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Slaying Holofernes

a Drama
by Emily McClain

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : West End Performing Arts Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5542

SHOWING : July 26, 2019 - August 24, 2019



This passionate and provocative drama spans four centuries as it tells the tales of two remarkable young women: Amanda, struggling for justice and recognition in the offices of modern-day Atlanta, and the amazing true story of Artemesia Gentileschi, a painter in Renaissance Italy who took her rapist to trial. A powerful look at how much some things have changed in 400 years – while others haven’t changed at all.

Advisory: There is a sexual assault in the play. There is a scene of intense physical pain.

Director Peter Morris Hardy
Orazio/Oscar Brad Brooks
Agostino Fred Galyean
Artemisia Sasha Hatfield
Artemisia Sasha Hatfield
Anthony/Coppino Jeff Hathcoat
Notary Jim Nelson
Stiatessi/Greg Tamil Periasamy
Judge Dan Reichard
Tuzia/Tonya Sarah Falkenburg Wallace
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by playgoer
Wednesday, August 21, 2019
A woman tries to be agreeable with a man in power, not saying anything when he first makes moves that could be considered crossing the line. Then, when the line is definitively crossed, her defense appears shaky to the world at large. Such is the situation in "Slaying Holofernes," Emily McClain’s play that juxtaposes the accusations made by Renaissance painter Artemesia Gentileschi against her teacher with the situations faced by fictional modern-day Amanda, who is faced with workplace sexual harassment. The only solution available to these women is to cut their losses and move on.

The physical production is nicely realized in Essential Theatre’s production. Gabrielle Stephenson’s scenic design places four square columns on a wood-painted floor. For modern-day scenes, projections against the columns indicate the settings, which are mostly various office locations. For Renaissance scenes, the columns are moved to the sides and scene-setting projections are displayed on the white curtain upstage. Furniture fills out the scenes nicely, with Courtney Loner’s props working with Kimberly Binns’ projections and Jane Kroessig’s costumes to create two equally realized time periods. Kacie Willis’ sound design does a terrific job of suggesting the time, with music from one period changing to music from the other time period as scene changes occur. Under Peter Hardy’s direction, the many scene changes are accomplished with a minimum of fuss.

Perhaps the least successful technical element is Harley Gould’s lighting. In many instances, the stage moves into dimness except for one highlighted area of the stage in which the main character of the scene emotes. This happens often enough and intrusively enough that it draws attention to itself, particularly when color changes accompany the change in lighting intensity. Something more subtle would be more successful.

Acting in all the main roles is excellent. Sasha Hatfield makes Artemesia a likeably heroic figure, while Fred Galyean plays her nemesis with all the masculine snark the role requires. Erika Miranda is sweetly approachable as the sometimes tentative Amanda, making her interactions with the confidently masculine Anthony (Jeff Hathcoat) ring true to life. Mr. Hathcoat also impresses favorably as a louche Renaissance paint vendor.

The rest of the actors are also double cast as modern and Renaissance characters. Tamil Periasamy and Joey Davila impress both as Renaissance lawyers and as corporate HR personnel. Sarah Wallace also plays an HR person in a modern-day scene, while otherwise acting as a disreputable servant to Artemesia and her father Orazio (Brad Brooks). Mr. Brooks plays a modern-day manager with a more limited emotional range than that of Orazio, while Dan Reichard and Jim Nelson are silent modern-day figures while acting as court officials in the second act Renaissance scenes, which primarily depict the trial of Artemesia as accuser of rape against her teacher Agostino.

The two timelines come together in two instances at the ends of the two acts. The first act ends with a barista (Ms. Hatfield) reading a book about Artemesia Gentileschi. The second act ends with a slide show of Artemesia Gentileschi’s works morphing into a museum painting that is viewed by both Artemesia and Amanda. It’s a powerful ending to a sobering work.

Mr. Hardy’s direction brings Ms. McClain’s script to vibrant life. A couple of scenes in the first act may go on a tad longer than they need to, but the show never drags. Particularly in the second act courtroom episodes, the drama is palpable. No truly happy ending is possible, but tenacity in the face of adversity lends a note of hopefulness to the proceedings. "Slaying Holofernes" (a reference to one of Artemesia Gentileschi’s most famous works, "Judith Slaying Holofernes," in which the face of Holofernes is the visage of Artemesia’s rapist) enters the ranks of Essential Theatre’s most successful recent offerings. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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