Reviews by Kitty Drexel
AUDIBLE — Williamstown Theatre Festival and Audible present Animals by Stacy Osei-Kuffour beginning on December 17. Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club by Shakina Nayfack is available starting tomorrow, December 29. We were given access to both early in order to write these reviews.
Thank you to the Williamstown Theatre Festival for the advanced access!
Happy New Year, everyone! We’ll see you in 2021.
Kitty Drexel, the Queen Geek
Written by Stacy Osei-Kuffour
Directed by Whitney White
sound design by Fan Zhang
Assistant direction by Tyler Thomas
Featuring: Madeline Brewer (Coleen), Jason Butler Harner (Henry), William Jackson Harper
(Yaw/Jason), and Aja Naomi King (Lydia)
Summary: Lydia (Aja Naomi King) and Henry (Jason Butler Harner) and their dinner guests Colleen & Yaw/Jason (Madeline Brewer and William Jackson Harper) are having a contentious evening. They’re constantly arguing about minor details, fragile egos are consistently bruised, and the wine bottle remains uncorked. Unspoken insecurities and dark secrets are revealed after Henry proposes to Lydia. Animals attempts to examine why marriage and relationships bring out the best and worst in people. This play has themes of race, class, gender, cancel culture, identity, and familial bondage.
I didn’t enjoy Animals. It’s like Seinfeld in that it’s about terrible people being terrible at each other while claiming they are doing their best. Lydia and Henry should not get married. They can’t stand each other (when their clothes are on). Yaw & Colleen regularly throw each other under the conversational bus because they can. Heteros know that you’re supposed to like your partner, right? Because plays like this tell me that maybe you don’t know this.
Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar is much better. God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, a play about two couples discussing their kids, has better dialogue. The stakes in Animals are too low. We’re not told why this conversation is important or why we should care about these snobs.
The acting is great. The sound design is great too. Both are not so great that I’d recommend this play over others available on Audible. It’s fine. Animals is fine but it’s not for me. Maybe it’s for you.
Animals is available beginning Thursday, December 17 at 3:00am ET to Audible listeners around the globe. The running time is approximately 90 minutes.
Available on Audible NOW.
Written by Shakina Nayfack
Directed by WTF Associate Artistic Director Laura Savia
Assistant direction by Charlie Barnett IV
Sound design by Joanna Fang
Dialect coaching by Barbara Rubin and Joy Lanceta Coronel
Cultural competence consulting by Riw Rakkulchon
Featuring: playwright, Shakina Nayfack, Ivory Aquino, Kate Bornstein, Liz Lark Brown, Samy Figaredo, Annie Golden, Bianca Leigh, Telly Leung, Dana Aliya Levinson, Pooya Mohseni, Angelica Ross, Ita Segev, and Jason Tam
Available on Audible on Tuesday, December 29, 2020.
Trigger warnings: graphic descriptions of vaginas and gender confirmation surgery, sex work, themes of death, international politics
“To manifesting pussy!”
Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club is my favorite of the Williamstown Theatre Festival/Audible collaboration (so far). It is the drama equivalent of laughter through tears. And, as Truvy says in Steel Magnolias, “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
Summary from the WTF (and everywhere else too): “In Shakina Nayfack’s world premiere play, a vibrant, international group of transgender women band together at a hotel in Thailand to confront the challenges and joys of gender confirmation surgery. Despite the group’s warm welcome, Kina (Nayfack) prepares for her life-altering operation all alone. But a caring nurse (Ivory Aquino), a wise couple (Kate Bornstein and Annie Golden), and a karaoke-loving bellhop (Telly Leung) may be exactly who she needs to ignite her truest sense of self.”
“If you wanna keep it open; you gotta slay the dragon.” As mentioned in the trigger warnings above, Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club describes gender confirmation surgery, physical therapy, and surgery aftercare. Nayfack describes graphic emotional and physical recovery from surgery. These women are realizing themselves physically and spiritually. Anyone put off by medical terms such as dilation, clitoris, vagina, and penis should question their capacity for adult content. This play is for adults capable of mature themes without squirming.
I am deeply lucky to be married to a native Hawai’ian person; they are kānaka maoli. Sivan (Kate Bornstein) and Lisa (Annie Golden) are visiting Thailand from their home in Hawai’i. Both Sivan and Lisa speak in Hawai’ian and reference Hawai’ian cultural/spiritual practices. They play two white people who moved to Hawai’i for work but enmeshed themselves in Hawai’ian culture in their quest to better love each other and their home.
I am told by my non-binary, kānaka maoli wife that, while Bornstein doesn’t have a native accent, Bornstein’s accent is very good for a white person. Bornstein sounds like she’s lived in Hawai’i and studied Hawai’ian culture. All of this is to say that a listener can think and feel whatever they’d like in response to Bornstein’s performance, but one native Hawai’ian, who does not represent all Hawai’ians, thinks Bornstein did very well with the Hawai’ian material. I think Bornstein and Golden gave exceptional performances of the rest of the material too.
Bigots and TERFs will hate this production and that’s fine with us. As far as we’re concerned, they don’t belong anywhere near this production unless it’s to unlearn their hate.
Chonburi International Hotel & Butterfly Club is available beginning on December 29. Its running time is approximately one hour, forty-five minutes.
The WTF’s 2020 season on Audible includes the Tennessee Williams masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire and Photograph 51 by Anna Ziegler, both out now; and Dominique Morisseau’s Paradise Blue; the world premiere musical Row with a book by Daniel Goldstein and music & lyrics by Dawn Landes; and Sanaz Toossi’s world premiere Wish You Were Here to be released in early 2021. For more information on the Williamstown Theatre Festival, visit www.wtfestival.org/support.
ABOUT WILLIAMSTOWN THEATRE FESTIVAL
For over six decades, Williamstown Theatre Festival, recipient of the Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre and the Commonwealth Award for Achievement, has brought emerging and professional theatre artists together to create a thrilling summer festival of premiere work alongside fresh, new productions of the western canon, accompanying cultural events including COMMUNITY WORKS and Late- Night Cabarets, and readings and workshops of new plays. Under Artistic Director Mandy Greenfield, WTF launched the Andrew Martin-Weber New Play and Musical Commissioning Program, through which theatre artists, including Jocelyn Bioh, Nathan Alan Davis, Halley Feiffer, Justin Levine, Matthew Lopez, Benjamin Scheuer, and many others, create new work supported by a year-round play development program. WTF runs unmatched training programs for new generations of theatre talent, and artists and productions shaped at WTF fill theatres in New York, London, and around the country each season. Williamstown Theatre Festival’s productions of The Bridges of Madison County, The Elephant Man, Fool for Love, Living on Love, and The Visit enjoyed critically acclaimed runs on Broadway, with The Elephant Man and The Visit receiving Tony Award nominations for Best Revival of a Play and Best Musical, respectively. WTF’s world premiere productions of Cost of Living (winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Actually, Paradise Blue, and Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow played acclaimed Off-Broadway runs. In the abbreviated 2019-20 theatrical season, Williamstown Theatre Festival was represented or scheduled to be represented on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regionally by The Sound Inside and Grand Horizons, both of which received Tony Award nominations for Best Play, The Rose Tattoo, Seared, Selling Kabul, Unknown Soldier, and Lempicka.
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