'This play should not be well-behaved': feminism, humor stir 'Revolt'

The play examines patriarchy and its role in institutions.
"Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again." examines patriarchy and its role in institutions like marriage, work and... well everything, really.
Tony Nelson

A new play seeks to start a revolution on stage. Even its name is a call to arms.

The script for "Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again." begins with a series of stage directions from playwright Alice Birch. She prefers that the show be performed by six actors; that at least one woman appear in every scene; that if a woman needs to take some of her clothes off for a scene, then a man should take off some of his clothes to keep it balanced.

The notes end by saying, "Most importantly, this play should not be well-behaved."

"That's like an invitation to me," said Wendy Knox, Frank Theatre director. She's known for staging biting, irreverent work with a strong feminist streak. "Revolt" was a perfect fit.

Charla Marie Bailey, Jane Froiland and Emily Grodzik at Gremlin Theatre.
Charla Marie Bailey, Jane Froiland and Emily Grodzik in Frank Theatre's production of "Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again."
Tony Nelson

"It's completely, unabashedly feminist," she said. "It tackles the different ways in which women are confined or defined by language, by tradition, by hierarchies. And it just says, 'We've got to break those.'"

Actor Joy Dolo said the play compelled her to dig into feminist history and examine the power of the patriarchy. Now she sees how it manifests itself almost everywhere. Dolo pointed to President Trump — the most powerful man in the country — who has boasted about groping women and getting away with it.

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"He literally represents every bad part of the patriarchy," she said. "And I feel like women themselves need to get together and say, 'OK, this is about women, and about being a woman in this world and surviving in this world and still maintaining your identity and who you are.' And I think this play really helps to shout that from the rooftops."

As the play continues, the pace becomes frenetic, with actors talking over one another as they discuss pornography, body-image issues, sex and power. Systems begin to break down.

Actress Jane Froiland said it's unusual for there to be more women than men in a play, and she's enjoying working alongside a predominately female cast and artistic team. But the play doesn't just attack the patriarchy, she said; it also looks at how women tear each other down:

Joy Dolo and Grant Henderson in Alice Birch’s play.
Joy Dolo and Grant Henderson in Alice Birch's play "Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again."
Tony Nelson

"I have not always felt lifted up by other women. And there's a great monologue that I get to do ... calling out women. 'OK, but really, really we need to come together now, we really need to stop eating our own and support each other instead of being part of the systemic structure that keeps us down, that keeps us oppressed."

Knox said many people think feminism and humor don't mix, but this play flies in the face of that. And as a female theater director who's been staging feminist plays for three decades now, she finds that humor is necessary.

"You keep banging your head against the same obstacles, you know? You do get weary looking at how long it takes to get things to change, but you can't stop," she said.

"Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again." runs through Oct. 22 at Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul.