Next Wave 2019: ‘The Second Woman’ at BAM Fisher

Alia Shawkat in The Second Woman at BAM_PC NayMarie-35.JPG
Alia Shawkat in The Second Woman at BAM_PC NayMarie-35.JPG
Alia Shawkat in The Second Woman at BAM_PC NayMarie-35

The happiest and worst memories are those that last, re-playing over and over in one’s head.  Movies have the same effect, like smiling when thinking about Han Solo winking at Princess Leia in the throne room, or grinding teeth because the sights and sounds of La La Land won’t ever go away.  Co-creators Nat Randall and Anna Breckon apply the continuous loop to The Second Woman.  Starting in BAM Fisher on Friday,October 18 at 5 PM and ending 24 hours later, the intrepid, amazing Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development, Transparent, Drunk History) repeated the same awkward love scene with 100 actors.  An artistic marathon creates a festive feeling, and Artistic Director David Binder’s choosing Second Woman as part of his inaugural “Season of BAM Debuts” affirms that Next Wave will always take chances attracting both the dedicated and the curious.

This review covers Saturday between 10:30 AM and Noon.

At check in, audience members received a red wristband allowing them to stay as long as they wanted or return later.  There was no wait to enter the Fisher auditorium, but there was no open seating until the scene was over . Future Method Studio divided their set in two: a box containing a hanging white movie screen on one side and a cut-out of a room blandly decorated with 1970s decor on the other.  Videographers filmed the live performance and projected it on screen.  Naturally, most of the crowd sat where they could watch the actors, but watching the “movie” was as telling as watching the “play”.   Randall and Breckon challenged the perception of what is real and how it’s internalized.

The co-creators’ source material was a good one to test this out on.  The Second Woman is the name of the play in John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977).  While any Cassavetes film is worth watching, it was not necessary to see it ahead of time.  Leading lady Myrtle is a hot mess.  So is her on/off lover Marty.  Their 10 minutes together resolves nothing.

Alia Shawkat and her multiple acting partners never changed the script; neither did the camera angles.  Her interaction with each actor was unique, seemingly spontaneous.  “Marty” was, in turn, a bald guy, another with cornrows, biker and dude with long flowing hair.  Three stage directions, Myrtle’s throwing Chinese takeout at Marty, their clumsy dance and reactions to Myrtle’s last line “I love you” were each improvised.

Nearing hour 18, Shawkat didn’t look or act fatigued.  (She got periodic 20-30 minute breaks.)  Her red outfit and blond wig were askew, but so were Gena Rowlands in the film (and in all the others she made with her husband).    Shawkat also had to be her own stage manager, cleaning and setting up props for the next performance.  Doing this in the open despite a confined space showed how the actor prepared herself.

The Second Woman asks questions beyond artistic ones.  Is the boxed set a fish tank or cage?  Amber Silk and Kayla Burrett’s garish lighting suggest a porn booth.  Why does it seem Myrtle is at the mercy of whoever walks through that door?  Ageism for women is an old, tired problem, and not addressing it like adults goes beyond The Second Woman.

Attendees who stayed shorter, longer or for the whole thing have their own thoughts.  That’s not just theatre – that’s BAM Next Wave.


Please visit BAM’s website for information on Next Wave Festival and other performances


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