During what appears to be a new escalating phase of the Republican “war against women” and internet conversations regarding “rape culture,” Theatre Machine, an occasional theater company led by Melissa Fenwick, is presenting a re-imagined solo show about women’s rage as a multi-voiced presentation. Rage Within/Without (co-produced with Theatre Off Jackson) focuses on women who killed their partners – particularly victims of domestic abuse. The production is staged at TOJ from June 27-June 30.
Originally conceived, researched and performed by Kathy Randels, who performed it as a solo piece and toured it around the country from 1994, Melissa Fenwick saw Randels’ show as a college student at Mississippi State University. Told with poetry, movement, cast studies and historical facts, the piece had a transformative effect on Fenwick, who never forgot it.
Melissa says, “I thought about the show every year…what if I could get her to come to Seattle to do the show? (Finally) I sent her an email about seeing her show and that I’m in Seattle and have been thinking about her show for ten years and I have never forgotten it and I’d like to share it with other people. I told her my idea of doing it with an ensemble, because it lends itself to being performed by multiple performers because there are so many characters in the play. I had no idea if I’d even hear from her.
“She wrote me back and said, ‘I’m very interested. You’re the first person who has ever asked me this of Rage. I’ve never let anyone outside my company produce anything I’ve created but you seem to have a strong vision and a lot of passion. I have to respect that, so let’s talk.’”
“She teaches a drama club at a women’s correctional institution outside of New Orleans. She sent me the script as it was – a one woman show, but it’s very obvious when the voices change. I decided to break it up into different actors. It is absolutely still word for word her play.”
Two of the women featured in the piece were inmates in the Illinois Clemency Project for Battered Women who had killed their partners. Randels interviewed them. Illinois charged with murder, and they were not allowed to plead self-defense protection.
The play explores the roots of female anger and the expression of it. Randals included a history of women killers in the United States starting with the 17th Century to present day. She also included personal poetry.
In explaining how the play correlates to today’s society, Melissa says, “My friend and I had been talking about (Congressional Republican) Todd Aiken and ‘legitimate rape’ and I wondered when everything became about women and their bodies?
“There are all these young girls who are being raped and called sluts and it doesn’t seem like a safe place for women. The show is dangerous, but maybe we’re entitled to be angry and confrontational. I feel like I’ve personally come full circle since ten years ago, and I’m proud to be angry and stand up for women and to have something change.”
Melissa says that she didn’t feel very much like a strong female in college. “I think I felt very intimidated. (Today) I don’t feel timid about being called a feminist. I don’t feel embarrassed about empowering women or standing up for women any more. I’d like to go back to talk to myself ten years ago and tell her to be much more proud.
“I would love for young women to see the show and feel empowered and be able to take something from it that stays with them that makes them feel strong.”
For tickets, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/379602.
Check out the trailer for the show: