Dobama's 'Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again' Rightfully Commands Attention and Praise

Dobama's 'Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again' Rightfully Commands Attention and Praise
Photo by Steve Wagner Photography

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again

Through Feb. 17 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights


Should you enter Dobama Theatre for its production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again expecting to sit back and turn off your brain, you might wish to turn around. This isn't the play for you, and we say that in the best possible way.

Everything within Revolt suggests that leaving this performance without a sense of shock — without being prodded to reevaluate or further reflect upon your views of feminism — would be a failure to have properly connected with the message. That is to the great credit of director Sarah Elizabeth Wansley and the entire ensemble, which have done this particular play justice.

Author Julie Birch challenges anyone who chooses to produce Revolt to step outside their comfort zone. Dobama certainly has. In choosing this script, artistic director Nathan Motta has more than dipped his toes into what can conservatively be called a well-versed and seemingly exhaustive pool of feminist thinking, from around the world and from all classes and creeds of women, and has found that the water is warm and welcome for an intimate setting such as Dobama.

Finding life and inspiration within the phrase, "Well-behaved women seldom make history," Birch has constructed a mishmash of a narrative that at first skims the surface of what she calls a theatrical feminist manifesto, then thrusts you into the subliminal ideas behind that manifesto, just as you start to feel comfortable.

Throughout the play, each cast member wears many hats, metaphorically and at times quite literally. The four actresses — Lisa Louise Langford, Nina Domingue, Rachel Lee Kolis and Miranda Leeann — all have moments to shine. Meanwhile, Abraham McNeil Adams, the sole man in the production — and credited as exactly that, as a generic Man — jumps in and out of most scenes to inject an often-inverted male agenda. His delivery hits that sweet spot between romantic desperation and comedy to make even the most sexist portrayal of men rather charming, tongue firmly lodged in cheek. Similarly, Dobama veteran Kolis' comedic side is showcased beautifully, with an extra twitch of the eye for good measure during her numerous mental breakdowns.

For most of the play, the four women share the stage and trade places portraying comparatively self-explanatory messages of counter-sexism. Leeann begins with a wickedly funny exchange describing the sexual needs of women, much to the chagrin of Adams' more chauvinist character, and this continues with Kolis stepping in to offer up a hot take on the definition of marriage from within a melodramatically blunt female perspective.

These relatively light-hearted exchanges grind to a screeching halt when more expressionist vignettes, juxtaposed with bolder statements, showcase more visceral performances from the ensemble. Gender role reversal, hyper-sexuality, pornography and rape are all fair game as the stage fills with too many voices to truly comprehend.

The energy on stage is close to sensory overload, further amplified by strobe lights, music and smoke. The saving grace is that there is a control to the chaos, thanks in large part to the wonderful sound and light design by Megan Culley and Jakyung Cho Seo, respectively. The constant kinetic movement within the third act is a feast for the eyes, shifting focus throughout the entire theater.

In these moments, it takes large personalities to shine through, and the ensemble cast delivers with the kind of unbridled showmanship one would more likely expect from performance art. Langford's very presence on stage is commanding, with an equal sense of comic timing and raw passion. Domingue lets loose with an unabashed performance that screams for your attention.

The direction of this particular production could be overlooked without some insight into the script. As this is predominately a language play, Birch leaves most stage direction, dialogue flow and settings to the theater, and the staff at Dobama chose a minimalist approach, aside for the stage off in the corner.

The inclusion of live music performed by the actors is a nice creative touch, and the musical numbers chosen have some intriguing undertones. Leeann often takes center stage as the de facto leader of the gals during these musical interludes and possesses a forceful yet pleasant voice.

Another one of Birch's intentions was to assert on-stage fluidity. She describes Revolt as performable without props, a set or even defined genders for gendered roles. In this production, props are used sparingly but with purpose, and oftentimes result in a hardy chuckle. You may never look at a watermelon the same again.

Revolt greets you with the message of not being well-behaved. And once the lights go down, it doesn't take long to realize that it's as good as its word. Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again heightens and validates the inner exhibitionist in all of us, finding meaning in how the viewer interprets the performance as much as in what is actually on the stage, and that — to put it simply — is true art.

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