Encore Michigan

Flint celebrates female empowerment with premiere of ‘The Future is Female’

Review February 07, 2023 Bridgette Redman

FLINT, MI–Even when everyone agrees on the problem, they rarely agree on the solution.

Flint Repertory Theatre opened a new work examining that conundrum with The Future is Female by Nandita Shenoy. It takes place at a women’s retreat at some unspecified time in the future, a time when women have lost all their reproductive rights, access to birth control and much of their right to vote. It’s a post-pandemic world, a post-Roe v. Wade world, conceived and written when the world was still pre- those things.

It’s also wholly and completely a comedy, a satiric look at four very different women who all want to see the world change, but have different ideas of how to make that change happen.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine four women more different from each other.

Aditi, portrayed by the playwright, is an Indian woman who was a theater artist in the “before” times, when there was still a theater. Now an ad copywriter, she is practical, skeptical and frustrated that nothing she did kept things from getting as bad as they did. She is annoyed at the way the retreat and Lois appropriates her culture.

Lois, played by Hallie Bee Bard, is a white New Age disciple of the unseen guru of the retreat. She is convinced she has the answer and is eager to push everyone else in that direction.

Toni, played by Siho Ellsmore, is there under protest. The ACLU, for whom she works, told her she could engage in mandated rest or she could lose her job. She has to get the certificate saying she completed the program. Bristly and angry, she’s determined to keep everyone else at a distance and has no use for any of the classes and demands.

Maria, played by Clara Tristan, is a young kindergarten teacher who is bubbly and outgoing, eager to try everything and much sharper than she appears to be. A member of Gen Z, she is broke and frustrated at the conditions of the world, but still manages to hold on to optimism.

At least, that’s where they all start out at the beginning of the 7-day retreat. They’ll all travel a journey and find themselves with new perspectives by the end of the week. Three of the women will form unexpected bonds as they try to survive Lois’ attempts to connect them to their inner goddesses, to find freedom through their femininity and to engage in exercises that they find odd at best.

The story moves quickly in multiple short scenes with no intermission. Each different mix of characters provides a new perspective on who they are. All four actors have incredible comic timing and are highly expressive. Some of the most hilarious moments are entirely based on physicality, such as when Shenoy and Ellsmore pantomime to each other as Bard sits blissfully between them wearing a pink eye mask. Or when Shenoy, Ellsmore and Tristan perform yoga and each of their characters have totally different ability levels which the actors very effectively communicate.

All four actors commit to their characters’ differences while still realistically displaying how chemistry develops between them.

Director Kathryn Walsh leads an all-female artistic and creative team, which feels highly appropriate for this show. It isn’t that men are excluded from the show, rather, they are invited to a women’s story being told by women.

Walsh keeps everything moving at a nimble pace that never feels hurried. She stages transitions that further contribute to the story and the individual personalities. Scenic Designer Yi-Chien Lee provides a spare, but clever, set that makes these transitions possible. Two rectangular set pieces rotate to provide beds, tables and chairs. Hammocks are quickly strung and unstrung to provide different settings. Alison Dobbins’ projections add spice to the humor while Caroline Eng’s sound design helps create the illusion that there are many others present at the retreat.

Shelby Newport’s costumes are simple, but very effective first in establishing the individuality of the characters and then the mandatory uniforms that draw them closer together in something approaching unity. Miranda Sue Hartmann provided props tinged with properly appropriated Eastern flair along with the spa-like items necessary to pull off the setting.

While the theme is serious, the play stays comedic, the satire mostly light. It is an opportunity to laugh at things that might otherwise make us cry. It’s no easy task and Shenoy does it well.

There are two audiences who would not enjoy this show. It’s not meant for conservatives and it is likely anyone really into such things as vaginal health rituals and menstrual worship will be offended at the skewering of such things.

For progressives, in particular progressive women, The Future is Female suggests not that there is a single solution, though one is proffered, but rather that what is needed is for us to connect with each other regardless of our differences—to connect and to truly see each other.

Week of 9/25/2023

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