I love the theater allows you to take a deeper into yourself. Something on that stage, resonates in you, and thanks to beautiful artists who are willing to pour their hearts out on stage, we walk away with a better understanding of who we are and life’s bigger questions. Then we have the power to make that change. If everybody got to experience theater that way, how could you not want to go out into the world and want to make it a better place. It begins with one person and that could be today.