The Second Woman
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Through December 11
A middle-aged actress obsesses over her fading youth in The Second Woman, a cryptic one-act written by Marissa Chibas and co-directed by Zoe Aja Moore and Fernando Belo.
Although the particulars of the narrative are confounding, the interaction between the principal players, Chibas and Paula Rebelo, establishes an interesting dynamic that sustains one’s attention for the play’s brief 55-minute duration
According to the press notes, the play is inspired by Opening Night, a film by John Cassavetes with Gina Rowlands as an aging star; the Eleusinian mysteries of the ancient Minoan culture, which were related to Demeter and her daughter Persephone; and H.R. Haggard’s 19th century novel She, whose title character is a powerful female who’s lived for centuries but who in the end is consumed in fire.
The piece begins with a video whose setting is a rehearsal for the staging of Medea. Zohra (Chibas) has been cast as the nurse, and in the opening shot she sits in the dressing room before the mirror, scrutinizing her features and the lines of her drooping jaw with concentrated concern. Then, called to rehearse, she’s subjected to the note-giving of a sententious young director (Nick Smerkanich), and then to the lifeless emoting of the younger actress depicting Medea (Sally Maersk). As part of her costume, Zohra must wear a dowdy granny wig that makes her appear much older than she is. The rehearsal ends disastrously, after Zohra has something of a breakdown.
The live theater sequence of the story then commences: Zohra returns home where she’s greeted by Angie (Rebelo), a younger person who, in the course of their scene, is somewhat obliquely identified as Zohra’s daughter (maybe). Unlike Zohra, who is exhausted, unhappy and full of self-doubt, Angie is strong, sensual and self-confident. Her attitude towards Zohra is a mixture of solicitousness, challenge and contempt. She announces early on her attention to leave their domicile and get on with her life elsewhere, a prospect that alarms the older needier woman.
The Second Woman benefits greatly from Rebelo’s vivid presence and enigmatic charm, although the motives for her character’s behavior are unclear. I can only surmise we’re witnessing the depiction of a complex mother-daughter relationship — or one between two unrelated women that embodies similar conflicting elements of love and resentment.
The production elements are a plus, in particular Jesse Fryery’s dramatic lighting, which adds layers of intensity to the spare (uncredited) set.
Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m.; through December 11; http://www.bootlegtheater.org or 213-389-3856. Running time: 55 minutes.