Theatre Review: Herland is By, For and About Women (and Others)

How would you rather live out your final years: moving into assisted living, or staying in your own house until you’re carried out feet first? As a young midwestern gay woman with no support system, how would you find your way?

Those questions seem unrelated, but Herland, a world premiere play by Grace McLeod at the Greenway Theatre, mashes them up in some intriguing ways.

Lifelong friends Jean, Louise and Terry are getting up there and grappling with the first question. Meanwhile, Jean (Lisa Blake Richards) hires an intern, recent high school graduate Natalie (Gladys Bautista), who’s dealing with the second question.

Jean’s husband recently abandoned her for a younger woman, (“Brenda’s 42. We hate Brenda.”), leaving her both fragile and pissed. She’s reclaimed the former practice studio of her ex’s Bruce Springsteen cover band. His garage is now her office, and Natalie is helping her organize it and improve her computer skills.

Brassy, never-married Louise (the wonderful Judith Scarpone) urges Jean to move with her to a retirement home. Feisty Terry (Laura James), whose ex-husband was the band’s “mediocre” drummer, is also considering her moves. Jean suggests converting her home into a retirement community for the three of them: Herland. The friends approve.

Left to right: Terry (Laura James), Jean (Lisa Blake Richards), Natalie (Gladys Bautista) and Louise (Judith Scarpone) in Herland at the Greenway Court Theatre.

Natalie helps out as the women lay out their vision (which most definitely includes a jacuzzi), but her mind is not completely in the garage. She’s checking her phone for messages from a dating app and looking forward to meeting a beautiful stranger. The play abruptly changes course when she sneaks in confident, gender-fluid Becca (the compelling Victoria Ortiz) for an evening.

Growing old may have little in common with growing up, but each age group can learn from the other – much more than computer skills.

Tiffany Moon directs sensitively. A few lines of dialog are lost when the actors speak to each other facing away from the audience, but the sound design (by Corwin Evans), incorporating an extensive Springsteen catalog, is strong.

Scenic design by Rene O. Parras, Jr. places us squarely within a garage, with a jumble of cast-offs that feel familiar. Costume designer Elena Flores outfits the cast in a way that beautifully reinforces their characters’ personalities.

The Greenway Theatre has been operating for 22 years. Its founders/artistic directors Whitney Weston and Pierson Blaetz turned former storage space into a chance-taking theatrical gem. They still guide the Greenway Arts Alliance, which also runs the Melrose Trading Post on the Fairfax campus. Head on over and support them.

Herland is about two hours with no intermission. It runs through June 23. Tickets are $34, $20 for students and seniors (over 60). Click here for schedule and to purchase tickets. The Greenway Court Theatre is on the Fairfax High School campus at 544 N. Fairfax Ave. There’s free parking in an adjacent lot just north of the theater.

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About Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and marketing consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.

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