Reviewed by Mary Clohan
This spring, Spicy Witch Productions is presenting William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in repertoire with a new play, The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from our Lady of Sorrows, written by Writer-in-Residence Gina Femia.
Femia’s play follows a group of high schoolers at an all-girls Catholic school in Brooklyn as they attempt to stage M4M2, a controversial adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. Throughout the rehearsal process, questions of morality, mortality and sexuality arise amongst the group as each of the young women attempt to forge an individual identity under the authoritarian rule of their Catholic instructors.
Anyone, like myself, who received a religious education, will immediately be transported (whether we want to be or not) back to high school in the first moments of the play by actress Mia Canter’s hilarious depiction of Sister Ignatius as she welcomes us, the audience, back for another school year.
From there, the play manages to gracefully navigate the line between hilarity and heartbreak, as we discover the year is 2002, the year after the 9/11 attacks, which have impacted many students in the school, including the play’s protagonist and playwright of M4M2, Minnie (Renita Lewis). Though it is hard to pick out a lead in this largely ensemble driven show, Lewis’ Minnie commands attention from the moment she enters the space and grounds the diverse ensemble with her raw and complex depiction of grief.
There is not a weak link in the ensemble of six high school girls, as each character emerges beautifully rendered and relatable to the core (a credit also to Femia’s playwriting), but special notice has to be paid to the show-stealing Pearl Shin, whose impeccable comedic timing as innocent freshman Mathilda had the audience roaring with laughter.
One of the play’s great achievements is its ability to shift from juvenile conversations about tampons or celebrity crushes to philosophical discussions about religion and human love in a way that rarely felt heavy-handed. In its well-observed depiction of teenage girls, the play conjures an association with Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, but, in my opinion, manages to surpass Delappe’s work in terms of the pressing and poignant nature of its content.
Though the characters in this play may be young, the questions they are grappling with are centuries old, and though no strict conclusions are reached, I was left, for the first time in a long time, with a joyous sense that the revolution is upon us in the form of young women.
The Virtuous Fall of the Girls from our Lady of Sorrows is playing select dates until June 1, 2019 at The Siggy @ The Flea Theater (20 Thomas Street)