"A woman of a certain age"...
We've all heard that phrase, and we all know what it means. The audience hears it quite a few times throughout TheaterLab Shares' and Convergences Theatre Collective's provocative new production The Woman Who Was Me: written by Peter Grandbois, directed by Jeremy Williams, and performed by Liz Stanton. In the world of theater and cinema, much has been made about the shortage of roles both for and about those proverbial "women of a certain age". Why is that? Many theorists have opined for hours and/or written volumes to figure it out, but one thing's for certain: Throughout the last few decades, women's and girls' roles are expanding and changing faster than we can keep up. As we finish the first half of the year, 2017 is no exception. At the same time, however, so-called "traditional" gender roles for both women and men have, in many ways, stubbornly stayed the same throughout time. Often, those conflicting expectations-- the old versus the evolving-- lie side by side. Perhaps no one discovers that more profoundly than Stanton's character Lanie, AKA "Elizabeth", in The Woman Who Was Me.
Lanie is a wife, author, teacher, and mother of a seven-year-old son who experiences a sexual and spiritual awakening after an unexpected, passionate kiss by a stranger in her garden. It's a kiss that, as you'd imagine, is quite different than the usual peck on the neck she'd get from her husband. That single "bisou passionné" launches her towards a new perspective on her day-to-day life. We never find out much more about that mystery man, but his identity ultimately becomes secondary to the new character who is slowly emerging: Stanton's titular "woman who was me". After the kiss, our protagonist chases that transcendent moment, hoping to replicate that inimitable feeling of sensual excitement that's been put into storage (most likely along with the sexy lingerie from her honeymoon). Even the familiar, monotonous rattle of her ceiling fan takes on a musical tone: an inspiring soundtrack of sorts for a new outlook on life. Lanie's revival of the senses leads to some new adventures: a night at a salsa club ("I was the only white woman there. The men didn't mind!"), flirtation with a 20-something Gypsy man, and ultimately a full-out sexual escapade. Her story, however, becomes just as much about self-love and self-discovery as it is about carnal desire.
So many of us in New York City have enjoyed the experience of the "black box" theater. The performance space of New York City’s TheaterLab is just as intimate, but far from black: In fact, it’s pure white. Combined with minimalist set design by WT McRae, it appropriately creates the tone for the initial Wonder Bread-like blandness of our character's mundane life, right on down to Lanie's wash-and-wear ecru-tinted wardrobe. Yet, the un-ornamented setting also creates a blank slate for the perfect storm of emotions soon to be unleashed when Lanie’s veil is lifted. In a deceptively simple yet innovative creative touch by Kate Jaworski, colored lights are used to bathe the whiteness of the space and change the moods for each setting throughout the play: red for the salsa club, blue for a clandestine encounter, and more. As the woman who yearns to be called "Elizabeth", Liz Stanton is perfectly cast. She wears the well-earned physical and emotional "war scars" of a middle-aged woman, but she can also expertly express moments of girlish joy in an instant-- and, like the aforementioned expectations of today's women, those two personas often exist side by side. Her performance, combined with Grandbois' poetic dialogue, reminds us that youthful passion and ambition can lie dormant, but never really go away. Most importantly, they have the ability to be reactivated. There's no tidy epilogue to The Woman Who Was Me. The audience is left to wonder just which pathway Lanie— no... "Elizabeth" will take. It turns out to be an appropriate conclusion. Like the titular character's new sense of freedom, our own imagination is refreshingly free of limitations. It's an inspiring lesson, for both "women of a certain age" and everyone else.
The Woman Who Was Me continues through Sunday, June 11th at TheaterLab at 357 W. 36th Street, New York City. The Second Act of each show, "Women's Voices, Women's Choices", features a different Special Guest to have a conversation with the audience and actor Liz Stanton. Visit www.TheaterLabNYC.com for tickets and more information.