To begin as we proceed, with full transparency, I have to admit how big a fan I am of SheNYC Arts and the work they do. As an advocate for voices of marginalized gender, I find a kindred mission in theirs, “devoted to producing plays, musicals, and adaptations by writers of marginalized genders, to prove that these works are meaningful, high-quality, and commercially viable.” So I was thrilled to learn that two of their Festival shows of the past few years were receiving their off-Broadway debut at A.R.T./NY. Ailema Sousa’s Fort Huachuca and Elinor T. Vanderburg’s Bloodshot mark the beginning of a new era of production for SheNYC, one I cannot wait to see grow.
Both Sousa and Vanderburg’s scripts hold such promise in plot and dynamic. The former, following the true story of five Black nurses in World War II, is a beautiful study of minutiae, archetype, and the complicated patriotism of serving a country that does not want you; the latter, a neo-noir tale of a future in which no one sleeps and people explode, is remarkably timely in its questions of humanity and uncertainty. The two are clearly skilled playwrights, and facets of their work came to life in the most entrancing of ways. Unfortunately, each had presentational issues that led to a lesser landing than one would’ve hoped.
Pacing was the main qualm of Fort Huachuca. Abrupt scenic and character transitions interrupted grounding, confrontation appeared unprompted, and the balance between historical soundbite as exposition and character dialogue felt rather off-kilter. There are some stunning relationships built within the text—one has only to listen to the words to hear that—but the issue of tempo ebb and flow made much of it land on deaf ears.
Similarly, it was largely sound structure that lessened the impact of Bloodshot. This jazzpunk piece utilized a small band to highlight its detectives and femme fatale, consisting of drums, guitar, bass, saxophone, and keys. This undercurrent, married with shrieking sound effects, crafted a sound balance that was overwhelming to the ear. Such a sensory overload to the eardrum may have been intentional; while I respect the choice, ultimately, it led me to pay less attention to the tale in front of me and more to my beating heart. Once again, a horrible shame, as the innovation of such a futuristic piece is something to marvel at.
Now, this does not mean the experience was a horrible one. Far from it. There were impeccable performances within the two plays. Of particular note is Kofi Asanti, the only actor to perform in both. He embodied the definition of versatility, playing devoted and loving Tuskegee airman, suicide-ideating young boy, and psychotic harbinger of death with equal skill and capability. Each entrance of his brought a sense of anticipation and hypnosis. Similarly, Ben Holbrook, playing Bloodshot’s Narrator, has a voice that could hold the most distracted in rapture; his arc of deterioration and freedom in vilification was remarkable, especially played in tandem with Fedly Daniel, the Narrator’s younger self.
Yaisa, as Fort Huachuca’s Mayvee Ashmoor, provided such learned naivete to her character, a bookish young woman harboring a painful secret. The exploration of interracial romantic dynamic given to us by Chris Yim and Sousa, as Fort Huachuca’s Hiro Takahashi and Eleanor Powell, was beautiful. Brittany Shonka, playing Marjorie Davis, had lovely oscillation of vulnerability; Nijah Dent, as Bloodshot’s Detective Bella Marjorie, held much the same.
Additionally, the lighting and set design teams on both shows gave their audience impeccable work. Marcella Barbeau’s shades of red and blue for Bloodshot proffered a vision of thermal imaging: from the get-go, one understood veins and brittle bones to be involved in the world. Nora Marlow Smith’s attention to detail within Fort Huachuca was immaculate, providing a sense of character and foreshadowing with immediacy. From apocalyptic blood patterns to nostalgic abandonment, these two creatives crafted veritable worlds on a simplistic stage.
In short, both Fort Huachuca and Bloodshot have wonderful scripts, and great promise, even if they didn’t land as strongly as they could. Regardless, I so look forward to the growth of SheNYC, and to sitting within many more of their audiences.
Fort Huachuca and Bloodshot ran at A.R.T./NY in September and October of 2023. For more information on SheNYC Arts, click here.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.
This post was written by Rhiannon Ling.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.