Magic Time! The Women’s Voices Theater Festival: A Report on ‘Lady Lay’ at Scena Theatre

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As you take your seat at Scena Theatre’s production of Lady Lay, don’t be surprised to see the spitting image of Bob Dylan in the house. It’s the actor Ron Litman, who will pop into the play anon.

Ron Litman as Dylan. Photo by Kevin O'Reilly.
Ron Litman as Dylan. Photo by Kevin O’Reilly.

Lady Lay by Lydia Stryk is Scena’s entry in the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, and in it we hear from the voice of a young woman who (like Stryk) lives in Berlin. The time is 1989. The woman’s name is MariAnne (Ellie Nicoll). She’s an employment-office clerk whose crush of clients are desperate for a job and who herself is desperate for a life.

An ensemble of eight plays the clients—Kevin O’Reilly (Seth), Aniko Olah (Frau M), Matt Dougherty (Herr D), Amanda Forstrom (Frau F and Frau Y), Edward Nagel (Herr K), Jennifer Bevan (Frau H), and Madeleine Adele (Frau L). At the beginning they sit in two rows facing each other and mime like robotic functionaries. Then one by one they have an appointment with MariAnne to appeal for work.

The tedium is credible and MariAnne is beside herself with boredom. One day as chance would have it she gets turned on to the music of Bob Dylan. She  becomes so enamored that he appears to her. (Litman’s uncanny emulation of the legendary troubadour steals every scene he’s in.) The encounter with Dylan’s music and his antiestablishment affect have a transformative effect on MariAnne: She is inspired to seek a way out of her humdrum existence. She goes from being a groupie to being the agent of her own life. The Berlin Wall falls and the theme of freedom is evoked with great fervor.

Director Robert McNamara and Assistant Director Alexandra Linn Desaulniers have made maximal use of a minimalist set. Upstage center is MariAnne’s desk, which anchors the proceedings. The actors—who play multiple roles throughout—utilize the several wooden chairs to set a variety of scenes, including an English-language classroom and the interior of an airplane. Sound Designer Denise Renee provides an ample sampling of Dylan’s tunes—the welcome effect of which for me was to prompt me  to play his albums when I got home.

Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Lady Lay runs through October 10, 2015, at Scena Theatre performing at at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.

1 COMMENT

  1. LADY LAY is one of the real best plays I have ever see- world wide. Magnificent writing about the real macro and micro history, inspired in Berlin-when the wall fell.
    It is so fantastic and lingers on with the love for Dylan’s music of someone who is so real and thoughtful to make us think about more than being a nobody alone. All the characters in this play are coming closer to you than you usually allow it. And you fall in love with everyone.
    It really needs great theaters everywhere to perform this real great play. Wonderful enrichment …
    I can’t stop praising LADY LAY by Lydia Stryk, thank you for the magic time with it.
    BS

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