The 49 Project
nytheatre.com review by Robin Rothstein
August 25, 2009
What would the world be like if women had more rights than men, and to what lengths would people go to try to correct this imbalance? This is the intriguing jumping off point of The 49 Project, a new play by Mary Adkins currently running at the New York International Fringe Festival. Yet, while this thought-provoking premise holds a great deal of promise, the play and this production ultimately fall short.
It is 60-some-odd years in the future and an activist named Nathan has been fighting the good fight against gender discrimination as the head of an advocacy group called The 49 Project. Men make up only 49 percent of the population in this futuristic world, and are a powerless minority. When we meet the charismatic Nathan, we learn that a piece of legislation called The Responsibility Laws currently threatens men's rights even more. Christina, a smart, young intern at The 49 Project is a big admirer of Nathan's and the ideas he stands for. Though Christina is a good deal younger than Nathan, a mutual attraction clearly lingers beneath the surface, so when Nathan comes up with a plan involving him and Christina having sex so she can accuse him of rape, which would bring his agenda before the court and the media, she must weigh her feelings for Nathan and his cause against the personal sacrifice this will require.
What keeps the play from fully engaging is that Adkins spends too much time setting up the relationships among her characters, who also spew a lot of exposition. As a result, the play gets weighed down in discussions about the past and convoluted politics at the expense of action. Dramatic tension eventually kicks in and remains for the rest of the play once Nathan and Christina begin to discuss Nathan's plan. Christina's vulnerability becomes heartbreakingly palpable, but it is too little, too late.
Clayton Apgar plays Nathan with a subtle narcissism that suits his character well, and Dylan Moore as the independent Christina is likable and energetic, though at times she pushes a bit harder than she needs. Brian Russell is serviceable as Christina's congenial father, Charles, and Zoey Martinson, Alexis McGuinness and Finnerty Steeves as an assortment of lawyers, judges, and TV reporters play their multiple roles with a confident edge, though their ironic deliveries, while very humorous, tend to feel stylistically incongruous with other scenes in the play.
Directed by Marshall Pailet, the overall production feels as though it lacks a cohesive vision. This is 60 years in the future, but props and costumes, as well as the characters' body language and speech patterns, are very contemporary, and the way in which Pailet alternates between realistic and absurd interpretations of the play doesn't serve the story. That said, Pailet's staging is creative, especially given the small playing area, and he keeps scenes moving at a good pace. Grant Yaeger's lighting design, sometimes realistic, sometimes something akin to film noir, is confusing, but set designer Eugenia Fureaux-Arends's partially transparent, rolling set walls are multifunctional and put to clever use.
In the end, the ideas in The 49 Project have the potential to really resonate and are absolutely worth exploring. If Adkins can trim the exposition, bring in conflict sooner, and make her futuristic world more unique and specific, The 49 Project could one day be a very fine play.