“Blown Youth,” a contemporary response to “Hamlet,” put on as a collaboration between New Georges and the Barnard theater department, captured the gender divisions in theater on Thursday night with its all-female cast.
In the main role, India Choquette, BC '14, gives a dramatic portrayal of Celia, an untalented actress trying to figure out her roles both on and off the stage.
In Celia, playwright Dipika Guha crafts a character who is authentically likeable. Despite her shortcomings, Celia is genuinely intellectual and committed to helping others. But Celia's lack of confidence causes her to skip auditions and give up roles. Thus, in emphasizing Celia's failures, Guha also creates a character whose passion for acting comes across as inherently flawed rather than respectable.
Bintu Conteh, CC '14, gives a notable performance as Jo, Celia's Tanzanian friend who has a child and a job. Guha juxtaposes Jo, a woman who has a sense of responsibility and place, against Celia, a woman who has neither. Conteh captures a character who is both sympathetic to her friend's intentions and frustrated by her immaturity—so much so that she ends up screaming at Celia for forgetting to babysit her child and walking out of Celia's life afterwards.
Celia's immaturity is also noted by her six housemates. The seven friends are joined by Shia (Dominique Koo, BC '15), an immigrant woman who moves into the house and later becomes the editor of a magazine. Later, in Celia's “Hamlet”-inspired delusions, the set transforms, with the final setting being the court in which Laertes and Hamlet duel. Shia, who has denied Celia a job at the magazine, symbolically represents Laertes, with whom Celia (as Hamlet) duels. Guha's choice of Shia and Celia as Laertes and Hamlet indicates Celia's belief that even if she battles—and wins—she will still end up destitute.
In these final scenes, the actresses wear regal clothing that appears suitable for Hamlet but still retains some elements of the modern-day clothing they donned earlier in the play. This represents Guha's positioning of the play as a response to Hamlet. Just like the costumes, “Blown Youth” has combined the original and the retelling in a coalescence that is startling in its uniqueness, but one that works all the same.
Celia's plight is sympathetic—to a point. Her internal struggle of feeling erased because there is no female representation in theater is certainly relatable—it is reflected in the male-dominated world of theater. Guha's decision to have an all-female ensemble cast and her focus on queer female relationships thus operate as a refutation of this male-centric structure.
But the viewer is still left with the question of whether it is even valid to search for one's identity in the manner that Celia does. In response to Celia's feelings of erasure, and her desire to find a part that allows her to be who she is, her friend Audre responds, “No part will give you that.”
It's easy to agree with Audre. This, perhaps, is the point enshrined by Guha's play—rather than search for meaning in something that can't possibly offer it, one must, unlike Celia but like Guha, confidently go in one's own direction.
Blown Youth will be performed Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Glicker-Milstein Black Box. Tickets are $5 with CUID, $10 general admission.