Scissoring

Marie Louise Guinier, Vanessa R. Butler, Elise Santora

 

 

 

by JK Clarke

 

Despite remarkable progress in the acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ civil rights over the past few decades, there is a growing misconception in the straight community that “coming out” is no longer complicated or detrimental to those who do. Part of that has to do with the one-dimensional view that coming out is merely an inter-family conflict, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In many states and within private organizations, coming out can mean the loss of a job, benefits or much more. In Christina Quintana’s touching and introspective new play, Scissoring, running through June 30 at INTAR Theatre in Hell’s Kitchen, school teacher Abigail Bauer is, for these very reasons, facing a soul-crushing dilemma.

 

New Orleans resident Bauer (smartly played by Vanessa R. Butler) has started to have all the desired pieces of her life settle into place. She’s just landed her dream job as a U.S. History and Government teacher at St. Elizabeth Rose, a Catholic high school, and has settled into a home life with her true love, artist Josie Hernandez (Ashley Marie Ortiz). But, there’s a problem: if she were to reveal to school officials that she’s a lesbian, she would be immediately terminated, as sexual preference discrimination is completely legal in Louisiana (as well as many other states). Despite her need to stay in the closet for employment purposes, her girlfriend Josie loathes the idea being dragged back in with her.

 

Ryan Vincent Anderson (as the PA System)

 

Abigail is paralyzed with guilt and on the verge of a breakdown, which begins to manifest itself with her having visions of, and conversations with, Eleanor Roosevelt (Elise Santora) and her purported lover, famed journalist (and later head of FEMA), Lorena Hickok (Marie Louise Guinier) . . . among others. Though these “ghosts” are largely benevolent, they represent Abigail’s conscience. Lorena immediately scolds, “What in God’s name are you doing taking that job?” Abigail, having been educated in Catholic schools, has a nostalgic fondness for them; she believes she can teach in a Catholic school and influence students’ lives for the better. The conflict between her personal and professional life—both of which she cherishes—is driving her mad.

As Abigail proves her prowess at St. Elizabeth and becomes the beloved—by both students and faculty—and successful teacher she’d hoped to be, her inner and home life begin to show inevitable signs of stress. Her boss, Elaine (believing Abigail to be widowed) pressures her to date men and seek a husband; and a married, naive co-worker, Celia (Ally Carey), begins to confide in her, with predictable, though entertaining results. And it’s her relationship with Celia whose outside perspective finally begins to penetrate:

Is it more important to work in a place where you have to be half of yourself or is it more important to try to salvage a relationship with someone who cares more about a person than a job or some fucking religion that could give a shit about you . . .?

Scissoring principally revolves around Abigail’s grappling with the complexities, difficulties and consequences of trying to compartmentalize her personal life and her work life, and it’s in her “inner” monologues with her hallucinated characters that make for the real entertainment in the play. Her interactions with Eleanor, Lorena and, amusingly, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as well as a hilarious personified school Public Address (PA) system (both excellently played by Ryan Vincent Anderson) that turns into a fiercely judgmental drag queen, are poignant, touching and laugh out loud funny at times.

 

Ryan Vincent Anderson, Vanessa R. Butler

 

A theatrical or literary confrontation of the issues surrounding coming out and sexual orientation discrimination are certainly nothing new, but, under the direction of Estefanía Fadul, Scissoring offers a fresh, contemporary approach to the subject. Quintana’s crisp, humorous writing is effervescent and lively and delivered by a magnificent and uproarious cast. Marie Louise Guinier’s portrayal of the pragmatic and bemused Lorena is priceless, as is Ryan Vincent Anderson’s many roles, most notably the sassy, eye-rolling PA system on Abigail’s classroom wall. How often does one see an anthropomorphic intercom nearly steal a show? Heather McDevitt Barton’s costume design, particularly for Eleanor Roosevelt (aided by Santora’s delightfully deadpan performance) brings it all home. The rustic and eclectic set (Raul Abrego), lighting (Christina Watanabe) and sound (Fan Zhang) designs all make for a surprisingly convincing New Orleans classroom setting.

Scissoring is not only perfect LGBTQ+ themed theater for Pride month, but for all time and all audiences, as it drives home the harm and anguish that’s borne out of discrimination and preventing individuals from living the lives they’re meant to. It’s a message that should be heard especially now, especially always.

 

Scissoring. Through June 30 at INTAR Theatre 500 West 52nd Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues). www.intartheatre.org

 

Photos: Carol Rosegg

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