Tamara Williams (Photo: Ahron R. Foster/The Movement Theatre Company.)
By Ryan Leeds
“Don’t F*** it Up!” is RuPaul’s pressure laden advice to contestants on her popular television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s a heavy burden to fulfill. No doubt, then, that it was equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking for the cast of a new LGBTQ+ show on Saturday night. Moments before the curtain went up, the drag star extraordinaire took a seat in front of us, accompanied by pop singer Ari Gold. Luckily, this fierce and ferocious cast followed his words to the letter as they sashayed on the stage of A.R.T./NY Theatres.
And She Would Stand Like This is an audacious new work by Harrison David Rivers. Based on Euripides’ The Trojan Woman, it propels us into a contemporary setting where black and latinx queer and transgender men are literally fighting for their lives.
Producer Deadria Harrington and The Movement Theater Company is behind this powerful piece of theater. Their mission of “radical visibility and the power of collective healing” is fully realized here, as it cracks the lid wide open on beautiful beings that are all too often overlooked in a normative—and all too often staid—society that favors conformity over individual style.
For so many of these individuals, their sense of belonging and acceptance is lost once their truths are spoken. Parental disapproval forces them to seek a new sense of community and family. As long as Hecuba (Julienne “Mizz June” Brown) is around, no child will be turned away. Hecuba has provided a safe haven for Miss Scott (Darby Davis), Grace (Tamara Williams), and Baby (Cornelius Davidson). The trio serves as the Greek chorus to this modern day tragedy. They also have their moments to shine in heartfelt monologues, which chart their journeys. Brown is a commanding stage presence whose every gesture demands attention. Much like a mother hen, it is obvious that she will do everything in her power to save her genetic and adopted children from harm. Brown is clearly aware of her authority, both as an actor and in the role. Yet she is cautious to yield the stage to her fellow performers, providing them each the chance to bask on the runway.
Speaking of runways, it seems fitting that all of the action occurs on one. Set designer Paul Tate DePoo III has given this marvelous cast plenty of space on which to strut their stuff. Brian Tovar’s flashy lighting also adds some levity and glamour. Anitra Michelle’s costumes blend elements of traditional Greek garb with current, urban attire.
While many complain that the stakes for dramatic plays aren’t high enough, And She Would Stand Like This serves as a rare exception. Greek dramas, by their very nature, are over the top and histrionic. Yet they usually serve as a reminder that our moral compass needs re-calibrated. The same reminder is offered here. One need not look much further than the advocacy of Black Lives Matter to realize that our societal priorities are misguided. To that end, there is validity in the histrionic. When human lives are tossed aside, it stands to reason that attention must be paid. Who among us wants to live a life that is unrecognized? Oprah Winfrey, in a speech to Harvard graduates, said, “The common denominator that I’ve found in every single interview is that we want to be validated. We want to be understood.” Rivers precisely captures this sentiment here.
Director David Mendizabal and Choreographer Kia LaBeija have masterfully provided heart and voice to marginalized souls in this limited engagement that will hopefully extend or move to a new space. For that, I loudly proclaim “Werq!”
And She Would Stand Like This
A.R.T./NY Theatres, Mezzazine Theatre
502 West 53rd St, NYC
Through August 6
@RuPaul and I saw #andshewouldstandlikethis and we both stood with joy in our hearts for seeing new work by and for queers of color! pic.twitter.com/PxrK82zlDa
— Sir Ari Gold (@SirAriGold) July 23, 2017
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.