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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Tonya Pinkins' Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working it Out!

The cast; Photo by Katie Walenta


While much of Tonya Pinkins' Truth and Reconciliation: Womyn Working it Out, a collective of nine 10-minute plays and songs about women and oppression performed at The Tank (West 36th Street in Manhattan), from Oct. 3 to 6, was overwrought and simplistic, there are searing moments that showcase the cruelty women have faced and the strength required to find healing. 

The best vignettes, "Tierra de las Flores," written by Glory Kadigan and "Law 136" by Carmen Rivera recount historical tales of discrimination. "Tierra" tells the story of two women in Florida, set in the 1800's about 50 years after slaves were freed, and explores their uneasy navigation of class, abuse and vigilantism. 

"Law 136" recalls the covert Puerto Rican "voluntary" sterilization campaign, started in 1937 and funded by the U.S. Government, that by 1968 had operated on one-third of the female population. "The Operation" was marketed as a means of birth control and many underwent the tubal ligation procedure without knowing the irreversible consequences. "Law 136" frames the story around a first-time nurse who struggles between keeping her job and being ethical.

Pinkins--a Tony-Award winning actress (Jelly's Last Jam) and author--produced, directed and appeared in the production, as well as wrote the segment "Till Hell Freezes Over." Examining oppression--how women are both impacted by it and also hurt one another through it--is a worthy topic and Pinkins' take offers a variety of perspectives--from contemporary to historical that look at class, culture, prejudice and more--in one show. And that's admirable, but some of the stories need tightening to truly add to the discussion started by the #MeToo and #TimesUpNow movements. 

Traditional native chant sets an appropriate tone at the production's opening, reminiscent on how traditional history is often told again and again through music, but the subsequent musical interludes that connect the short works often feel amateurish with uneven dancing. The last song about the infamous "C" word, which provokes smiles as the women on stage take back the taboo with a punchy take, ultimately fails because the language is not nimble or provocative enough. This flaw permeates through the piece and removing the mawkishness and periodic overwriting would elevate the entire show as well as its songs. Perhaps in the show's next incarnation, the execution will be more taut and effective.