Revolution in a Catsuit
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Through April 30
In Revolution in a Catsuit, directed by Michael Philip Edwards, playwright/lead performer Somi De Souza aims to tackle the problems of ethnic minorities in the entertainment industry — the tendency for directors, casting directors and producers to stereotype people of color and, even more deplorably, cast white actors in minority roles. Sure, things may have improved since the days when Olivier was lauded for his Othello, but not nearly enough. The extent of the problem is moderate, major, or humungous, depending on whom you’re speaking to.
In the play, set in London, De Souza plays Nina, a frustrated British actress of Indian extraction who’s undertaken a one-woman protest of the industry’s practices. She conceives of an organization which she calls N.O.R.M. to represent her point of view, and attracts the attention of the media when she stands on the street, protesting while inside a cardboard box.
At an audition, Nina meets Turli (Victoria Platt, alternating with Esther Mira), an American woman of color, also an actress, married to an Indian man and under stress due to her domineering mother-in-law. Tuhli decides to join up with Nina, and together they are interviewed by a TV producer’s assistant about the possibility of developing a video magazine segment about the issue. For the interview, Nina dresses Che Guevara style, but the less proper Tuhli wears a sexy catsuit, properly divining that it will more likely attract the guy behind the desk (Julian Booth). Her action offends Nina, who is as sensitive to sexism as she is to ethnic stereotyping. But it turns out that the television station is uninterested in Nina as part of the project anyway, one more frustration to add to her growing pile of them.
The friendship between Nina and Tuhli grows more ambivalent after Tuhli hooks up with David (Guy Picot), a womanizing theater director who promises her the same role of an Indian warrior queen he’d supposedly written for Nina.
While the lack-of-diversity issues remain relevant, they are unfortunately subsumed by other elements of the plot, namely, multiple scenes portraying the manic obsession of aspiring performers with themselves and their career. This single-mindedness is something we folks in Hollywood are (to understate it) familiar with, and scenes where Nina and Tuhli have desperate conversations with their respective agents are, unless depicted with razor-sharp satire, old hat.
It doesn’t help that De Souza’s Nina comes off as self-centered and unsympathetic, or that her performance appears set on automatic pilot. Her scenes with her boyfriend Philos (Dakota Kennedy, alternating with Tom Pocock) are stilted and lack chemistry. Kennedy works hard to project the reality of a relationship, but from the beginning he doesn’t get much feedback.
Platt does respectable work in a role constrained by the uninspired plot. The best scenes by far are with Picot, whose sleazy producer is fun to despise.
The opening images in Corwin Evans’s projection design, interweaving images of decorous European women with pole dancers slithering up and down while Asian music plays is intriguing, but the initial promise of an edgy comedy dissipates once the actual play begins.
Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 7 p.m.; Sat-Sun. 1 p.m. through April 30. http://www.bootlegtheater.org/ Running time: 95 minutes with no intermission