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theater_review120This unusual and intriguing performance comes to Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre from the International Culture Lab, an NYC-based company focused on international collaborations.

S/he developed from a cooperation between Turkish playwright Zeynep Kaçar and American playwright Tammy Ryan on the topic of what it means to be female. The resulting work also considers what it means to be male, and how culturally-based gender roles can mess up our lives. I’ve seen this topic dealt with on stage many times, but this is the first time I’ve seen it handled in all its confusing complexity, and without overt political statements.

Director Melanie Dreyer, co-artistic director of International Culture Lab, combined the two plays together with a cast of three Americans and three Turks (actually, one is Turkish American and one an American who grew up in Germany).  In Ryan’s play, Lindsey’s Oyster, a high-school girl, pregnant from what we eventually learn was date rape, finds her way to understanding through the help of a crusty tattoo artist. In Kaçar’s script, Last Exit Before the Bridge, a 30-something mother’s boy courts a liberated journalist, both lovers impeded by the bad advice of their friends and his mother.

It all takes place on a spare and inventive set by Stephanie Mayer-Staley.  The Kitchen stage is stripped to bare walls, on which hang dozens of scarves used as costumes (by Pei-Chu Su). A long strip of watery fabric and a grove of red and white strings, along with a few chairs, takes us from Pittsburg to Istanbul and back again. Sound designer Nicholas Crano provides danceable American and Turkish melodies that divide the scenes and let us know where we are.

The acting is very good—and watching the Turkish women flirt and the American women try to remain cool explains intercultural gender roles before a word can be spoken. Julie Reed, a junior at Cornell, takes Lindsey from confused adolescence to budding maturity. Nick Fracaro’s hippie tattooist Rooster is a wonderful creation. Cem Baza convincingly doubles as a mama’s boy and Lindsey’s concerned father. As Lindsey’s career-minded mother and the doting Turkish mama, Gabriele Schafer develops two completely different women, each stuck in dysfunctional ideas about mothering. 

Elif Akbaydoğan gives us a tough-minded friend—to Lindsay, and to the journalist in Last Exit, while Duygu Erdoğan flirts and charms her way to our hearts. Akbaydoğan can flirt, too, catching her man at the last minute.

In some ways, the Turkish gender roles in Last Exit Before the Bridge look like the ones so many of us rebelled against in the famous 1960s. But Lindsey’s Oyster makes it clear that we Americans have exchanged frying pan for fire. Despite all these serious themes, S/he is a delightfully funny evening.  Thanks to the Kitchen for bringing this unique collaboration to Ithaca.

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