Lauded as the return of comedy to the stage after two long years, RS/RR Productions presented the return of their rambunctious offering, Ladies’ Room, at NAPA on Saturday 2nd April. Written by Ricardo Samuel, and directed by Richard Ragoobarsingh and Debra Boucaud Mason, the show brought together some of the biggest names in the business, featuring the phenomenal talents of the likes of Cecilia Salazar, Penelope Spencer, Debra Boucaud Mason, Leslie-Anne Lavine, Ria Ali, and Zo Mari Tanker as a group of friends who meet every Friday to hash out the stresses of their lives and unwind with drinks as they try to support each other through the chaotic ups and downs of life.
Dropping us right into the thick of the bacchanal, the play kicks off with Lavine’s character agonising with her friend Lisa (Tanker) over the fact that the police suspect her of murdering her late husband. The rest of the cast gradually show up and add their servings of (mostly relationship) drama to the mix as things unravel, collide, and explode into an uproarious showcase of comedy from the legendary leading ladies. Cathy (Salazar) arrives first and heads straight for the alcohol as she has to deal with the stress of being a single mother to a wayward 28-year-old. There is Allison (Boucaud Mason), who is still dealing with a rough divorce and losing her job, and then there’s Millie (Spencer), the confident, free-spirited cosmetologist engaged in a fling with a younger married man. Nalini (Ali) rounds out the cast of colourful characters as an exceedingly naïve country bumpkin who becomes a kind of project for Millie; a mission to teach her the ways of womanhood.
As the ladies meet on Fridays, most of the play consists of them catching each other up on their respective dramas and then helping each other deal with it. Thus, the story combines the several narrative threads of each woman, giving each of them their moment of crisis and conclusion. All the ladies’ storylines entertained and kept the audience laughing throughout, especially at the messy, chaotic climaxes of their problems.
With such an impressive cast, it should come as no surprise that there is nothing but praise for the performances of each actress that graced the stage. Every one of them delivered on their reputations with great comedic timing and stage presence that almost made up for the lackluster, basic set design and static lighting. The entire play took place in one location – the titular room in Lavine’s character’s house in which the ladies hold their gatherings. The design was simple and basic; three walls, a couple quirky portraits, a sofa set, and a table with all the alcohol on one side. Both set and lighting remained static throughout, leaving me with the impression that something more could have been done to craft a more dynamic experience on stage, that will compliment the acting.
Lavine, Salazar, and Boucaud Mason had such a natural rapport that one could really buy into the closeness of their friendship, and get invested in the plights of their characters. Spencer’s performance was provocative and uninhibited, and it was no wonder why she got the biggest round of applause for it at the end. Tanker played the haughty new addition to the group superbly, oscillating between sincerity and condescension so fluidly that both the tension and friendship with the other ladies felt real. Finally, Ali fully leaned into the ridiculousness of her clueless character and had great delivery and timing that gave some great punchlines.
As a comedy, laughter takes priority over other elements, but the narrative of this play also deals with real issues, stereotypes, and experiences that women face in the real world; I always appreciate a comedy that incorporates a little ambition in the storytelling. Ladies’ Room delivered on the raunch and bacchanal that has become part of the DNA of Trini comedies while managing to explore themes like gender roles, expectations, and sexuality. However, the subtext and handling of a lot of the issues raised by the execution and handling of these storylines often veered into murky waters.
From the start, Lavine’s husband’s murder was a funny and interesting set-up, and her situation gave room for lots of great punchlines, but the lack of an emotional reaction to the loss of her husband felt just a little undercooked. Even with this being the third dead spouse on her hands (the previous two dying in very suspicious accidents leading to her being hilariously nicknamed “Black Widow”), and the practical reasons behind the marriage, I would have liked just a hint of emotional nuance for such a heavy situation. Dealing with such a stacked cast of main characters, it’s never easy to find the right balance, to give depth and nuance to everyone and really flesh out all their stories and experiences. It’s a trade-off of going for the ensemble instead of a story more focused on one or two characters; and in the case of the “Black Widow”, it was a bit disappointing, but it was not a major hindrance to the humour of the play.
As for the other five women in the play, their man troubles were very much alive and kicking. Millie is a serial monogamist; with five divorces in her pocket and pining over a much younger married man, she wants nothing more than for him to pop the question and become number six. Her success as a businesswoman is also attributed to her past relationships; her salon is funded by the spoils of her divorces. Even Lavine’s character, the only one without a living love interest, was with her dead husband partly because she felt like she needed a man around to properly protect her property. Cathy always puts her spoiled 28-year-old son first, and Allison learns to stop attributing her happiness to the husband that left her ages ago, but must get her happy ending neatly tied up with a new prospect for a romantic relationship to complete her growth.
Most of these women’s motivations and fulfilment seem to revolve around a relationship with a man. This ideology even manifests in the very progressive inclusion of a hilariously ridiculous subplot dealing with a male character’s homosexuality. The character is only able to turn his life around and find happiness and fulfilment through a relationship with a man, mirroring the trajectory of the ladies of Ladies’ Room. Nonetheless, this subplot, even if it took place entirely off-stage and through dialogue between the ladies, felt indicative of a potentially more inclusive and open-minded space in local comedy theatre. Nalini, the naïve country Indian stereotype seems like an exception here; the character veered a little too far into the realm of caricature. Her situation as a poor young woman with what seemed like little to no education being married off to an older man as soon as she hits 18 was treated with what felt like condescension instead of compassion.
Speaking of real situations, for some reason, the writer thought it was a good idea to reproduce and reinforce the tired, harmful stereotype of the desperate, parasitic Venezuelan woman out to steal your man and “suck him dry”, as the ladies put it. It was just a short part of a scene which gave backstory on Allison’s ex-husband, but those few lines were enough to reinforce a really regressive mindset and perspective. Instead of condemning the man for his actions, the ladies disparaged the nameless Venezuelan, reproducing the same types of reductive and xenophobic conversations we hear happening around us every day. However, it is the responsibility of artists, whether in comedy, drama, or arthouse theatre, to do better.
Ladies’ Room was, despite its flaws; funny, entertaining, and in some ways ambitious in the themes it addressed. It is a play propelled by the voices of its fantastic actresses, bolstered by the evident experience of the RS/RR team in crafting comedy theatre. It reminded me how much comedy theatre has been missed during the course of the pandemic and there were many elements here that have me interested in what new concoctions RS/RR Productions’ will have in store for us next.
The Ladies’ Room continues its run April 9th – 10th at Naparima Bowl. For tickets and reservations call (868) 657-8770, (868) 320-8528 or (868) 744 -7581.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey, Shazim Khan here! I’m a student of literature at UWI, which happened as a result of a long time fascination with words in all their various forms and mediums. I also have a deep affinity for the arts on the whole, especially music of all genres – I’m an amateur guitarist.
I’ve recently been introduced to the fascinating world of theatre. The spellbinding magic that can be so expertly conjured on stage has captivated me and inspired a desire to learn and experience as much as possible of this timeless and magnificent craft.