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Friday, December 09, 2016

Love the Drama and Support Queer Artists

Written by  Sage Piper

Iron Crow Brings Queer Theater to Charm City

The best kind of theater experience is one which ushers you out into the night talking animatedly with your companions– debating the hidden motivations of the show’s characters and filling in all the details not directly spelled out in the script. If one has truly hit the jackpot, the second round of drinks arrives at your post-theater restaurant and the group is still at it, expounding on the show’s larger themes and taking them far beyond the boundaries of the playwright’s original map. Such was my experience last weekend at the Iron Crow’s production of “The Zero Hour” at the Baltimore Theatre Project – a thought-provoking and original take on the complicated themes of identity, honesty, and the astonishing variations of cruelty in even the most ordinary human life. Playwright Madeleine George’s work also lays bare the deceptions we invoke in order to survive the intricate webs of relationship, the weight of history, and the demands of personal responsibility in our daily lives.

“The Zero Hour” features a lesbian couple living together in a cheap one room walkup apartment in Queens, New York. Rebecca (played by Rebecca Tucker) works by day at an academic publishing company and is currently writing a textbook for seventh graders about the Holocaust. Her partner O (played by the fearless Rena Marie) is quirky, passionate, and unemployed – with no plans to look for a job. The chemistry between the two is deliciously palpable ... as is the tension. Rebecca is exhausted and stressed, frustrated by O’s refusal to help improve their life circumstances, and also completely in the closet with her mother, friends, and colleagues. She finds herself struggling to keep her usual deliberate and surfacely upbeat face on things, especially as her increasing obsession with the Holocaust begins to engulf her. O, quirky, insecure, and plagued by unknown demons, frequently lashes out sarcastically towards Rebecca for her refusal to live her life in the open, only to feel remorse every time – as the stress levels rise.

As the arc of the couple’s relationship is played out in a series of short scenes (the two actresses themselves play almost all of the other roles in the play). With deft strokes of direction from Ann Turiano, the women go about their costume changes right on stage, slipping fluidly into the other characters, affecting a change of accent, tone, body language, and posture that works on every level.

The heart of the play is wrapped in a warm cloak of magical realism, as reality confronts the dreamlike in powerful ways. Rebecca feels inwardly tortured with the need to speak the truth of the Nazi atrocities to the next generation through her textbook. And yet she cannot see the pain she is causing O as she hides her own truths, their relationship, and her identity – even as she tries to convince herself that her identity is something apart from her behavior.

Rebecca begins talking to World War II Nazis (living incognito among us) on the Number 7 subway in unsettling but fascinating scenes.

Meanwhile O holds heated conversations about her challenging childhood during visitations from her absent mother, during which they cannot actually reach or help each other.

Of course, O does not share these visitations with Rebecca, nor does Rebecca reveal her train conversations with O.

“The Zero Hour” takes on more than one deep theme, including the inability of language, in the end, to truly convey to others what we are feeling. It is a powerful and thought-provoking work, made more so by skilled and passionate performances of Ms. Marie and Ms. Tucker.

This is the good news. The not-so-good news is that the performance on Saturday night was not full to the brim, standing-room-only fanfare and madness. The audience that was there was receptive and fully engaged. So I’m hoping that this column will serve as a call for support, and patronage.

The Iron Crow is Baltimore’s only queer theater company. The work that these LGBT actors, writers, directors, technicians, and administrators are doing is phenomenal. What a gift that they have found a home at the Baltimore Theatre Project – that their stories, talent, intelligence, and imagination have a forum to rock Baltimore’s theater scene wide open.

They have built it. Now we all need to come. As Iron Crow states so beautifully: “By developing and producing work that explores and celebrates that which is queer, we in turn engage in a dialogue about what it means to be American.” What time is more vital for such connection and such an open dialogue, than now?

P.S. “The Zero Hour” kicks off The Season of Dark Play for the 2016-17 Baltimore series. The next Iron Crow production is “Fucking A,” a dystopian view of the power games we are forced to play in modern society, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The show will be presented February 3rd to 12th, 2017. For more information: Ironcrowtheatre.org.

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