Shawn Stalter, Chief Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic
Theatre Three once again showed that they have their finger on the pulse of the performing arts in DFW with a dynamic production of the relevant, poignant and thought-provoking work, “The Armor Plays: Cinched & Strapped.” These two distinct one-act plays skillfully weave together themes of power and rebellion as well as the role gender plays in the space between the two. Subjects including, but not limited to, overt violence, mental health, love, and reproductive freedoms come screaming to the surface through crisp dialogue and dynamic action.
Written by award-winning playwright Selina Fillinger, and directed by the adept Leslie Swackhamer, “The Armor Plays: Cinched & Strapped” occur worlds apart but swim in the same strong underlying current. “Cinched” is replete with women clad in tightly bound corsets attempting to navigate the absurd social intricacies and unique peculiarities of 19th century England’s high society. “Strapped,” on the other hand, takes the audience to a viscerally-dark, frighteningly-intense, dystopian reality where a small band of women fights back against the oppression of a society hell-bent on legislating life, love, liberty and reproductive rights.
“Cinched” opens with some comedically disarming interactions between a persnickety noble widow, “Lady Glessing,” played by the sharp and charming Christie Vela and her young maid, “Tabitha,” beautifully performed by Ana Hagedorn, as they frantically prepare for an upcoming dinner party. As additional guests arrive, and the thin veneer of civility begins to peel away, the audience enjoys a glimpse of the inner machinations of James Crawford as “Lord Burrows,” and Seth Magill as “Lord Witherton.” Together, their ensuing power struggle, one-upmanship and crassness deliver some hilarious interactions but occur in stark contrast to the deep issues the women around them face.
James Crawford’s swagger, arrogance and underhandedness as “Lord Burrows” was intensely convincing and served as a counterbalance to the more gentle nature of the women surrounding him. His ward, “Lady Ada,” beautifully performed by Ania Lyons, maintains a childlike naivety despite the difficult recent events she endured. As the distraught and emotionally-wrecked wife of “Lord Witherton,” Christie Vela’s “Lady Witherton,” delivered a remarkably true performance. We see her grasp at thin strands of sanity only to come up empty-handed in a finale which is highly-charged and thought-provoking at the same time.
After a brief intermission, audiences buckled up for the wild ride that is “Strapped.” Its dark, apocalyptic vision of the future takes place under the eyes of an authoritarian regime which has legislated away women’s rights and oppressively controls women. What would have seemed like superbly-dark science fiction decades ago, now rings with realistic undertones of present-day events which threaten to send us all slipping backwards into the sewers of the darker chapters of human history.
The visceral anger that exudes from the talented cast in “Strapped” cuts like a knife and hangs thick in the air. In the roles of “Arb,” “Igg,” “Goo,” and “Tot,” Christie Vela, Ana Hagedorn, Sophie Neff and Ania Lyons play tough, lean women who opt to live in the squalor of the underworld rather than kowtowing to the hold of the “upper” world’s oppressive regime. Their desperation, aggression and rage flood the stage with a tidal wave of emotion. Set to the backdrop of a wildly imaginative and immersive theatre-in-the-round scene, courtesy of Joselyn Girigorie, and bathed in exquisitely envisioned lighting from Phillip W. Powers, each character comes to life in a vivid and surreal way.
Together, both offerings from this intensely talented cast craft a unique space which encourages deep introspection of gender roles throughout history and expose the harsh realities, and possible repercussions, of the current course of society. Backed by exceptional stage design, unique costuming, surreal lighting, vivid animation effects and more, “The Armor Plays: Cinched & Strapped” is more than just a pairing of one-act plays. It is an intense experience; an avant-garde production splendidly culminating Theatre Three’s exhilarating season which included a vast array of unique, compelling stories brought to life in an accessible and thought-provoking way.
“The Armor Plays: Cinched & Strapped” is directed by Leslie Swackhamer and runs through June 30, 2019. Cast members include Christie Vela in the roles of “Lady Glessing/Arb,” Sophie Neff as “Lady Witherton/Goo,” Ania Lyons as “Lady Ada/Tot,” Ana Hagedorn as “Tabitha/Igg,” James Crawford as “Lord Burrows/Ved,” and Seth Magill as “Lord Witherton/Cal.” Members of the creative team of “The Armor Plays: Cinched & Strapped” include Emily Neves, Jocelyn Girigorie, Jeremy Bernadoni, Aaron Patrick DeClerk, Shahrzad Mazaheri, Phillip Powers, Madeleine Morris, Krista Scott, Michelle Foster, Jeff Collangelo, Emily Anne Probus and Charlotte McGaughty.,
Photo credit: Jeffrey Schmidt