By: Paulanne Simmons
January 22, 2024: If you’re looking for light entertainment, Woman on Fire: Fair Is Foul! is probably not for you. But if you want thought-provoking theater at its best, run, don’t walk to Royal Performing Arts Space. Written by Royal Family’s artistic director Chris Henry and directed by Henry and Royal Family artistic director Lorna Ventura, the workshop production features monologues delivered by a rotating cast that includes such luminaries as Kathleen Chalfant, Julie Halston, Mary Testa, Linedy Genao and Carolee Carmello.
The monologues are of two types. Some speak to the dangerous situation the United States faces today: women’s loss of control over their bodies, the frightening possibility of a second Trump presidency, the Me Too movement and its failures.
The other monologues are the personal stories of anonymous Americans: a Trump voter who thinks he is the only candidate who has her back; a Mainer who loves her state but is horrified by recent shootings, a woman who proudly voted for and then was disappointed in Raegan, a Latina who can’t understand why white woman let themselves be abused by men, a woman who has adopted a child after a series of miscarriage and strongly opposes abortions. There are even a few women who talk about international issues: the Troubles in Ireland, the war in Yugoslavia.
In between the monologues, a troupe of dancers performs Ventura’s stunning choreography. These same dancers interact silently with the monologists. It’s not entirely clear how the dancers add to the play’s message. But they certainly provide visual interest and a welcome respite to a show that would otherwise be just endless talk.
From time to time, a young girl walks on stage, singing or reciting nursery rhymes. She seems to represent innocence, fragility and perhaps our hopes for the future. And Lara Jacobsen’s original music, as well as Ethan Fell’s lighting design do much to enhance the production by adding to its emotional impact.
At the top of the show, Kathleen Chalfant compares the times we are living in with the world Shakespeare created in Macbeth. Fair is indeed foul, and foul is indeed fair. We are menaced by an unscrupulous usurper. Our cherished values seem to be tottering precariously. But is there a Macduff waiting in the wings preparing to save us?
Women on Fire: Fair Is Foul! Runs through runs through Jan. 29, 2024 at Royal Family Performing Arts Space,
145 West 46th Street, 3rd Floor.
Photography: Russ Rowland