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Crowded Fire explodes with timely feminist ‘Revolt’

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From left, Cat Luedtke, Elissa Beth Stebbins, Leigh Rondon-Davis and Karla Acosta fight the power in Crowded Fire Theatrer’s “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” (Courtesy Alessandra Mello)

British playwright Alice Birch’s pointedly titled “Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.” — now in a West Coast premiere at Crowded Fire Theater — masquerades, at first, as a light comedy.

A man (Soren Santos), consumed with lust, offers his girlfriend (Elissa Beth Stebbins) a bouquet of bluebells (bluebells, and a few other motifs, such as watermelon, reappear from scene to seemingly disconnected scene) and begs for sex.

But, as suggested in Birch’s punctuationally precise title, the girlfriend is more interested in parsing the means of expression — in this case, the vocabulary of seduction — and in asserting very specifically what acts of fornication she will do to him, than in submissively complying. The couple ends up negotiating to the point of hilarious absurdity over the language, not the act, of love. Words do matter.

But this is only the beginning of Birch’s dark and unnervingly funny feminist manifesto urging women to rebel against male domination in all its various guises, from insidiously patriarchal speech to rape.

The very short play comprises a series of vignettes in which an excellent ensemble of four women and two men, briskly and knowingly directed by Crowded Fire founder Rebecca Novick, play multiple roles in multiple scenarios, each one with its title displayed: “Revolutionize the World. Do Not Marry,” and so on.

As the play races on, a woman (Karla Acosta), interviewed by a man (Gabriel Christian) for a job, takes the upper hand: She wants Mondays off to catch up on her sleep, she calmly insists, and when the flustered employer offers other options, she says, “I don’t think you’re listening.”

In a supermarket, a shopper (Cat Luedtke) has apparently lain down on the floor of the dairy aisle, stripped, spread her legs. If she gives it away, she explains to the two frantic and helpless male clerks, then it can’t be taken away.

In an increasingly disturbing scene, a sleepless and desperate woman with a weak and “disappearing” daughter begs for help from her mother — who, as the insomniac woman reminds her, is traumatized victim of spousal abuse and has apparently erased all memory of ever having had a family.

And things get worse, more brutal, from there, as the four women (including Leigh Rondon-Davis) join forces to foment revolution.

Although the play first premiered in 2014, it couldn’t be more apropos for today’s #MeToo movement, or for the adventurous, women-run Crowded Fire.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
Presented by Crowded Fire Theater
Where: Potrero Stage, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes March 24
Tickets: $10 to $35
Contact: (415) 523-0034, www.crowdedfire.org

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