The Female Voice Roars At The 2018 ‘Aphra Behn Emerging Artists’ Festival’

Featuring a fun and smart collection of four plays, entirely written, directed and performed by very talented women in St. Louis, the second annual Aphra Behn Emerging Artists’ Festival took over the Centene Center for the Arts, creating a deliciously intimate and warm environment to showcase all the power and responsibility that comes with the mighty uterus.

Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s festival, held March 9-11, has ended for this year, but St. Louis women — and supporters of them — should make it a point to catch it next spring.

This festival’s namesake is the English playwright and all-around pioneer for feminine power, Aphra Behn. Women, with the help of a few good men, presented “The Accident of Sex,” “Bar Fight,” “Lady Warrior,” and “How to be a Woman.”

Featuring a haunting performance by Rachel Hanks as Amelia Earhart, “The Accident of Sex” was a one-woman show directed by Lex Ronan and written by Lana Dvorak.

Dvorak imagined what might have become of aviation pioneer Earhart after her crash on an unknown island. Initially, I thought it too serious to start with, but after seeing all the performances, I realized this was the standout as far as depth and emotional pull. Hanks’ raw performance teetered on over-the-top, then again, one gets the feeling that Earhart was an over-the-top gal.

“Bar Fight,” directed by Grace Langford and written by Madelyn Boyne, was a shift back into present reality. Sophie Powell and Marissa Grice gave solid performances as two males out on the town for a night of fun – Josh (Powell), an absolute archetype of a ‘bro,’ and Daniel (Grice), a new father who just wants a night away from home.

Well-performed with funny dialogue, “Bar Fight” had an important message, but wasn’t as hard-hitting as it could have been because it followed a too-familiar storyline that we’ve seen numerous times.

Josh is out for a random hook-up, which seemed innocent enough until we learn he uses date-rape drugs to get what he wants from women. Revolting? Absolutely. A follow-up scene after Josh stormed off when Daniel scolded him for being, well, a pig, would have helped the piece not feel so derivative and predictable.

Mollie Jeanette Amburgey’s one-woman show“Lady Warrior” was the best writing of the fest. A witty stream of musings on what the heck we are all doing here, the play was eye-opening without ever hitting below the belt or going off the rails. She gave actress Rachel Bailey, as a woman on a quest to discover her purpose, and director Margaret Christie so much good content to work with – a-ha moments of “Yes, YES – that is so true!”

This was the kind of show that had audience members nodding along, muttering under their breath and tearing up in recognition.

“How to be a Woman” was a great piece to end on – raucous, crude and offensive.

Written by Amanda Wales and directed by Katy Keating, the play included everything that a woman endures daily.

Olivia and Jessica, played by Alicen Moser and Elizabeth Van Pelt, experience a horrific and zany night. Carl Overly Jr. was the terrifying narrator, a Willy Wonka-esque game show host who infuriated in all the right – and wrong – places.

The Aphra Behn Emerging Artists’ Festival illustrated that the local theater scene is in good hands, showcasing the talent and vision of passionate women committed to making their mark in St. Louis.

Photos: Rachel Hanks as Amelia Earhart in “The Accident of Sex”; Rachel Bailey in “Lady Warrior.”

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