Bombs in the Ladies Room

Chicago Sun-Times, August 12, 1997

The two-year-old Thirteenth Tribe, serious proponents of site-specific theatre, has ignited a firestorm of paradoxes and provocations in Bombs in the Ladies Room, written and performed by company member Megan Rodgers.

Set in the claustrophobic basement of Wicker Park’s Yello Gallery, this multimedia work explores the theme of political repression as Rodgers portrays a series of women imprisoned for varying degrees of terrorist activities.

Bombs in the Ladies Room deliberately fosters sensory deprivation while unleashing a barrage of uncomfortable stimulation. Fluorescent-light visuals and “curtains” of dangling electrical cords (co-designed by Joanna Settle and Malcolm Nicholls) confound our sense of time and place. A large screen–which projects key words, dialogue and headings such as “sex as a weapon”–acts as a silent interrogator, subliminally seeping into the audience’s minds.

Over the duration of the 40-minute show, viewers experience a subtle kind of mental-physical manipulation. The work’s brevity makes the viewer want to get to know these women better. But on another level of deprivation, Rodgers forces the audience to go away unfulfilled. Injustice persists. She indirectly asks us to go out and learn more about human rights violations on our own.

Bombs in the Ladies Room centers on women (including Muslim, German, Italian, Irish and American) found guilty of crimes ranging from murder to treason. They are being held in experimental high-security prisons, with the goal of psychologically forcing them to renounce their political beliefs. Many were fighting for the greater good: to end repression by destroying their bloody repressors. The play asks: When can violence be justified?

Rodgers, who studied international politics at the University of Bologna and Mount Holyoke College, based this deeply perceptive and at times wittily irreverent show on actual prisoner accounts.

In confinement, even the act of thinking is regarded as subversive. A commanding performer with an air of crumbling defiance, Rodgers embodies the complex individuality of these characters. Her poetry (“You have buried me in a tomb of silence and white”) touches the soul, while we endure her pain within a stifling atmosphere that vacillates between flickering bright lights and total darkness.

Director Joanna Settle keeps the action clean, crisp, and effectively ambiguous. As one of Rodgers’ characters observes, “If you stare at white long enough, you start to see black.” Bombs in the Ladies Room is a montage of fragments and twisted debris that reflect the state of justice in a world ruled by violence.

– Lucia Mauro –

Gay Chicago Magazine, August 14, 1997

As you walk down the narrow stairway into the basement of the Yello Gallery, you are immediately drawn into an environment that is as much haunting as it is alluring. Malcolm Nicholls’ richly layered sound design of angelic inspired music with sirens and the text of a woman describing her training experience in handling explosives surrounds you. Coupled with the stark, all-white room, you know that you’re in for a intriguing evening.

Onstage a young, blond woman sits in a setting of white screened frames, broken glass panes and a row of extension chords that hang from the ceiling – stylistic and sterile. Projected on the back wall a message – “How Small a Thought It Takes To Fill a Whole Life.” The woman resembles a trapped animal who sits waiting. . . and waiting. . . and waiting. There is no sense of urgency. No sense of doom. Only the feeling of someone with too much time on her hands. It’s an appropriate introduction to Megan Rodgers and Joanna Settle’s site-specific theatrical piece about women terrorists: their crimes and our judgment of them.

Rodgers and Settle make a lofty premise touchable. They introduce us to five women imprisoned for their involvement with radical organizations.

The framework of the piece blends monologue, projections, and multi-dimensional sound with varying degrees of man-made lighting. Settle choreographs the elements with a sharp precision. She ignites the work into action and sensation with her acute attention to the language, the visual and the detail. Handled, of course, with a artistic flair.

Without ever leaving the stage, Rodgers never breaks a step as she moves from one character tot he next. With a simple change of movement, of inspiration, of thought, she encompasses the entire should of each of the women she represents.

– Tim Sauers –

Chicago Reader, August 8, 1997

Bombs In The Ladies Room