Kathleen Chalfant and the cast of ‘Women of Fire: Stories from the Frontlines.’
(Photo: Russ Rowland)
By April Stamm
Royal Family Productions and Chris Henry’s Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines blazes on the stage. It’s decades of rage, mistrust, pain and fear. It’s never being heard and always being discounted. The women in Henry’s monologue collection, like many Americans, are mad as hell, and no longer willing to coat it in creamery chocolate or dulcet tones.
Through the lens of a dozen monologues framed by strong and passionate choreography, Women on Fire jumps headfirst into justifiable, productive and perhaps long overdue anger. Led by Kathleen Chalfant (Tony Award-winner for the original Broadway production of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Wit; TV: House of Cards, Law & Order, Rescue Me) the heavy-hitting, rotating cast features big names like Stephanie J. Block, Cady Huffman, Judy Gold, Portia Stew, Debra Jo Rupp, Constance Shulman and many more. Each piece, inspired by true stories gathered by writer/director Chris Henry, stings with perspective and heat. No one is at peace, no one is willing to sit down anymore.
With crisp lines and shapes, subtle passion and humor, Lorna Ventura’s choreography not only fills the space between each monologue, making the transitions smooth and meaningful but also embodies tension and adds framework to the tales. The dancers set the tone, provide background and integrate some of the words being spoken with precision and grace without any awkward sense of charade.
Like the world we sometimes feel we are in or at least about to be, scenic designer Cheyenne Sykes’ set is post-apocalyptic, dark, dusty and frightening. It is the very appropriate place for these women to stand and tell their truth. Distant chairs, dark corners and risers feel as unsafe as speaking out can.
Women on Fire pulsates with acting talent. With very little exception, each performer knows her characters’ anger through and through. The cast and their stories are diverse in almost every way. We hear stories from women of different races, faiths, sexual orientations and financial circumstances. What’s unexpected are the stories from women on the other side of the aisle, choosing to maintain the status quo for self-preservation, women who have deep historical reasons for fearing anything liberal, women who are conflicted. We hear from many sides and we are listening, but perhaps that is part of the problem.
We, in this audience, were already listening. We are not the ones that need to be shouted at but are already part of the rising clamor. We are this play, we are the choir. We will show up and listen and support and march and protest and vote. How the hell do we yell loud enough to get beyond this theater, this city and our own agendas?
Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines needs to be heard. What it has to say is clear, compelling and multi-faceted. It carries meaningful and important rage and makes us sit up and listen. If only we could turn a few more ears towards that vital shout.
Women on Fire: Stories from the Frontlines
Royal Family Performing Arts Space
145 W. 46th Street, 3rd Floor, NYC
Through March 16
April Stamm is a theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Broadway Blog and EDGE Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center. Follow her on Instagram at @aprilstamm.