Review: The Way She Spoke (Solo Celebration! at Greenhouse Theater)

| June 17, 2016

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 3           
      
  

The Way She Spoke

Written by Isaac Gomez 
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru July 10  |  tix: $34-$48  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     


    
  

Grim but vital solo show

  

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 1

    
Greenhouse Theater presents
    
The Way She Spoke: A Docu-mythologia

Review by Lauren Whalen

As of 2016, Greenhouse Theater Center is producing. Previously a successful rental venue (and store for used theater books), the Greenhouse now has a board of directors, a host of part-time staff and apprentices, and an Artistic Director, General Manager and Production Manager. Its first foray into producing is the Solo Celebration Series, an eight-month run of 12 solo plays that begins with The Way She Spoke. This powerful and stirring agitprop play about the dangers of being a woman in Juarez, Mexico, kicks off the series with a loud and resonant (and welcome) bang.

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 2On a typical day in Chicago, an actress (Karen Rodriguez) breezes into a warehouse to read a play. She’s late, she’s chatty and she appears to know the unseen playwright fairly well. Also, she says with laughter in her voice, she hasn’t yet read the play. The playwright, Isaac Gomez, has written a show about his experiences in Juarez, Mexico. Though Gomez grew up just outside of Juarez, in Texas, he only recently become aware of the city’s horrible dangers to women. Working in factories for little money, expected to marry men even if they prefer their own sex, the women of Juarez are on constant guard – and sometimes even if they do everything right, they end up dead. At first incredulous and disbelieving, then sad, then angry, the actress plays every role, from young women to their grieving parents to a convicted murderer who’s now walking the streets again.

Though of course it wasn’t planned this way, The Way She Spoke opens at a crucial and sensitive time in the Chicago theater scene. Last week, an exposé appeared in “The Reader,” detailing Profiles Theatre’s decades of misconduct, mainly involving Co-Artistic Director Darrell W. Cox and his psychological and physical abuse of actresses. On Tuesday evening, Profiles announced its shuttering, but Cox continues to deny his wrongdoings in the media. Of course, Cox isn’t a murderer or a kidnapper, but the Reader article exposed the corruption of a safe space and the vulnerability of the young women who worked in it. The Way She Spoke would be an essential story regardless of when it opened, but during a time when many community members feel they’ve lost their innocence, this play’s words – and its strong female soloist – ring true and hit deep. Its power is further heightened in light of last Saturday’s mass shooting, the largest in United States history, at an Orlando nightclub during Pride weekend – when the majority of the victims were LGBT people of color. Populations that were already marginalized, have had their safe space ripped away, and the story of the women of Juarez has many similarities.

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater

Gomez, Victory Gardens’ literary manager, Hypocrites ensemble member and Teatro Vista artistic associate, also has a long list of credits as playwright, dramaturg and artist in residence. His script is thoroughly researched, deeply emotional and gritty, but never exploitative. Through Gomez’s words, the audience feels the desperation of the victims’ parents, the hope of those who continue to pray for the women even as they keep disappearing, the smugness of the men who use sexual harassment, death threats and violence to keep women in their place. Through Gomez’s words, the audience feels every nuance of the actress’ performance, when she finds herself disappearing into each character’s head and when she breaks, joking with the playwright about using the wrong word or screaming at him about his lack of action, of activism.

Rodriguez is brilliant, smoothly cycling through 65 minutes worth of dialogue and countless personas, complete with distinct voices and mannerisms for each. Her presence is dynamic and illuminating, her energy high, her interpretation of the material flawless (thanks also to the strong direction of Laura Baker). I can’t picture anyone else inhabiting Gomez’s script with such power and grace, and I hope to see more of Rodriguez’s onstage work.

The Way She Spoke doesn’t wrap up with a bow. In fact, it’s possible that not much can be done on our end to prevent these senseless tragedies. The actress’ frustration and powerlessness is palpable and contagious – women are dying and people are simply accepting it. Other women try to fight for them, but they too are threatened, sometimes murdered. The Way She Spoke is agitprop theatre at its finest – at a time when American culture and politics feel unsafe to many, we are reminded that elsewhere, the danger is even worse.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

The Way She Spoke continues through July 10th at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2:30pm & 8pm, Sundays 2:30pm.  Tickets are $34-$48, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info at GreenhouseTheater.org(Running time: 65 minutes, no intermission)

Isaac Gomez wrote Greenhouse Theater's "The Way She Spoke," directed by Laura Baker, and part of Greenhouse's Solo Celebration! Series. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Karen Rodriguez

Photos by Michael Brosilow 


  

artists

cast

Karen Rodriguez

behind the scenes

Laura Baker (director), Sarah Putts (sound design), Rebecca Adelsheim (dramaturg), Heather Sparling (lighting design), Eleanor Kahn (scenic design), Adia Alli (stage manager), Ron Rude (production manager, Greenhouse Theater), Maia Reed (general manager, Greenhouse Theater), Jacob Harvey (artistic director, Greenhouse Theater), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Karen Rodriguez stars in The Way She Spoke, Solo Celebration, Greenhouse Theater 3

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Category: 2016 Reviews, Greenhouse Theater, Greenhouse Theater Center, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, One-Man Show, World Premier

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