Lisette (Delissa Reynolds), Cass (Lisa Harrow) and Candy (Courtney Rackley) — the other three characters in Milwaukee Repertory Theater's world premiere — have had that accusation hurled at them, by a man or the world. Dael Orlandersmith's play gives each of these bruised but tough women their chances to respond to attempts to dismiss them.
Directed by Jade King Carroll, "New Age" is an absorbing show for women and people who love them. Yes, it's kinda "I am woman, hear me roar," but in a more nuanced way. It's only an hour long, but that length feels right for a show that's essentially four intersecting (and occasionally reinforcing) monologs, punctuated by Medina Baldwin's riffs and song segments. (Bob Monagle music-directed this production, which supplements Liberty's guitar chords a few times with some recorded backing.)
That word intersecting — these women defy easy generalization or stereotype. Lisette, the 80-year-old Black writer, is as passionate about white writers like Emily Bronte as she is about James Baldwin and Arna Bontemps. Teenage Liberty is gung-ho about folk-blues guitarist Elizabeth Cotten ("Freight Train").
We meet each at a crisis point. Lisette must decide whether to have brain cancer surgery or not. Cass, approaching 70, has just learned of the death of her ex-husband. Candy's been dumped by her boy toy on her 45th birthday. Liberty, now 18, has left home to play music — and to avoid pounding the mother who abused her. Liberty is the only character who moves around the stage, maybe a sign of her restless eagerness to get started on her real life.
Perhaps reflecting my own age, I was most taken with the two older women.
Lisette rejected traditional family advice to get a man and keep him happy. Instead, she has written, read and seen the world. Lisette admits her fear of death, but until she dies, she will make her own decisions. She is not giving her first editions to the convalescent home's library!
The sensual Cass recalls the gorgeous husband who went disco dancing and clubbing with her. She doesn't question her own beauty until he does. Yet she exudes serenity and equanimity.
Each woman is passionate about a form of art: the writer Lisette, visual art lover Cass, actor Candy and musician Liberty. "New Age" includes lots of name-checking of artistic heroes: Candy's role models Sophia Loren and Marilyn Monroe, Cass' beloved painters and sculptors, Liberty's litany of musicians from Cotten to Courtney Barnett.
That's the open secret of "New Age": Those arts give each the strength she needs as she stands up to life's punches, and as she individuates, becoming more and more fully herself.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: In 'New Age' at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, women defy stereotype