How much can we reasonably blame others for our misfortunes? How about unreasonably? The question is probably unanswerable, but there's a certain retributive appeal in putting the people from our past on trial, their fate decided by a jury of our peers. One assumes playwright Carolyn Gage seconds the motion, since The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women grants czar Nick's daughter a court date. Her brief? To accuse those who denied her true identity after she survived the murder of her family at the hands of the Bolsheviks. (There isn't a shred of evidence that she actually survived, but then when have the courts ever concerned themselves with historical truth?)
The trial itself is a play within a play: The action commences backstage at the all-female Emma Goldman Theatre Brigade, where the players scheme and argue over their new casting system. Letting the director decide would be giving in to imperialism, and so they draw roles from a hat before the show, ensuring quixotic egalitarianism and, in the case of stagehand Betty (Kirstin Kuchler), a good deal of terror over remembering her lines. The cool and efficient Diane (Laura Coates) leads the troupe, though the utopian firebrand Marie (Stacy Poirier) nips at her heels like a dedicated insurrectionist.
Theatre Unbound maintains a freewheeling spirit itself, and the cast has a good deal of loose fun with this early stuff. When the characters snip and snipe, you can easily imagine the brouhahas of years past. And when the ambitious Athena (Christine Winkler) surreptitiously invites the reviewers (then ruthlessly bogarts a prime role), angry discussion ensues about whether the company should give a shit about the opinion of white male critics (go ahead, carry on without me. Pretend I'm not here).
Once the trial itself begins (the inner shell of this matrushka of a play), a series of defendants takes the stand. There's a negligent nurse (Kathy Kupiecki), an abusive bag lady (Poirier, who completely cuts loose, her character full of alcoholic abandon and her volume turned up to 11), and a few hangers-on from the Romanov glory days. The cast polls us, the audience, during testimony to rule on various objections by the opposing lawyers. Well, that's not entirely true. Since this is "The Women's Court," the only votes tallied are those of the women in the theater.
No one asked me (see above), but last Thursday the audience voted for three acquittals and two convictions. I disagreed in every case but one (which might be why no one asked me). And in my own particular court, I'd have to give The Anastasia Trials its own conditional acquittal. Director Rebecca Rizzo has pulled this nine-woman cast into an amusing ensemble, even if Gage's script dilutes the action with needless digressions. And no judge is likely to look kindly on the final scene, which applies Wile E. Coyote-levels of dynamite to the show-within-a-show illusion that the actors have worked so hard to make credible.
"You fuck with Pluto, Pluto fucks back," announces Joe Bozic in the Brave New Workshop's latest production. I don't doubt this pearl of wisdom, having myself entertained a moment of pity for that little ball of frozen rock when it was recently stripped of its status as a planet.
The best stuff in the show comes in the second act, when Mike Fotis hands out time machines to the four-person cast. They proceed to deconstruct all that has come before, pinging back and forth in time and repeating entire passages from before the intermission with a sharp, subversive, cut-and-paste take on reality. When Stephen Hawking appears as a mechanized rape machine hell-bent on saving the world from the fractured chronology of our reality, we're ready to declare the 90 minutes time well spent.