Who said to kill all* the men? [*almost all] The answer to that question stays ominously unanswered in Sarah Elizabeth Grace's new play The Regime is Female, but we get a mounting sense that the eradication of nearly all the white men happened quickly, without “feminist” consensus and perhaps as non-intersectionally as other women's movements have been enacted historically in The United States.
The Regime is Female
November 1 – November 17
And who is winning, at this moment of the revolution? The answer may lie in your read on whether the play's protagonist, River (played by Grace)—a "specialist", or capital killer—is really in as desirable an occupation as she and those who report to her say she is. We learn that she went from "the rage-filled poster girl of the Wave" (of white men's eradication) to the position where we find her at the play's opening: the most prized specialist in the new regime. When River's "messenger", Sam, a non-binary person, arrives to River's solitary basecamp to deliver the news that they themself are to train to be a specialist and will be replaced as River's messenger by a white cis man, they are nearly, excuse the expression, a "fan-girl" for her. Sussing out the relationship between the specialist and her messenger—the emotional authenticity of the fanaticism—is one of many ways the audience needs to use its own judgment to decide who’s zooming who in a world where toxic masculinity and rape culture have been taken out of the landscape as if by a guillotine.
Audiences are certainly invited to feel the thrill of the guillotine, of cutting the head off the patriarchy, viscerally. The specialist’s job is to murder those convicted of “new crimes” with her bare hands on state-sanctioned “combat days.” This is not an off-stage activity. “The actors will be performing a range of stunts, from live boxing with pads to judo throws on our set’s ‘killing mat,’” Grace tells me. “The actors are trained to perform and receive chokes, kicks, throws and falls in a sustainable but real way. We have to stretch, foam roll, and massage our bruised bodies in between rehearsals, but it’s absolutely worth it for showcasing the violence of The Regime is Female world.”
No one we meet who has a part in the regime seems to be conflicted about the necessity of this violence, and River’s capability in exacting it efficiently is the skill that makes her the greatest of all specialists. Part of the play’s electricity lies in a sense that though River is unquestionably troubled, it is not violence that troubles her, not one bit. Her loneliness, on the other hand, gnaws and grows large. She never acquiesces to regret, a rigor which is exciting to see; but in following her ideals to their most thorough solution, she discovers that somehow her desires and needs, those things she cannot choose, have not been taken care of.
“The Regime is Female is my love/ hate letter to the patriarchy. As a cis-gender, mostly-straight millennial feminist, I often hate how much I crave male attention and affection. I feel pulled in two directions,” says Grace, owning her complex emotions on the subject, describing how the play “showcases the shame of wanting our father’s approval, even if you don’t like him or agree with him very much. It illustrates the need for connection and love, even when you’re an independent person. Still,” she adds, “the play changes the narrative for gender roles.”
For this, the play will be a fascinating watch for a romantic, even a reluctant one. I ask director Andi Villa Stover if she agrees that the play asks the question: “In a world where penetration is bad, what if you like it? And if without it, you miss it, what is it you miss?”
“That’s what I love about the play—it’s a mindfuck,” says Stover. “The play does ask: Whose feminism? Is it really your own or one that you read in Bust magazine? What are the terms of your own feminism?”
“All my self-produced work begins as a way of creating stories I want to perform in, with a character I haven’t yet been able to find as an auditioning actor,” says Grace. “The community of support that has come out over the last few years of self-producing has been remarkable.”
Produced by Grace’s own Badass Lady Productions, The Regime is Female will play at the Tank, whose mission is to remove economic barriers from the creation of new work for artists launching their careers and experimenting within their art form, and to do so in an environment that is inclusive and accessible. It’s a perfect match to Sarah Elizabeth Grace’s probing and provocative study of a near-future woman constrained as if straight-jacketed after cutting away patriarchy’s constraint.