BY LOU BUTTINO
“To Feel Together: A One-Woman Show on Consent,” the title of Rebecca Whitten’s one woman show that opened at The Warehouse Theatre last night, comes from a variation of the definition of the word “consent”. There are other variations that include terms like agreement, permission, compliance, etc. One of Whitten’s contentions through her work is that the definition is somewhat indefinite. She makes her point well throughout the piece.
The show begins and the messages start coming even before Ms. Whitten takes the stage as there is a visual prologue presented via a continuous loop of slides projected at the front of the room: content including news items, semantics, graffiti, social media posts, data, points to ponder and quotes, famous, infamous and just plain stupid. This tool is very effective in foreshadowing what is to come and also in engaging the audience in the topic early on. As I watched the slides I could hear and observe some nervous tittering, exchanged looks, under breath comments, inappropriate attempts at humor and, in some cases, quiet reflection. All intended responses.
This production represents Whitten’s final Warehouse Theatre Conservancy project as she is about to complete that intensive theatre program. As a rule I am somewhat leery of one-person shows because they present a high risk to disappoint. Those that portray historical figures absolutely must represent someone who had major impact and influence on his own life and tines or on mine to even catch my interest. Those dealing with important topics need to firstly deal with truly important ones, and be focused while doing it thoroughly and in a stimulating or thought-provoking manner. Finally, with a cast of one, I worry that if it is the wrong one or a weak one, there will be no “bright spot” to rescue the show. “To Feel Together” doesn’t deal with an historical figure and on the second and third points, delivers with no disappointment.
Overall the piece is well-written with humor, poignancy and thought. The performance unfolds through a series of vignettes demonstrating very different scenarios where not only the question of consent, but also abuse, personal habits and social interaction (as well as others) are covered. They are titled in order; “James”, “Eric”, “Annie” and “Trevor and Roommate”. Each one is different and the incidents do not all represent what most of us would think of when considering situations where the question of consent is raised. This greatly promotes one of Whitten’s goals of stimulating thought and generating questions rather than supplying definitions and/or answers. A goal she successfully accomplishes throughout her work.
Whitten also show her acting chops by convincingly assuming the personae of all of her characters with subtle voice changes and minimalist costuming affects. Her variations and timing are very strong and entertaining.
Whitten starts off in a chatty, conversational style as if she is just hanging out with some friends while giving a little bit of background on the project and some introduction to what’s to come before launching into the heart of the performance. Overall the performance and presentation works. If I have one criticism it is that Whitten, at times, relies a little too much on reading from notes or her script. It comes off a little like a post-graduate symposium complete with Power Point presentation. She is at her most effective when “performing” extemporaneously. Still, overall a very strong performance that will only get better when she becomes more familiar with her words and more comfortable with her presentation.
This topic is indeed timely. In a time where on air personalities, sports and entertainment figures and even sitting president’s names are repeatedly mentioned in news reports dealing with potential questions of consent everyone needs to think about and consider the topic. Ms. Whitten challenges her audience to do just that while also throwing in some references to the legal system, abuse, pitfalls for victims of abuse and unfairness in society. And what role does lack of or poor communication play in consent or the perception of it. A large subtext refers to social media, internet dating and the cyber network’s impact on social interaction and potential short cuts, that are either real or implied, to the whole dating paradigm. Perhaps a topic for a second free standing project for Ms. Whitten.
Robert Fuson, a recent graduate of the Warehouse Conservancy directed Ms. Whitten with a fine balance of “hands on” and hands off” in his approach enabling her to interpret her message in the best possible light.
We all know someone who has been impacted in some way by the questions of consent and all the trappings that involves. For that reason alone, you should want to go see “To Feel Together.” But even if you don’t have personal experience in this area, attending this presentation is a thought provoking 45 minutes well spent. Go see and hear for yourselves.
“To Feel Together: A One-Woman Show on Consent” continues June 6, 11 & 13 at The Warehouse Theatre Rehearsal Room, 37 Augusta St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 235-6948 or visit www.warehousetheatre.com