Edinburgh, U.K. -- Eye-crossing, mind-boggling numbers of art-loving, hard-drinking people and arts events pack the Edinburgh Fringe Festival every August. It's hard to describe the joyful mayhem of tens of thousands of people packed into the glorious streets, lined with one more architecturally beautiful building after another. The smells of sausage and beer waft by and sometimes the more ripened body odor of some the UK's teen males does, too. The offerings, ranging from stand-up to musicals and everything in between, range in the thousands and are spread over 238 venues. Over 600 shows are free. Because of the sheer numbers involved, picking a play can be daunting. Heck, promoting one can be crazy. I know because I'm here performing a solo show I wrote about my odd-duck mother, called "Now That She's Gone."
But right now I want to talk about another play which has made me happier than almost any theater piece I can think of in years: TheatreM's production of "Commencement." The show, written by Brent Boyd, is directed by Anne Scarbrough and Doug Lowry, and the cast is made up of extremely talented young women from Marlborough School in Los Angeles, CA. In the interest of full disclosure, I am distantly "related" to the cast, crew and director. My connection? I'm on the board of directors for IMPACT Personal Safety, Los Angeles, a 501 c3 that provides full force full impact self-defense classes at Marlborough.
I love the theater and have been in it since I was 15, doing everything there is to do: acting, directing, producing, writing, designing and reviewing. I am also a co-founder of the first all woman theater company in the U.S., the now defunct "Theater of Process" in Santa Barbara, CA, which had to finally integrate itself with men since there were only so many productions of Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba" we could do. So I'm not only conversant but experienced in what it takes to create theater, including theater featuring women and girls.
This world premiere production of "Commencement" here in Edinburgh touched, moved and inspired me to laughter, tears and the simple joy of seeing real people do real theater about real issues. The girls are talented, committed, and having fun every step of the way. (Sadly, there were no programs at the performance we attended, but the ensemble was so large and so good it would be very difficult to write about each actor.) Directors Scarbrough and Lowry have directed a large cast into a seamless tapestry of intrigue, wicked comedy, tragedy and a hearty dose of revenge, giving the thought-provoking and gleefully agile script by Mr. Boyd its proper wings.
I have often thought that women's psyches would benefit from having a larger menu of revenge fantasies on stage and screen. When men get even with other men or women, it's often called "payback"; when women and girls strike back, it's often called "man-bashing." So? There are some men who deserve to get bashed, and not in a fun way either. "Commencement" makes the bashing of CEOs into an over-achievers' extra-credit project, except it's not. It also takes on a major theme of the second wave of the feminist movement: the personal IS the political. Basically, the character of Ms. Green is a popular teacher who exhorts her senior-class students to take responsible social and political stands to make a difference in the world: Think Global, Act Local. (Isn't it "Think Globally, Act Locally"? That was the only thing that bugged me during the whole production.) The students take her guidance to an extreme degree and kidnap the commencement speaker who is the head of Heartwell Industries, a enormous Halliburton /ADM / Raytheon mashup: a multi-national conglomerate known to run private "black ops" prisons that use torture, and commit industrial and environmental crimes galore in all sectors of mining, manufacture, agriculture ... you get the idea.
Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say Ms. Green is appalled at the discovery of what her students have done, but then - when the CEO's misdeeds get more local and heinous (think Dominique Strauss-Kahn here) - she goes native and joins her students. She wasn't personally enraged by the magnitude of global atrocities committed by this man, but like Louise in "Thelma & Louise," she took matters very much to heart when one of her girls was threatened, locally.
What fun to see the girls play men and boys. Traditionally, most people don't think twice about seeing men play women and girls; indeed theater history is rife with that very convention since women were not allowed on stage for centuries. What's good for the gander is definitely good for the geese in "Commencement." Their drag versions of amoral bean counters in "risk analysis" meetings is great fun, as is the musing of a father whose daughter is losing her lungs, and their beautiful wilderness as well, as he watches their mountaintops wiped out by Heartwell strip-mining. The leads are all delightful and as far-fetched as some of it is, it has the ring of truth. You go, girls! Be prepared to have that delightful feeling of schadenfreude; there's nothing else quite like it.
"Commencement" is a testament to the adage that girls just wanna have fun... but they also wanna get some back too, just like the boys do.
Go see this! If you're in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, it's playing at the C Venues through August 20, at 1:30 (no show on August 15.) Warning: may not be suitable for scum-sucking, child-exploiting, earth destroying, misogynistic, rapist, pedophilic capitalists. Oh yeah, and come see my show too; Assembly Hall, Baillie Room, 5:30 pm daily through August 28. There, I just helped you pick two great shows in Edinburgh!