Down for #The Count is a one-act play festival going on through April 15 at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center. The women’s theater festival is both a celebration of female voices and call to action to see more female-penned plays on local and national stages.
In an attempt to change the way people make choices that silence the voices of women, all six of the one-act plays chosen for the festival are written by women — and most of the plays are written by women of color.
The topics covered in the plays were as diverse as the artistry presented on the stage. Watching a performance that uses many different styles and subjects can be difficult to bring together — not just for the audience, but for everyone involved in the play.
To tie these topics together, director Phyllis Cicero sought to build a through-line. The idea, besides making sure that every play was given the same value, was to bring out the theme of “lies and illusions” that each of us has created, told or believed about sex, gender, race and love.
Women’s issues lie at the heart of each of the six plays, but each play finds a way to subvert the audience's expectations. No action is predictable, and at many points, the conclusion is left either deliberately ambiguous or shrouded in mystery.
DIY, the festival’s opening act, written by Oak Cliff-born playwright Katherine Craft, takes the familiar scene of two teenage girls trapped by the polarizing sexual politics of high school life but moves past the common tropes to reflect on the social issues that continue to plague us in politics.
In Ife Olujobi’s Interdisciplinary, we find two male professors attempting to explain to each other the significance of an artist’s performance piece while the female artist silently applies her makeup. Is her performance about race because the performer is black? Is it about gender because she’s female? Is it about sex because she’s in her underwear? Or is it about whether these professors think she’s hot? But it’s not just men under the play’s critical eye. The different reactions of the women who come up behind them leave the audience wondering how to interpret the performance.
For Jo Chaho Tum (Whatever You Want) by Maryam Obaidullah Baig the audience is invited on a journey through time and fantasy worlds to learn that “there are no Xs and Ys when it comes to love throughout the centuries.”
The second half of the festival provides a kind of symmetrical mirroring in the themes presented, each play revisiting the topics of the first half and building on them as though they were a kind of spiritual sequel.
In I Get the Blues, Sometimes I Do, we see yet another woman going to her friend for help, but this time they aren’t students, but teachers. It is not a world of gossip that threatens to undermine sisterhood, but the failure for one woman to understand the background, culture and story of her friend.
The loudest applause of the evening came after Feleceia Benton’s incredible one-woman performance of Linda Jones’ The Sound, in which the sound of a hot comb straightening the speaker’s nappy hair as a young girl is compared to the sound of hitting a crack pipe and the act of letting her hair go natural is more an act of rehabilitation and recovery than about black empowerment — at least as the speaker tells it.
The biggest laughs came in the festival’s final play, Covenant, in which a séance of four young women the night before President Donald Trump’s inauguration is interrupted by a very well intentioned yet very clueless white kid in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt who just does not get why leaving a group of black girls in the middle of a Trump rally might undermine his belief that he is an ally.
Whether you’re laughing or crying, whether you’re cheering for moments of empowerment or jeering at the ignorance, whether you completely relate or are left scratching your head, Down for #The Count is sure to engage your illusions and challenge your interpretations with the hope for a greater understanding of the complexity of not just women, but all human beings.