An ample black woman raises her eyes to the audience, smiles and breaks into a slow dance. Dressed in multicolored, loose-fitting pants she moves gracefully across the empty chapel floor. About a minute passes, she stops and walks towards the audience.
“Well, hello,” she says, “I see you’ve finally come to see me.”
She lets the awkward moment hang, then continues with her monologue. It becomes clear that she speaking is a sort of collective mother addressing her many children. She is, in fact, a pair of ovaries.
Horizon Theater’s new play, That Takes Ovaries! is as adaptation of a collection of short stories by the same name. Released in 2002, Rivka Solomon’s collection of empowering female-oriented stories was published with the subtitle: “bold females and their brazen acts.” Stories range from the tale of one woman fighting her way out of prostitution to the circumstances surrounding a double mastectomy.
The play presents about 18 of the book’s 64 stories.
The play begins in a coffee shop. A waitress is mopping up the tables when an excited friend walks into the shop. The friend proceeds to relate and enact the thrill of sky surfing, then leaves. Another two women come in and sit down, as they chat two prostitutes and a pimp walk into the shop.
The pimp tries to smooth talk the women at the table. Infuriated, one of them demands 50 dollars for 15 minutes of her time. Amused, the pimp hands over the money and proceeds to try and charm her. He fails. This leads into another woman’s tale of her escape form prostitution and so on.
The coffee shop does not remain the central setting for the piece, but it recurs often enough to provide a thread that holds the larger work together.
In writing the play, the playwrights faced the challenge of creating an interconnected and flowing narrative, while at the same time avoiding cliches. For the most part Solomon, with Leslie Jacobson and Vanessa Thomas of Horizons Theater, do a decent job.
The interpretative use of space is the play’s strongest asset. That Takes Ovaries! is being staged in the Hand Chapel on the Mt. Vernon Campus. The interior of the chapel is an impressive, bare and angular space, which could have detracted from the play. However, the minimalist set design and the minimalism of the production allowed for an incorporation of the simplicity of the space. There are no costume changes – the seven person cast remains in rainbow colored clothes throughout.
The actors’ performances are also, for the most part, impressive in their breadth and ease. Each actor quickly assumes new characters, shifting gender, age and form with impressive agility. Their performances are often as subtle and minimalist as the space in which they work. For example, when portraying foreign characters, the actors do not attempt to assume an accent. Instead, they affect the characteristic tone of an Indian voice without being overbearing.
While many of the stories are endearing and amusing, the company’s tendency to burst into song can have very adverse effects. For example, when acting out a story about filming the exploitation of young women in the brothels of India, there was no need to burst into song.
In moments like this, the actors are hindered by their subject matter. As a production and adaptation, That Takes Ovaries! is generally impressive. But it never quite shakes off the feel of a chicken-soup-for-the soul show. It’s powerful, but its desire to be powerful is its greatest flaw.
Showing at the Hand Chapel at the Mount Vernon Campus, through March 30. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m.