Review: In "Complicity," There's More Than Enough Blame to Go Around

Complicity

Written by Diane Davis

Directed by Illana Stein

Presented by Eden Theater Company at The New Ohio Theatre

154 Christopher St., Manhattan, NYC

September 30-October 15, 2022

Nadia Sepsenwol, Katie Broad, and Christian Paxton. Photo credit: Ashley Garrett
By end of Complicity, set in a Hollywood colliding with #MeToo and Time's Up, it was hard not to think of Audre Lorde's admonition that the "master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Diane Davis's play, making its world premiere at The New Ohio, offers neither uncomplicated heroes nor easy fixes in its look at a film and television industry that remains endemically, perhaps irremediably patriarchal–and in this, a reflection of the culture in which it is embedded. What Complicity does offer is an unflinching exploration of accountability, particularly among women, through multidimensional characters who compellingly embody the tensions among models of change, between pragmatism and idealism, and between self and sisterhood–literal and otherwise.
Nadia Sepsenwol, Katie Broad, and Christian Prins Coen. Photo credit: Ashley Garrett
When we first meet actress Tig Kennedy (Katie Broad), she is arriving late for a meeting with star-making producer Harry Wickstone and accompanied by her sister, Sima (Nadia Sepsenwol), who also acts as her agent. The sisters are met by another actress, Lilia Gordon (Christian Paxton), compared to whom Tig is a neophyte and who sends Tig upstairs to an encounter–unseen but conveyed primarily through effectively allusive sound design–that leaves her traumatized. Years later, Wickstone has met with some trouble, Lilia has moved up to studio head, and Sima is pushing a deal that gives Tig a chance at a big comeback and Sima a chance to move her own career "to the next level." But if Sima places herself in the change-things-from-within camp, Tig has other, potentially more disruptive ideas, putting her on a course that raises questions around allyship and the responsibility to protect not only other women's bodies but also their right to control the narrative of their own experiences.

Christian Paxton and Zach Wegner. Photo credit: Ashley Garrett
Throughout, we see how the machinery of power and PR preserves and propagates itself. Talk-show host Hunter Winchester's (Tonia E. Anderson) point, for example, that, as a Black woman, she has had to pick her battles is simultaneously a valid argument and a useful excuse. Actor Cole Radnor (Christian Prins Coen) similarly–and rightly–invokes intersectionality in a conversation with Tig, but he does so as part of explaining his unwillingness to rock the Hollywood boat. The play also highlights, especially through a sound engineer (Ben Faigus) looking to demonstrate his worth to the right people, how the perceived rewards for personal loyalty militate against both accountability and change.

The production creates striking images at key moments with its inventive sound, lighting, and set design, and it maintains a fleet pace that makes its 90 or so engrossing minutes fly by. Broad as Tig ably anchors a strong cast, with particular standouts in Paxton's nuanced, absorbing embodiment of Lilia's complexities and Zach Wegner's turn as Nigel Kent, who brings home that Lilia's rise to power is far from a magic bullet either for her personally or in a wider sense. Complicity presents a well-crafted reminder not only of the struggle that still remains to effect real change in a post-#MeToo industry (and culture) but also of the truly collective action that it will require.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

Comments

  1. "The machinery of power and PR" and "truly collective action" required for real change in the #post MeToo world. Great review!

    ReplyDelete

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