There are few things in Boston as reliable as a play directed by Summer L. Williams. She unnerves and challenges her audiences, and her ability to extract unfathomable honesty from her actors is staggering. From An Octoroon and Colossal to Intimate Apparel and Bootycandy, a Williams production is one that shouldn’t be missed.
This time around, Williams is at the helm of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. by Alice Birch, an unexpected sellout hit both in London and in New York. Revolt deconstructs form and puts it back together again, all on its own terms. Birch uses fearless language—and a little bit of blood—to explore the ways in which our society expects women to look, feel, behave, and express themselves.
You like to pick these plays that, when I read them, I think, “How on earth is she going to do that?!”
[laughs]) I feel that way! And then I have to figure it out because it’s so darn good.
When this first came across your lap, what made you say “I have to do this”?
I love it when I read a play and I feel like I just can’t read. I just somehow don’t understand how the words all work together, and there’s a grand puzzle in front of me. And it was terrifying. It was absolutely like, how is all of this supposed to happen and how are we supposed to purposely not make sense and make sense at the same time? It feels crazy, and so I was
Company One has a great, great knack for presenting things that are of the moment. Not just of the year, but of the moment. How do you think this play will serve the dialogue that’s already going on right now?
That’s a huge question. I feel like we’re in this place in time, societally, where there’s a great comfort, and I think it’s both for good and ill at kind of calling out injustices that we see. I feel like the play is in the moment speaking to that energy that we’re all kind of pulsating with to really want to speak and speak very loudly about what we see happening in our lives, in our world, in our society, that feel[s] so awful. And also, find some ways to say, if we’re able to name it, if we’re able to call it out, yell at it, and point at it, maybe we can just galvanize other people around it to actually fix it, to actually start to break it down.
I don’t want to boil this issue down to the current election, but we finally have a woman who has a pretty good shot at being the president, and just last night during the presidential debate her opponent called her “a very nasty woman.” Do you think that this country is kind of numb, in some ways, to basic sexism?
Well, it’s so hard because in a lot of ways, I feel like there are these blinders that people wear. They have to be put on somehow, right? So it becomes very purposeful. If someone has on blinders, is it because they choose not to see, or they keep them on because they refuse to see what is? It’s interesting, living in this time where we have very clear examples of folks who want to hold on to their blinders and very clear examples of people who are casting them off in huge ways. The “nasty woman” comment from last night, the fact that I woke up to, on my Facebook feed, things like “Call me Mrs. Clinton if you’re nasty,” using the Janet Jackson song “Nasty Girl.” It’s immediate. The response is immediate. What’s so cool about it is that it’s exactly what Revolt is doing. It’s looking at language and at times meant to shape, oppress, meant to hold down, meant to elevate, and it’s challenging us to think about how that language informs what happens with a great portion of our society. And whether you’re born female or female decided, if that’s who you are, there are some things that are going to be put upon you just based on the world we live in and the words that are used in that world. And so the fact that social media, some creative genius was like, “Ah! I’m going to take that and invert it and now there’s power behind it.” Stripping what he said and elevating what she will do, that just feels amazing.