Theater Review: 45 PLAYS FOR AMERICA’S FIRST LADIES (The Neo-Futurists in NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco)

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by Tony Frankel on October 28, 2020

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-New York,Virtual


The program states: “Rather than presenting a purely biographical story, this project uses the “honorary” office of First Lady as a lens to examine the roles that women and other marginalized individuals have played in the development of America.” That this recorded production is coarse in value only seems to heighten the point of The Neo-Futurists’ 45 Plays for America’s First Ladies, behind every First Lady is one helluva scrappy country.

This is a follow-up to 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, which I saw in Chicago in 2012. In that, we met the gentlemen who’ve sat in the Oval Office, from well-knowns such as Lincoln alongside lesser-knowns such as Fillmore. For this made-for-streaming event, we have a chronological series of 1- to 5-minute plays that adopt a variety of shapes, tones and theatrical conventions, which is the traditional Neo-Futurist style. Over 100 minutes in length, the time flew by.

With five credited writers (Andy Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Sharon Greene and Chloe Johnston), the “plays” — one to five minute pieces — vary in genre and tone: Sometimes a First Lady is quoted, other times we learn about the Leader of the Free World’s wife through interesting facts and figures. Director Denise Yvette Serna utilizes the home-spun feel to her advantage as her actresses use items from home as they film themselves in everything from bathtubs to lakes (naturally, the sound quality is a bit wonky).

As usual, dance, farce, singing, storytelling, and silly costumes (and I think a little improv?), the show elicits everything from tears to smiles and guffaws to rage. These pieces also range in quality, from mildly amusing to LOL guffaws (Hillary Clinton’s playlet was done like a preview for a horror movie, and I LOVED it). Clearly, the virtual demands are difficult for this ensemble to tackle, a bit like managing a hundred different moving parts in a governmental office. But they did it! Live-streamed from the thespians’ locations in SF, NYC, and Chicago (I even recognized a hallway from the Neo-Futurarium), the cast is Brenda Arellano, Hilary Asare, Ida Cuttler, Andie Patterson, Robin Virginie, and Vic Wynter.

screenshots courtesy of Neo-Futurists

45 Plays for America’s First Ladies
full digital recording ends on Nov. 2, 2020 EXTENDED to November 8, 2020
for tickets ($15), visit Neo-Futurists

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