By Merilyn Jackson
FOR THE INQUIRER
Director Anisa George interviewed more than 50 women for Animal Animal Mammal Mine, which opened at Underground Arts on Wednesday night, and I wondered if it might be too academic to make it one of my Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts picks. But despite George’s lofty pedigree — Jack Kent Cooke Fellow, graduate of Columbia University and the London International School of Performing Arts — I chose it, and am pleased to report that it’s a thoughtful, funny show.
In line with PIFA’s time-travel theme, Animal Animal is pegged to May 11, 1960, when the FDA approved the birth control pill. George focused on women without children in her interviews, which involved the questions that slosh like amniotic fluid around the decision to have, or not have, a child — from overpopulation and global warming to fertility problems and will I be a good mother? Take “Can I afford it?”
That question must have accompanied the genesis of this play, since PIFA gives minimal financial support to its artists. But George and her crew of co-creators worked miracles with sticks and stones, plastic and 2-by-4s, dirt and sandbags to create maximum effect.
Amy Rubin transformed the grungy cabaret theater into a rustic field of brush with a small structure in the middle that served as glacier, home, fertility lab and United Nations chamber. Sculptor Martha Posner' created elements of the costumes completed by Marah Carpenter.
The intensity of the five-member cast was spot on. As a toy helicopter flew over, Lindsay Browning drily showed us how the glacier — a lamp, refrigerator and table covered in crumpled plastic sheeting — was melting. Hannah de Keijzer snaked nude across the table under the plastic and later, as a spidery creature, tried to scale a wall with Posner's hive-like sculpture on her back. Browning snatched the sheeting away and soon the stage became a living room — for starters. Beginning with mitosis, words projected on the back screen showed snapshots of evolution.
Peggy Pettitt is the dignified Berta, petitioning the United Nations to lower carbon emissions to save her island country from drowning — and not in real estate jargon.
Rachel Hynes is the first woman to undergo fertility treatments; Kate Raines is her doctor (doubling as the female half of a couple who want a baby).
There is cleverly enacted cataclysm and renewal. Her torso nude, and wearing Posner’s winged arm, a crouching de Keijzer slowly, terrifyingly, winds her outstretched arm over the space like the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of wisdom and vigilance.
PIFA 2013, through April 20, Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. Details at http://pifa.org/events/11