Women in Chains

Forbidden's actors are bound by writing and directing misdeeds.

Forbidden Presented by Red Hen Productions at the Black Box Theatre, 1210 West Sixth Street Through October 23, 216-556-0910
It is interesting and noble to want to produce theater by and about women, as the mission statement of Red Hen Productions promises. But it would be wise to add the codicil that these theatrical productions must also be well written and competently directed. In a region filled with accomplished women of theater -- including outstanding directors (Sarah May, Jyana S. Gregory, Terri Kent, the Colombi sisters, Sonya Robbins, Victoria Bussert, et al) and actors (Jacqi Loewy, Tracee Patterson, Lucy Bredeson-Smith, Dorothy Silver, Bernice Bolek, etc.), the need for a feminist theater that wants to empower women may seem questionable.

Still, there must be scripts concerned with women's issues that other venues might pass on, enabling a feminist theater to fill a gap in the area's cultural life. Unfortunately, Forbidden, now being presented by Red Hen, lays an egg of such ample dimensions that it would have frightened Chicken Little more than a crashing sky. Written by British journalist and playwright Pat Rowe, it makes a hash of extremely rich source material and turns a passionate love story between two women living in Nazi Germany into a banal exercise, with a little kissy-face and grab-ass thrown in for grins.

Based on the true story that became the German flick Aimee and Jaguar, Rowe's plodding effort goes wrong in the first few seconds, when Lily, a middle-aged Bavarian hausfrau and mother married to a Nazi officer, trumpets her love for Felice, a young, free-spirited Bohemian with flashing eyes, a quick wit, and a hidden Jewish bloodline. This declaration of adoration neatly bypasses any dramatic evidence that might have suggested why such unlikely lovers were attracted to each other in the first place, and that issue remains an unintended mystery throughout the proceedings. Since Rowe doesn't allow the audience to experience the relationship, but only informs it of what is transpiring, the story is kept at arm's length emotionally, sabotaging our reaction to the sad trajectory of the women's love affair.

Another problem is that director Karen Gygli hasn't a clue about how to shape these scenes or pace the show. There are brisk and slow moments, but the ones that should clip along are tedious, and the ones that should take their time are rushed. Statements meant to be interrupted just end and hang there, waiting for the next line like a delayed bus. Meanwhile, the playwright fills her character's mouths with obvious and melodramatic tripe ("You have so many secrets," Lily murmurs perceptively to Felice). And Felice cuts loose with "Just because we're persecuted doesn't mean we're perfect," which sounds like a boffo lyric from The Producers. Furthermore, some odd motivations go blithely unexplored, such as Lily's intention to put her four children in a state home so she can help Felice dodge the Gestapo.

Capable actors Liz Conway (Felice), Elizabeth R. Wood (Lily), and Dan Kilbane (friend Erich) are victimized by the dull script and leaden direction, as are any attendees who might wander in. Feminist theater deserves better fare than this.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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