Friday , April 19 2024
Maiden Voyage
Photo credit: Bronwen Sharp

Theater Review (NYC): An All-Woman Submarine Crew’s ‘Maiden Voyage’

What if a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine embarked on a 70-day patrol, crewed entirely by women? At the Flea Theater right now is a vigorous, well played production of Maiden Voyage, a new play that offers that very scenario.

Playwright Cayenne Douglass, director Alex Keegan, and a talented cast turn the mission into a vehicle for exploration of the nuances, difficulties and contradictions of women’s assertion of equal responsibility and power in a traditionally male service and society.

Seven Against Heaves

This full-length two-act drama focuses on three newbies, three experienced submariners, and one veteran commander who is captaining this first-ever women-only crew – this maiden voyage – as a final laurel on a decades-long career.

The play takes the time to develop each character. It makes room for tense action scenes, personal dramas, hazing, bonding and conflict, carousing and despairing – even whalesong. Elliot Yokum’s immersive sound design plunges us into the close, vibrating atmosphere of a submarine.

Natasha Hakata in 'Maiden Voyage' at the Flea Theater
Natasha Hakata (photo credit: Bronwen Sharp)

The vessel’s “motion” and adventures reveal the crew’s solid training and professionalism, along with their very human traits and responses, from fear and panic to passion and playfulness.

A number of memorably multilayered characters and performances stand out. The deeply religious Twinkle Toes (Georgia Kate Cohen) has further depths: What seems a moralistic desire to save a bunkmate’s soul turns out to be rooted in a very earthly trauma – which doesn’t prevent her from mugging hilariously as emcee at the crew’s talent show – which contrasts with shy, obsequious respect for the captain.

Predatory bully Sledge (Kait Hickey) nearly melts down when ordered to perform emergency surgery she’s not technically trained for on sick shipmate Dot Com (an earthy turn by Natasha Hakata). And Dot Com’s reaction to the outcome isn’t quite what one might expect.

Command Performance

The prideful Captain Ricky Martin’s (Brenda Crawley) approach to her command reads as an effective compromise between stern military command and den-mother protectiveness. Until, that is, she’s confronted with a crew member’s complaint that threatens the smooth completion of her mission. (The patrol is, in one of the script’s only lapses into cliché, her last before retirement). This is the production’s most brilliantly acted scene, with the tearful and desperately embarrassed rookie Scooby (a deeply touching Arianne Banda) seeking understanding from a respected woman who is her commanding officer but also, she hopes, an understanding elder. Can the captain respond with something better than male commanders’ typical insensitivity and still keep the mission on an even keel?

Brenda Crawley, Arianne Banda in 'Maiden Voyage' (photo credit: Dianna Bush Photography)
Brenda Crawley, Arianne Banda (photo credit: Dianna Bush Photography)

And what will happen when disaster threatens the boat? What if the captain’s desire for a triumphant success, both for her own honor and to prove women’s equal ability, conflicts with the wisdom needed to ensure the safety of all?

Maiden Voyage doesn’t give us easy answers – not to the big questions anyway, like that of men’s and women’s coexistence as coequals in the military and beyond. It does give us a vivid theatrical experience created by a full squad of strong onstage and offstage talent – and a bucketful of hardtack for thought.

It’s at the Flea Theater in lower Manhattan, through March 17. Tickets are available online.

Note: Ricky Martin, the captain, is played at some performances by Tricia Mancuso Parks.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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