Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Penetrating look at beauty and its pervasive effects on our culture

 Lisa Marie Nakamura, Ruth Yeo-Peterman, Kathy Hsieh and Sara Javkhlan in "Impenetrable Women" (photo by Rick Wong)
Impenetrable
SiS Productions
(West of Lenin)
through May 3

SiS Productions is presenting Impenetrable, a play by Mia McCullough, and it's a timely and important exploration of the impact of beauty in our culture. McCullough took a newspaper report about a real billboard erected in the suburbs of Chicago, depicting a bikini-clad woman with arrows pointing to areas she could improve with surgery, and fictionalized it into a challenging and provocative story.

As directed by Charles Waxberg, the play starts off with an even more challenging hurdle: many of the beginning speeches are presented directly to the audience. This has an interesting effect of first pushing the audience backward toward creating a bit of a defensive wall, and perhaps making it harder to identify with the characters. However, eventually in the 90 minute presentation, the story is made clear and many of the inner emotions and personal reflections have been opened to us.

The cast is strong, including Kathy Hsieh as a suburban mom who feels like her beauty has been compromised and is struggling to understand how to both empower and protect her bookish, loner daughter (Sara Javkhlan, a young and talented girl who we hope to see more of), Lisa Marie Nakamura as a manager/barista at a Starbucks who puts out an exterior of toughness and sarcasm masking some pain at being maligned as "fat," and Ruth Yeo-Peterman as the young woman who is the subject of the picture and has been so damaged by being seen as "pretty," that she dons a burqua in order to cover herself up.

Also, two men help the story along: Shane Regan in a nicely understated and offhand performance as the love-struck photographer who feels "out of her league" and behaves somewhat badly toward the model in response, and Erwin Galan as a French-speaking Arab spa-owner, who both attracts pity and ire for his lack of understanding for the effects of posting this divisive billboard as an advertising device for his spa.



The show does feel a bit preachy, probably somewhat of a directing over-choice rather than the script so much. But over all, the unfolding of the motivations and inner dialogue works well to develop each character.

Also, SiS doesn't want to just have audiences walk away with pent up feelings of frustration, and so they are holding post-play discussions after every performance. Think of it as part of the event.

We really need to re-examine the disappearance of "feminism" (in all its definitions, folks, since part of "feminism" is empowering males, too!) in our society and the costs it brings (including the billions spent on cosmetics and selling women the idea that they are not ok just as they are). This is one way to open up that discussion.

For more information, go to http://celebr8women.wordpress.com/events-2/events/.