Review: You Should See "And What Happens if I Don't" No Matter What Your Mother Says

And What Happens if I Don't

Written by Iva Brdar

Translated by Ana Brdar

Presented by The Cherry Artists' Collective at The Cherry Artspace

102 Cherry St., Ithaca, NY

December 3-12, 2021

Clockwise from farthest left: Adar aAlston, RJ Lavine, Elizabeth Mozer, Elizah Knight, Amoreena Wade, and Barbara Geary
Cherry Arts' production of And What Happens if I Don't marks not only the world premiere of the play itself but also the premiere of the theater company's Hybrid Show System, which provides live streaming in addition to in-person seating (as non-driving NYC-folk, we attended via the former option). The play, by Berlin-based Serbian playwright Iva Brdar and winner of the 2021 Eurodram English-language Award, uses maternal advice as a series of windows onto life as a woman, vignettes that are at once fascinatingly particular in their details and widely relatable in their broader contours.
Barbara Geary, Elizah Knight, RJ Lavine, and Naandi Jamison
Staged in the round, with a multi-camera feed for the live-stream audience, the scenes in And What Happens if I Don't are arranged around pieces of motherly wisdom—generally prohibitions, which is in itself suggestive—and proceed chronologically by age, beginning with age 0. The central, narrating "I" of each scene shifts among the eight members of the diverse, all-woman cast, with a new speaker tagging in, as it were, at the beginning of each scene through jumping rope, an activity that invokes rituals passed on among communities of girls and women. Audiences can read the entirety, which covers childhood to old age chronologically, with the woman's age as part of the frame, as more or less forming a single narrative, or not—neither choice diminishes the overall effect. The jumping-off points range from not sitting on concrete (lest one become sterile, and what is life for a woman without reproduction?) to not sitting on toilet seats outside of one's home or not washing blood stains in warm water. When men (played, if they physically appear, by the women of the cast) appear in these vignettes, as strangers, lovers, or uniformed figures of authority, the outcomes tend towards the less than ideal, with manspreading and mansplaining on the more benign end of the spectrum. Variations of "a man approached me and..." begin to provoke some anxiety, a feeling with which many in the audience are doubtless familiar. Against this backdrop, a harmoniously delivered refrain about being polite, kind, and well-behaved gains just a little more subtextual acidity with each repetition.
Barbara Geary, Elizabeth Mozer, RJ Lavine, and Adara Alston
In melding its plainspoken, sometimes naive narrative voice with flourishes of poetic surrealism, And What Happens if I Don't takes on an almost folk or fairy tale quality. Such tales themselves, of course, pass on pieces of wisdom and attempt to mold behavior, for better or worse—what is "Don't walk alone at night," after all, but one modern version of "Don't walk in the forest alone"? The play is as likely to put one in mind of a scene from Alice in Wonderland via an overflowing toilet as it is to suddenly, if obliquely, confront painful realities, as when one scene powerfully recontextualizes a previous one without spelling things out for the audience, or when, through a few props and a beautiful performance by Elizabeth Mozer, the idea of not plucking gray hairs unexpectedly becomes a poignant figure of aging before our eyes. The rest of the ensemble makes a comparably accomplished showing, often as quite different figures over the course of the play (Adara Alston, for instance, and Amoreena Wade each carry tonally contrasting scenes of the woman/women at different ages); and the production also makes effective use of sound, creating atmosphere and punctuation with voices, footsteps, pans, and wood.

Through a tangle of restrictions, And What Happens if I Don't offers a lively, distinctive view of being a daughter and a woman, and with Cherry Arts' hybrid show model, there is no excuse not to see it.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards   

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