Review: "(beyond) Doomsday Scrolling" Assembles a Striking, Immersive Chorus of Women's Wartime Voices

(beyond) Doomsday Scrolling

Collectively created by the members of AnomalousCo

Directed by Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva with Jeremy Goren and Diana Zhdanova

Presented by AnomalousCo at HERE

145 6th Ave, Manhattan, NYC

February 16-26, 2023

Photo by Jarrett Robertson
The war in Ukraine, which will have stretched on for a year as of late next week, looms large in (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling, a formidable new devised theater piece from feminist performance collective AnomalousCo, but the full scope of the show's consideration of women in wartime is much more capacious. (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling imagines women from different eras and locations coming together to shelter in a theater, a space which has historically played various important roles during times of conflict. The result is what AnomalousCo founding Co-Artistic Director Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva characterized to Thinking Theater NYC as "one part theatre, one part protest," with naturalistic scenes "ruptured by elements of political cabaret" (read the entire interview with members of AnomalousCo here). (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling's potent, polyvocal bricolage of song, naturalistic and non-naturalistic moments, and excerpted texts drawn from sources stretching from classical Greece to the contemporary United Nations powerfully coalesces into an equally heart-rending and stirring experience.

Early in the show, as Ukrainian emigré Lesya Verba accompanies her rich, strong vocals on the bandura, women begin to arrive in the shelter, in what feels like a trickle that quickly becomes a chaotic flood, some carrying bags of belongings and one with a baby. The twelve women and one man (Simona DeFeo, Ylfa Edelstein, Claudia Godi, Jeremy Goren, Savanna Sinéad Kenny, Eka Kukhianidze, Monica Blaze Leavitt, Kathryn Mederos Syssoyeva, Alina Mihailevschi, Wilemina Olivia-Garcia, Lesya Verba, Weronika Wozniak, and Diana Zhdanova) who perform (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling hail from ten countries, and this multilingual show is presented without no surtitles, reproducing for the audience some of the experience of the onstage characters (an experience that will differ depending on the audience member). The women who arrive in the shelter, notably, quickly begin working together, despite language barriers (although perfect harmony will not always reign in the theater shelter). Multiplicity of voice remains the show's dominant mode throughout. Song often overlaps speech–and, in at least one scene, seems deliberately to drown out the speech of the UN Security Council representatives, a feminist counterpoint to predominantly patriarchal discourse–and excerpts from non-English texts are spoken simultaneously with their English translations, arguably lending such dialogue itself a kind of anxious musicality in a production where music and vocal harmony play significant roles.
Photo by Jarrett Robertson
This scene of arrival also establishes the performance's use of space, which involves not only the actors often spread across the wide theater space but also something almost always going on wherever you look away from the "main" action, giving a sense of individual lives and stories carrying on despite whatever is happening in the foreground (not unlike, perhaps, what happens in wartime). The action, which flows organically among its diverse elements, is punctuated by air raid sirens created by the actors' voices and instruments; and the fact that the stage is so often awash in sound, from voices to instruments to stomping feet, only lends additional weight to its stark silences, at least one if which follows such a siren. The cast vividly realizes these womens' anger, sadness, and defiance (Godi's anguished performance of "Ciao bella, ciao," which builds to a group cry of defiance, is a standout expression of the latter two emotions, while Kenny's multiple knockout moments include one of Scottish rage at English ethnic cleansing). But there are also touches of humor amid the darkness, as when one woman smiles at the sparkly boa that she appropriates from a box of costumes.

In knitting together perspectives on women's wartime experiences from current-day Ukraine to Nazi Germany to mid-twentieth-century Cuba to the early twenty-first-century U.S.-Mexico border and more, (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling creates compelling and provocative juxtapositions. As long as we continue to dress up war in money and paperwork and uniforms in order to present it as a somehow legitimate or even inevitable course of action, women will continue to be at the center of the suffering which it engenders. Speaking about Mariupol, Edelstein laments, "I want returned what cannot be returned," a concisely heartbreaking summation of the tragedy of wartime. At the same time, the show leaves open space for resistance and survival–one way, perhaps, in which we might take the "beyond" of its title. Anyone looking for fiery, adventurous theater should be sure to experience (beyond) Doomsday Scrolling before its song is ended.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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