The Comparables by Laura Schellhardt, explores women’s office dynamics and modern feminism, in the cut-throat world of high-end real-estate. This is the Southeastern debut of the play, so unless you saw it in Seattle last year, it’ll be new to you. The 5 & Dime Theatre Company produced the play.
The script’s feminism gets a little heavy-handed, and sometimes the play feels more like a platform for viewpoints rather than a story about characters. The play’s author would probably say that I would never mention it if it were a play that offers various philosophies on a matter other than women’s issues. Maybe that’s true, maybe I’ve got an inherent gender bias. But, hey look–this play’s got me thinking about it.
Men aren’t exactly the villains here. Well, they are, in the stories told. They are the push behind the women’s behavior. But no man appears on stage. The women’s true antagonists seem to be each other, at least on the surface. Any woman who has worked in an office or–even attended school–will recognize the dynamics and relationships at work. It’s familiar.
But it also feels sexist rather than empowering, as though our take-away is meant to be “women are catty and ruthless” and anyone who isn’t is metaphorically fish food. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t interesting to watch. It is. It really is. The trio of actresses do their jobs, and by the end, you will be invested in the outcome. They overcome that nagging feeling that these women are playing stereotypes rather than actual women by the second act–something that I put down to their skills rather than the platitude-laden script.
Gretta Russe channels a little of Miranda Priestly (a la the Devil Wears Prada) with a side order of Katherine Parker ( a la Working Girls), as the over-the-top, emotionally manipulative boss-lady, who serves as both mentor and obstacle to Monica and Iris.
Milan Alley plays Iris with aggressive charm. She’s the woman who seeks to exploit gender bias to her advantage, and will climb over anyone in her way..
The script does shine in mirroring and symbolism, with a neat bit of blocking that you’ll find in a story Bette tells in first act, about a younger woman trying to steal her power and Bette’s defeat of that woman. Similar movements are found in a stand-off between Monica and Iris later on. (If this wasn’t explicitly included in the original script, I must applaud the director for this masterful bit of blocking). I also enjoyed the fish bowl metaphor, which appears throughout the script. The fishbowl in question was relegated to a shelf off to the side, rather than staying within view for the entire play, but I understand the practical reasons for doing so.
The director Kelby Siddons’ choices for blocking and movement throughout the play were very effective, and often inspired. She was lucky enough to have to have actresses who were very good at the execution of those moves, especially in a very tough bit Iris (Milan Alley) and Monica (Kristin Livingston) have to carry out in the second act. I might not agree with the playwright’s choice to include this bit of action, but kudos to the actresses for a proficient job at making something that has a high degree of difficulty very visceral indeed.
Kristin Livingston plays the part of Monica, and the actress is good at capturing our sympathies. Something that’s needed, since she is the one we are supposed to root for–the one who champions the idea of the sisterhood. At least until her heel-face turn to the dark side. Monica, dependable Monica, doesn’t show enough brilliance in the script. I would have loved to see more evidence of it than was shown. She’s supposed to be someone who comes up with great phrases and the very philosophies that her boss Bette has skillfully co-opted, but instead, in her strongest moments, she’s borrowing phrases and philosophies from her co-worker, “I- eat-weak-willed women for breakfast” Iris. The best part about that is that it’s pointed out by Bette at the time, something I was glad the script included.
You’re not meant to be comfortable with the overall message–that for a woman to be empowered, she has to be cruel, step over the bodies of others (in particular other women). But the subtext is, of course, that we should want to change it, women should support other women, through some purer form of feminism than is allowed.
We highly recommend that you dress for summer when coming to see The Comparables. The stage is set in a warehouse space and is air conditioned by way of a large fan and a small portable unit. I like my indie theatre raw, and have been to many such spaces in the past, so I wasn’t surprised–but don’t worry about toting along a sweater or a jacket and dress lightly.
All in all, The Comparables is a play worth seeing and thinking about. Do get a drink at intermission and donate to the company if you love seeing independant community theatre in Jacksonville. Shows will be May 13, 14, 20, 21 at 8pm, May 22 at 2pm at the 5 & Dime Warehouse 700 E. Union Street, Unit #1. General admission is $ 20.On Monday, May 16th at 8pm, you can also attend the “open house” name your own price event with blind auction.