*Okay, I know this show is no longer on the boards. But I wrote this while it was still playing. And it’s a great play.
So, let’s just get this clear straight off: This show had nothing to do with Les Mis! Even though every time I think of the title I’m singing it, there was no reference to old timey France at all. I know!
WWWYAU (this is not a good acronym I won’t use this again) is effectively a character study amid various growing ideals of feminism. Four women, with wildly different ideas about where and how women fit in the world, interact in a safe house in the 1970s, run by the president of all things Acting, Cherry Jones.
She also rocks at not taking bullshit. This is one of my favorite qualities in a person, so Agnes was like my jam. One of the characters says to her, “Anger is like an art form with you,” and it’s true both of Agnes and Cherry Jones. Jones is one of the best stage actresses alive, probably the best non-singing one, and she does complicated and diverse levels of yelling like you can’t even imagine. It’s a treat to watch her perform and bring whatever she is in to a higher level. I never watched “24” but I imagine she made that almost like 25.
A lot of her yelling comes about because of her 16-year-old daughter Penny, played by Dana Brody playing Dana Brody. Her acting style was apparently learned from the school of speaking breathlessly and fast in such a way that you know her brain is pushing words out faster than her mouth can keep up so it sounds like gargling gibberish…but somehow it always works. Her bad enunciation and too fast brain make her a very believable teenager. She should play teenagers her whole life. Her words come out like she has a slushee machine instead of an esophagus. You catch the gist and she spews so well but the whole time she’s speaking you’re thinking why am I suddenly covered in slushee?
Penny introduces herself to us as a very headstrong, very awesome future writer for Jezebel, lamenting the idea of prom and wearing dresses in general as traditions – in her words (paraphrased) – developed by the patriarchy that place females on display and require looking nice and demure as they apologize for having a vagina. She says some pretty amazing stuff like that, but I can’t remember any more because it was covered in slushee.
Anyway, like most teenagers, she disappoints. Most of her energy soon switches focus to getting the captain of the football team to ask her to prom and then be her way-too-serious boyfriend. The whole football team captain is kind of clichéd but then again so is everything in life. She accomplishes her goals by ignoring and skipping good chunks of school, which is really stupid because she says she wants to go to Yale. (Which is also really stupid HEYOOO).
Penny also gets some really cringe-worthy advice and assistance from Maryanne (a gripping Zoe Kazan), the latest abused wife to seek refuge at Agnes’s. Maryanne seems like the quintessential ‘60s-‘70s housewife, apologizing for male chauvinism like it’s her fault for existing in their world, and teaching Penny how to charm any man: by using a babyish voice, acting stupid and needy and unable to survive without him around to chew up food and spit it in her babybird mouth. It’s all very upsetting because there are women today who still think it’s best to act like that and sacrifice any semblance of independence or ability in order to keep men happy, and of course there are shittastic men who fancy that kind of behavior as well. F the patriarchy.
So we hope that Penny will realize, like, hey Maryanne…look where your advice got you, with a crazy abusive husband who doesn’t respect you as a real person even a little bit and gets crazy violent when he realizes he might not have full control over you like a toy. But instead Penny’s like yay he plays football and I’m going to cheer for him instead of doing homework and we’re going to prom which is like the coolest and we’re gonna get married even though I’d need parental consent and Agnes would never because she’s smart.
In the midst of all these new family problems, we learn that Agnes is not actually her mother. Penny’s birth mother was one of the battered women who came to Agnes for help (and was actually friends with her beforehand), gave birth in the room of the house that we stare into the entire show, and then abandoned the baby and ran back to her abuser, who promptly killed her. Penny KNOWS ALL OF THIS. So it’s all too sad when she makes the same mistakes and follows the same path as Maryanne and her mother. It shows how ingrained the subservient role of the woman was (and still is), and how her main role was to find a husband, and even if that husband beat her it was better than being unmarried. This sick world. And there are too many people who still think like that, or blame the woman for doing exactly what the world told her she was supposed to do. Grahhhhhh.
Looking at all of this awfulness and shaking her head is Hannah (Cherise Boothe, completely awesome), a black super feminist searching the region for a group she heard was establishing an all-female lesbian commune. While Hannah’s version of ideal feminism is troubling as well (pretty much, if you aren’t a lesbian, you aren’t a feminist), it’s somehow so much better than Maryanne and Penny’s little game. Hannah would have loved Lorena Bobbit. Hannah is kind of crazy but in a fun way – she enters the house by climbing through windows and making everyone fear a burglar, and she doesn’t know how to be respectful of others or say thanks but eh she’s alright. Most of all, she’s a necessary counterpart to Maryanne.
The most powerful and the most depressing part of the show came when a celebratory Hannah stopped by to inform Agnes of the Roe v. Wade decision. She excitedly shouts “Things are changing!” and Agnes calmly takes a breath and responds, “They’ll change back.” The jaw-dropped silence that swept the audience said more about our current society than any words can. This tiny line and its reading perfectly described the past few decades and what is constantly happening to abridge womens rights.
Another very emotional and realistic hit came when Maryanne and Paul, a guest at the B&B, start to flirt with each other. Paul is an extreme suspenders kind of guy, very mild-mannered and seemingly ‘nice’. Later, Paul kisses Maryanne, not knowing any of her history, and she understandably freezes and then pushes him away. This guy we thought was so nice yells at her for being a tease, saying that she was begging him for this and now she’s tricking him with her female trickery and big eyes. So we thought Paul was one of the good ones but he was just another assclown wearing an asshat who thinks women only exist to satisfy men’s needs and doesn’t like when he is proven wrong. It was revolting but accurate. But then of course poor weak Maryanne is like “No Paul don’t call me names I’ll do whatever you want and then we can leave here together and have babies in San Francisco”. Ughhhhh why are peopleeeeeeeeeee.
So yeah, this play is intense and can be disturbing in its very complicated and accurate depictions of various sorts of mindsets. If anything, it tells the audience that we have so much work still to do, to not only achieve gender equality but to just get people to realize that yes we do want that.
Or at least I think that’s what it was about; there were a lot of phones going off. Seriously people these are your tasks: a) Realize that being a feminist just means not being an asshole, so yes you do want to fight to be one and be proud to be one, and b) turn off your phones in the theatre.