Review: ‘#therevolution’ at InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia

In 1970, Gil Scott-Heron told us that the revolution will not be televised. Now, in 2016, Playwright Kristoffer Diaz tells us that the revolution will be webcast. And maybe live tweeted. But definitely not televised, because in Diaz’s post-punk, post-Tumblr, post-revolutionary world, there are no televisions in sight. And no real government, now that they’ve kicked out “the old guard.” And by the way, they’re running low on coffee – does anyone know where they can get some coffee for the Keurig machine?

Mary Tuomanen and Brett Ashley Robinson. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate3Photograpy.
Mary Tuomanen and Brett Ashley Robinson. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate3Photograpy.

The two young women who have found themselves running the world in Diaz’s entertaining new play, #therevolution, never anticipated that they would have a hard time getting supplies. But then again, as they tell us in their web videos, they never imagined that they would lead, or even inspire, a worldwide revolution, or that things would get out of hand: “Look. We killed people. A lot of people. No, we did. And I know, we apologize for it, and like, the feelings, but we’re in control.” And they’re sorry that “our plan for peace isn’t quite working.” But don’t worry, it’ll all work out fine: after they take all your property and make you serve them, “we’re going to share power with you. All of you. Eventually. But not yet.” Trust them. They seem so nice.

#therevolution is witty and eminently quotable. It’s full of pithy lines that poke fun at rabble rousers (of all political stripes) and their rhetoric. And the casual, improvised tone of the dialogue between the two leaders gives the impression that these two people are in over their heads and figuring out how to govern as they go along – and that they don’t realize they have become the type of brutal despots they once railed against. (“It’s not easy to go leaderless,” they tell their minions. “You need a leader to get you there.”)

Political extremists are a rich subject for satire, and Diaz’s lines deliver a lot of laughs. But #therevolution stumbles in its second half when it turns more serious. When we finally learn how the two women ended up taking over the world, the tale doesn’t seem remotely plausible. When Diaz turns to spoofing tyrants and their penchant for doublespeak, he’s recycling overly familiar concepts from George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. And once these women start waving guns around, you can pretty much guess how this story is going to end. But despite these flaws, #therevolution remains a winning work. Part of that is because of the comedy, but it’s also because of the depth of the lead characters, who are shown struggling with uncertainty and regret over what the anarchy and destruction they’ve wrought.

#therevolution also works because it’s received a production from Director Seth Rozin that bursts with vitality. And it’s got two immensely likable lead performances. Brett Ashley Robinson plays the leader known only as The Revolution, who manages to make threats without seeming the least bit threatening. It’s hard to seem adorable while ordering murders, but Robinson pulls it off.

Mary Tuomanen is The Witness, who is The Revolution’s partner/antagonist/lover; she can be just as ruthless as The Revolution, but her big, expressive eyes go wide when she tries to control her shock at The Revolution’s more outrageous pronouncements. (Tuomanen delivers some of her monologues to a mini video camera, and the resulting huge close-ups are projected on a large screen overhead, giving her scenes a welcoming sense of intimacy. Jorge Cousineau did the projection design.)

Robinson and Tuomanen receive strong support from Anita Holland, who provides lots of intimidating glares as a scary security officer, and from Richard Chan, who plays several small roles.

L to R: Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate3Photograpy.
L to R: Anita Holland, Brett Ashley Robinson, and Mary Tuomanen. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate3Photograpy.

Stephanie N. Walters is hilariously convincing as a teenybopper groupie who fawns over the revolutionaries like they’re rock stars – which, in a way, they are.

Katherine Fritz’s costumes define the characters well: punk-style ripped jeans and half shirts for The Witness, army boots and fatigue-colored sweatpants for The Revolution. Colin McIlvaine’s set is dominated by a tall, gray, fractured wall that represents the decaying urban landscape. Christopher Colucci provides an electronica-filled soundscape.

#therevolution is one of the first two productions to open at The Drake, a sleek new performing space in a converted hotel ballroom that is now the home of InterAct and four other theatre companies. After eighteen seasons at the cramped Adrienne Theatre, The Drake is quite a step up for InterAct. The stage of The Drake’s 182-seat Proscenium Theatre accommodated an automated scene change, a large video screen, and a big special effect – all of which would have been impossible at the Adrienne. And even though another play was being performed in the facility’s second theatre next door, the soundproofing is so good that nothing leaked through. It’s nice to be in a performing space constructed with the same thought and care that InterAct puts into its productions.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

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#therevolution plays through February 14, 2016 at InterAct Theatre Company, performing at The Drake – 1512 Spruce Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 568-8079, or purchase them online.

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