A single light bulb sputtered angrily as it cast a dim, ominous glow about the greasy, vandalized locker room which comprised the setting for Cementville, a Peck School of the Arts production placed in the lackluster world of female professional wrestling. The script, written by Pulitzer nominated author Jane Martin, weaves the audience through a loom of misogynistic and existentialist notions executed effortlessly by the talented young cast. Packed with such elements as alcoholism, vanity, murder, and penis mutilation, the play boasts a delicious mash-up of both comedy and drama.
At times it seems as though the audience is being pulled in a million different directions. Nuzzled snugly in their wrestling attire, the actresses are served the toughest task; having to play both sultry vixens and dry humored wrestling veterans. An intimidating undertaking, but as the old saying goes, the show must go on.
As the lights come up, a road-weary woman by the name of Tiger enters, strutting cautiously across the garbage strewn floors. Tiger, played by Morgan Braithwaite, is cast perfectly. Braithwaite plays with an air of honest cynicism. She plays the role of a forlorn but quick witted wrestler, beaten down by the industry. The only thing keeping her going is the little Chihuahua tucked safely in her bag.
The “All-Star Vixens of Violence” are in town, and Tiger is just one of the fighters featured in that night’s performance in Cementville, Tennessee. We are then introduced to Nola, played by Zoe Schwartz. Nola is an excitable wrestling fan who helps tidy the locker room before the performance. Schwartz is extremely over the top and ditzy in character, which at times seems distracting, but it works really well in contrast to Tiger. A mature feline matched up against a newborn kitten.
As the show progresses, we are introduced to the three other leading ladies of the wrestling troupe; Dani, Netty and Lessa. Melanie Liebetrau plays Dani, a bawdy mouthed girl with a knack for picking fights and a seasoned pro. Liebetrau, a small woman with a mane of dark curly hair, plays the character tough and intelligent, if not a bit headstrong. She is constantly butting heads with Lessa, played by Kiendra Honeysucker. Lessa is the true athlete of the group. She slinks into the locker room, headphones fixed tightly to her head, intent on preparing herself for the impeding match.
Honeysucker is a standout among the cast, drawing attention to her every move. She has a poof of delicious black curls, which cascade down her face as she stretches. Netty is the mother of the group and Alaina Daniels is cast perfectly. A rough n’ tumble lesbian wisecracker, she is a breath of fresh air compared to the group of hardened females. Daniels seems genuinely concerned with the welfare of her girls. It’s nice to have her in the mix.
The wrestlers mill about the locker room for a few minutes complaining about their lack of pay and fussing over the rancid state of their lodgings before Bigman walks in. Performed by Thorin Ketelsen, Bigman is the tour manager for the “Vixens.” Ketelsen delivers a raucous performance as a loud and sweaty tornado of a man who finds himself in need of a new wrestler after a tragic incident involving a gnawed off penis. Enter the Knockout Sisters, a pair of sequin-brained blondes with a tough as nails mother in toe. The story builds steadily until the finale where an amputee, a veteran wrestler and a gunshot lead to disastrous results.
The costumes were also a highlight of the performance. To the audience’s shock, all of the female wrestlers dressed and undressed onstage, lacing their witty dialogue with glimpses of bare flesh. Each costume was as unique as the actress donning it. Tiger wore a slick cherry-red jumpsuit and Dani wore a leopard printed bikini which looked as if it were torn in a jungle brawl. Netty’s costume was a grandmotherly peach nightgown and Lessa sported a cat-like black one-piece with a crisp white lightning bolt stitched squarely to her chest.
When all was said and done, Cementville held its audience with a tremendously impressive headlock, keeping the audience clinging to the edge of their seats. The entire body of student actors, technicians and creative personnel gave strong performances all around; effortlessly meshing elements of comedy, drama and seduction.
Future Peck School of the Arts productions include:
Almost Maine: April 3-6
Cinderella: The First 30,000 Years: April 25-27
Urinetown: The Musical: April 30- May 4