“What does ‘taking up space’ mean to you? How do you take up space? Your response might be included in tonight’s performance,” read one of several slips of paper resting on a table covered in red cloth at Oberon, the American Repertory Theatre’s sister space on the fringes of Harvard Square.
That prompt—answers to which did become part of the performance—aptly describes “SHE,” an original musical revue that ran from April 14 to 15. With music and lyrics by Liz P. Kantor ’18 and short scenes written by Rachel C. Talamo ’18, the production traced how the cast of young women navigate friendship and hardship, learn, change, and grow, unapologetically asserting their presence. Despite neck-craning staging and oftentimes stilted transitions between scenes, “SHE” ultimately derived its strength from combining Kantor’s amazing songs with a fabulous five-piece orchestra and a cast of members who truly internalized the mission of the show. “Although we cannot share every woman’s story in 90 minutes, or even begin to capture the beautiful kaleidoscope comprised of women’s experiences, we hope this show will encourage more people to share and embrace these stories,” director Karen Chee ’17 wrote in her program note. “We hope that some of them will resonate with you.”
Both passionate and catchy, Kantor’s music filled the space throughout the evening. Indeed, the production would have benefitted from more breathing room in between those beautiful songs, rather than moving quickly from musical number to monologue to scene. In the opening number, “Dear Daughter,” Kiki M. Albanese ’19, Ali Astin ’19, Lindsey C. Ruggles ’19, Emma S. Schwartz ’18, and the company broke the fourth wall between stage and audience, inviting viewers conversationally into the space. From their separate marks around Oberon’s second-floor catwalk, the performers sang best when they sang all together. Their message rang out clear: Seek out experiences, learn from them, and hold your own (“Don’t be afraid of cuts, ’cause Bandaids are cheap,” one performer sang). Strong vocals by Albanese and Julia E. Belanoff ’18 in “Take Up Space,” by Meghan Onserio ’19 and Nora A. Sagal ’18 in “Friendship,” and by Madison E. Deming ’18 and the entire company in “Here I Am” anchored the production.
The monologues and scenes, which punctuated these musical numbers, effectively blended cast members’ personal stories and fictional takes on real-life experiences. The show took painstaking care to bring the audience into conversations about menstruation, pregnancy scares, and sexual assault on campus. And though some scenes were a bit too long or rough around the edges, that the show verged on unstreamlined both conveyed the cast’s dedication to the material and made their performances more real. Onserio’s incredibly thoughtful humor as a bathroom confidante and Deming’s reading of a personal text message, in particular, struck a chord.
At the end of the night, the group shone, singing in harmony under Oberon’s characteristic disco ball. The points they had raised in the previous hour and a half lingered with the music.
—Staff writer Melissa C. Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @melissa_rodman.