‘The Weird’ Harnesses the Bizarre to Illuminate the Political

The Weird
Courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Politics can be a real witch. Directed by Steven Bogart, “The Weird” opened at the Calderwood Theater Pavilion in Boston. The experimental play imagines four scenarios in which witchcraft and supernatural powers could explain our current national political situation: from inadequate healthcare coverage to brainwashing and indoctrination, from censorship to millennial political inaction and pseudo-activism.

“The Weird” is predictably, well, weird. The play is brazen, strange, and un-ordinary. It is unafraid to be whatever it wants, to ask important questions, to demand your attention. The problem is clarity, or lack thereof: A nuanced and veiled approach to political statements can sometimes obfuscate the essence of the allegory. There’s little to establish unity between vignettes: The jumps are often abrupt, the disconnects from scene to scene jarring, verging on inaccessible.

Still, what is accessible—the immediacy of raw emotion—packs a powerful punch. “Gather,” written by Kirsten Greenridge, is the most fragmented of the four vignettes, in which Ciera-Sadé Wade plays Olivia, an extraordinary woman whose mother dies as a result of terminal illness and insufficient healthcare. In the climax of the play, Olivia ultimately confronts Richard (Eliott Purcell), an inattentive senator responsible for the vote that minimized her mother’s healthcare availability. Wade’s performance as Olivia grips: “I have been calling,” she says. “I prayed so hard. The universe did not accommodate me. I just know I prayed, and you listened to my phone calls.”

And the mood swings wildly, and often. In “Era Era,” the fourth vignette, Kara Arena and Alexis Scheer play Victoria and Patricia, respectively, hosts of a caricature of a progressive radio show. Arena and Scheer’s performances are some of the most free-spirited and unabashed in the play: at one point they even impersonate Matthew McConaughey, thumping their chests and muttering “all right, all right, all right.” At another, Patricia whines, “White women are the worrrst,” and identifies as a woman of color because she’s “half… I’m Italian-Irish.” Obehi Janice’s script is an insightful and sharply funny satire of millennial progressivism and inaction, reminding us that sometimes resistance looks like two women on a frivolous radio show—or, as one caller to the radio show demonstrates, the cathartic act of crushing a peach with one’s bare hands, a symbolic act of therapeutic brute force as opposed to “freaking out and taking on the burden of humanity.”

If these excerpts sound odd, they are not only emblematic, but perhaps an understatement of the extreme strangeness at work in “The Weird.” (The other two involve a Puritan pastor’s sex fantasy and a girls’ boarding school specializing in brainwashing, the only cure for which is eating apples.) “The Weird” is the kind of postmodern play that does not cater to anyone or give answers; it asks you to put the pieces together on your own, to parse and ponder the material even after the production, in all its complexity and peculiarity and, well, weirdness. It isn’t easy, but neither are times like these. And as Vicky reminds us in “Era Era,” “There’s something in the air … This isn’t normal.”

— Staff writer Caroline A. Tsai can be reached at caroline.tsai@thecrimson.com

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