Reviewed by Amanda L. Andrei
Open Fist Theatre Company
Through March 4
And If I Don’t Behave Then What
L.A. premiere of the new play by Iva Brdar
Ovaries on the concrete. Chin and cheek dimples with the sound of a drill. Being polite, kind, and well-behaved in the face of nameless, insidious forces.
The play consists of various vignettes, starting from Age 0 and culminating when “Woman” is in her 70s. Woman consists of Cynthia Ettinger, reading pages of printed paper or from her phone as she recounts memorable events of a life. However, Woman also consists of Carmella Jenkins, who could be interpreted as a version of a younger self, or another part of the subconscious, and at times Debba Rofheart, the most prominent candidate for the Woman’s mother, voicing the mother’s instructions to her daughter (such as the darkly humorous line, “Don’t sit on concrete, your ovaries will get cold”). And Woman could also consist of Howard Leder, playing the majority of the men’s roles, where the masculine in this world is coldly distant, silent in its brutality, or in a deadpan delivery drawing amusement from the audience, hilarious in its unawareness in giving instructions on how to parallel park.
All these scenes seem to add up to a life that, while portrayed intimately in its details, still feels alienated in the world and to the audience. Rofheart’s “character” (if you can label that part of the text as such) never moves from the seat at the darkened desk, casting a metaphorical shadow of an ever-present yet never-interacted-with mother. And Ettinger has a lovely, soothing voice—when glancing away from the pages, she also serves us lively facial expressions and reactions.
Yet I found myself craving more from the text and questioning the choice to leave the Woman character seemingly on book. Is the Woman a writer or otherwise an intellectual? Is the story so burdensome that it needs an additional interface of pages to separate us from the pain at the heart of these vignettes? From a literary standpoint, these words and images are beautiful, but seeing it performed, I found myself living in my head, the words washing over me, wondering about who the person was behind the text.
And that may be part of the intended effect. I also found myself yearning for more grounding from the playwright’s culture, simultaneously questioning if this world was meant to be a more anonymous post-communist country. The text referenced a former communist country and teaching Marxism, but that could be so much of not only Eastern Europe, but Asia or Latin America as well. I wondered if, from a translation standpoint, there were more words from the original language that could culturally ground the text, or if from a design point, more references to the original culture of the text and its author could be included in the musical transitions or projections—not to exotify, but more to ground an audience member.
Or perhaps that is part of the whole point, that even if the playwright is identified as Serbian, the region has dealt with such a variety of labels, conflict, and grief that perhaps the priority of this performance is not culture, but rather womanhood, the multiplicity of a woman’s life, and the entanglement between mother, daughter, and other knotted ancestral ties and norms packaged up as folk culture to keep us safe. Furthermore, Director Beth F. Milles notes in the program that the piece is written as a “long tone poem” with no punctuation, and so the possibilities for this text are immense. And perhaps this immense tension is what ultimately underlies the piece—that while there are so many possibilities in life, it might still end in a strangely alluring yet alienating mystery.
Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave in Los Angeles, CA 90039. Parking is free is in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) parking lot one block south of the theater.
To purchase tickets and for more information call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.