The moment we step out our front doors, we take on identities that perpetually transform based on where we work, play and relax and in October, everyone gets to have fun with this idea by playing dress-up to celebrate the season of spookiness. As the weather starts to get a little chillier and the foliage turns, this month’s Fourth Wall column looks to theater that examines the concepts of altered identity and costume. Read on for our curated selection.
On Right Now
Espejos: Clean, Studio Theatre
Showing 13 Sep – 22 Oct
In the immaculately turned down suites and on the pristine white beaches of a luxury resort in Cancún, a storm is brewing. Studio Theatre opens its new season with the rich and imminently topical Espejos: Clean, adapted and translated by Paula Zelaya-Cervantes from Christine Quintana’s original work.
Director Elena Araoz’ rendition of Quintana’s play is beautifully minimal. We are introduced to Adriana, a Mexican hotel manager from Chetumal who left an abusive father at 19 and Sarah, a Canadian hotel guest attending the wedding of her sister while carrying a dark secret. As both women navigate the emotional and physical pitfalls of family, inherited trauma and intimacy against the backdrop of hotel cleaning and wedding preparations, a tropical downpour becomes the catalyst for an unexpected meeting.
Araoz has deftly choreographed a synchronised series of interactions between Legna Cedillo (Adriana) and Lauren Karaman (Sarah) on a pared-back set that heightens the raw emotion and eloquent dialogue. “In this play, we get to see the inner workings of someone’s brain while they’re at work, and to see the labor it takes to be able to be OK in society when things might be falling apart at home,” says Araoz. The play is fully bilingual, with Adriana and Sarah speaking in Spanish and English respectively and subtitles being used throughout the performance.
Costume is an important storytelling device in Espejos: Clean. Adriana and Sarah alternate between outfits that mirror the psychological conflicts each of them is mediating. Adriana’s starched, navy blue uniform acts as a layer of protection. It is the armor that keeps emotion at arm’s length. Sarah, on the other hand, wears her rebelliousness—and her beachwear—for much the same reasons. “Adriana moves through her pain by immersing herself in a life of routine and structure,” Cedillo relates. “That regiment of repetition is important to her, and she’s made this resort a safe space for herself.”
Karaman’s Sarah, on the other hand, is a beautiful disaster. “It’s looking at how do we live with these traumas that have happened to us, and then invite the people that we love and care about into our healing process,” Karaman says. “It’s messy and it’s scary. Sarah deals with the pain by making light of it.”
On the surface, the class conflict highlighted by Espejos: Clean is obvious, but it’s also a deeply relevant American tale of femininity, responsibility, and pain, as Araoz points out. “You can’t help but notice that this is also a conversation about America. Where do we stand in terms of women in the workplace and our understanding of how we help women in trauma. I hope the audience leaves thinking ‘Am I making a mess, or am I cleaning it up?’”
In the first half of the play Sarah wades into the warm sea, allowing the salty water to penetrate a raw wound on her knee. In surrendering herself to the pain, the audience is made privy to a powerfully intimate moment that provides critical insight into the character and her subsequent motivations. It’s potent playacting at its best.
In The Spotlight
The Chameleon, Theater J
Showing 11 Oct – 5 Nov
Riz Golden-Kruger has perfected the art of blending in. A descendent of Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, Riz’ perfectly groomed exterior is a meticulously constructed costume designed to dissociate her future career as an actor from her boisterous Jewish family. But it’s all about to come crashing down. “This play is about the ways in which we show up in the world, and how we choose to present, the idea of who we really are versus who we want the world to see us as,” says Jenny Rachel Weiner, award-winning playwright and creative genius behind The Chameleon.
Weiner’s play, the first production in what promises to be a stellar 2023/2024 season for Theater J, is a deeply personal examination of what it means to be Jewish in a world that’s increasingly hostile to minorities. The story is told through the eyes of Riz who, in the opening scene, has just discovered she’s gotten the leading part in a new superhero franchise titled The Chameleon. Dina Thomas plays Riz, who must delicately negotiate her family dynamic while receiving devastating news that threatens her newfound success.
Weiner’s intention is for the audience to reflect on what it means to consciously change your identity in different contexts, much like the titular superhero in her play. “When Eastern European Jews came to this country, the only way to survive was to assimilate, and that was both a blessing and a curse. So many actors feel the need to somehow become a little bit more of a blank canvas, or not identifiably Jewish, so what are the implications of that? I wanted to explore this idea of Riz feeling like she needed to fit some sort of mold.”
While the play dissects topical issues like cultural assimilation, family politics and authenticity, it’s all through the lens of Weiner’s characteristically bold, comedic, and theatrical writing, which brings some levity and irreverence to these weighty themes.
We can all relate to feeling like you’re on top of the world and then having the rug pulled out from under you. Watch this play to see Riz dealing with this rollercoaster of emotion. “That moment of being exalted, and then that fall, I think audiences will find it thrilling and funny and heartbreaking. That’s what sets the play in motion,” says Weiner.
Mrs Doubtfire The New Musical Comedy, The National Theatre
Showing 10 Oct – 15 Oct
Who can forget the late Robin Williams’ iconic portrayal of British nanny Mrs. Doubtfire in the 90s classic film of the same name? For a limited run at The National Theatre, Rob McClure dons a dress, housecoat and feather duster to take on his Tony Award-winning role alongside a stellar cast. Don’t miss this dose of good old-fashioned nostalgia.
Sister Act, Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Showing until 5 Nov
In keeping with the theme of 90s cinematic icons, Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Maryland, is staging a rendition of Emile Ardolino’s 1992 classic box office smash Sister Act. See it for Alan Menken’s joyously uplifting musical stylings and to take a break from all things serious.