If the start of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. leaves you feeling like a brazen intruder, it's because you are. The Third Rail Repertory Theatre production begins by directing you to walk through the dressing room, where the actors are finishing getting ready, to take your seat. It's a jarring entrance, and an appropriate prelude for what's to come.
Revolt is all at once frenetic, funny, surreal, absurd and infuriating. The performance attempts to describe the experience of being a woman in the 21st century. It examines and exposes societal constructs—specifically language and expectation—that undermine women. Each scene is introduced by a string of words projected on the wall: "Revolutionize," followed by various categories, including "the language/the work/the world/the body."
"Revolutionize," "the language," "(invert it)," one series of projections reads, before a scene that pries apart familiar TV tropes of smooth-talking men blatantly objectifying women. "I've been thinking of making love to you all day," one of the play's characters, a man, says. "Laying you down and making love to you."
"Or…with?" his woman cast mate counters, surprising him by taking control of the scene and inverting it. "I am making you my dildo!" she says at one point, drawing laughs.
Maureen Porter, Andrea Vernae, Sarah Smith and Alex Ramirez de Cruz star as the four leads—their characters listed in the program simply as "Actor 2" through "Actor 5," respectively. Rolland Walsh, the only man, is credited at the top of the playbill as "Actor 1." Walsh's character embodies bumbling masculinity, asking stupid questions and offering propositions that the women have no interest in accepting. His role is smaller and less impactful than the women's—if they're raging bulls, he's a rodeo clown— but as the man, he receives top billing. That detail, both a joke and a jab, is just one of the ways playwright Alice Birch's production challenges our held assumptions about gender roles.
Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is lively and thought-provoking throughout, but the humor wanes as the production progresses, mirroring the plights of the women. The audience is forced to accept the fact that humor softens blows, but there is nothing intrinsically funny about oppressive messages. At one point, one of the play's characters wearily observes, "I have been living on the principle of kindness and hope being enough, but it turns out it isn't." Something else, it turns out, is needed. Something like a revolution.
Revolt is a play about why we do things the way we do—because we've been told to do them a certain way; because they're programmed into us. You enter through the dressing room because you're told to, even though there's another entrance. It's an imposition to barge into the actors' sanctum in the precious minutes before they go onstage. But you do it because the directions on the wall tell you to. And why wouldn't you?
Rebecca Lingafelter's director's note offers a bit of guidance. "We have asked ourselves to behave badly," it reads, "and we invite you to behave badly too. Stand up. Walk around. Talk back to the actors. Talk to your neighbor. Whoop. Holler. Cheer. Cry. Yell. Take out your knitting and make a sweater. Flip a switch. Be present. Be open. Let's do this together. Revolt, again."
SEE IT: Third Rail Repertory Theatre's production of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. is playing at the CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St., thirdrailrep.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Sunday, through June 16. $25-$45.