Review: Magnificent "And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet" Washes Ashore at NYC's FRIGID Festival

And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet

Written and performed by Caroline Burns Cooke

Directed by Colin Watkeys

Presented at UNDER St. Marks

94 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC

Thursday, Feb. 20 at 5:30pm; Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7:10pm; Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1:50pm; Monday, Feb. 24 at 7:10pm; Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 5:30pm; Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 10:30pm

Tickets available here.

Caroline Burns Cooke. Image courtesy of the artist.
And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet, the award-winning, incandescent solo show from U.K. artist Caroline Burns Cooke, begins with peals of thunder and Cooke falling flat amidst prayers in a storm. This moment will appear again near the end of the play, heartrendingly recontextualized. What we have seen in the meantime is one of the stand-out productions of the 2020 FRIGID Festival and a sobering yet hopeful reminder of what happens when women and their bodies are subjected to the control of institutionalized patriarchy. 

When Cooke enters in the storm, she is playing Lianne Gray, who is a fictionalized version of the woman at the center of the 1984 "Kerry Babies case," which took place in County Kerry, Ireland, and saw the woman accused of murdering two different babies, one of whom washed up on a beach. From the perspective of looking back over the decades, Cooke, herself from an Irish Catholic family, takes us first to the 1970s, tracing Lianne's coming to be involved with her attractive, married boss (something of a romantic, she can't help seeing him as a dashing character from a Tolstoy novel). Lianne, extremely unorthodoxly for her society, becomes a single, working mother. When she is accused of infanticide, she undergoes questioning, railroading, repercussions for her family, officials bending evidence to fit pre-existing narratives, and a very public tribunal. But she also finds that she is not alone, not by a long shot.

In addition to Lianne, Cooke, clad in simple black, also inhabits the other major players in the story—an officer of the court, a local policeman, (boozy) "radical lesbian feminist" Kate, and others—vividly drawing characters and scenes (a Christmas party and an interrogation are two tour-de-force examples). Cooke uses dynamics masterfully throughout, and her performance is funny, bleak, and moving, feelingly interrogating a woman's place in a world where contraception and divorce are basically unavailable and a nun defends her vocation by asking what else she, as a woman, is supposed to do.
Caroline Burns Cooke. Image courtesy of the artist.

If the play posits that the past informs the future, that is as true on a social and cultural scale as it is for Lianne's personal story. Lest we think that we have long left the dark days of women's inequality behind, it is worth pointing out that an official apology for the actual case was issued only in 2018, the same year that the ban on abortion in Ireland was removed from their constitution and the United States saw an unprecedented number of restrictions on abortion and other reproductive rights passed and Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court. And the Rope Still Tugging Her Feet is deeply empathetic, poignant, entertaining, and not to be missed.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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