Fringe Review: 'NINE'

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'NINE' at the Orlando Fringe
  • 'NINE' at the Orlando Fringe
A word of warning to anyone who bought tickets for NINE expecting a Yestin/Kopit musical: This ain't no Fellini-esque fantasy. Rather, playwright Jane Shepherd's NINE is a brutal, uncompromising exercise in elliptical onstage agony that plays like the offspring of Samuel Beckett and torture-porn films like Saw. Bereft of any backstory beyond a brief news broadcast referring vaguely to terrorist kidnappings, we are thrust into a cell with two unnamed women – played by Sarah-Lee Dobbs and Alia Laurence – who are periodically gang-raped and tortured for reasons never explained. Between abuse sessions, when the cellmates aren't laughing or screaming at the top of their lungs, they barter with each other the only currency they have to trade: memories of their lives before, or "tells" in Shepherd's ornate verbiage. 
NINE
Jericko Produtions - Orlando, FL
7 DATES THROUGH MAY 29, 2016
Venue: Black
Length: 45 Min
Price: $9 (Disc: FA)
Rating: 13 & Up – Language, Violent Subject Matter
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Sarah-Lee Dobbs, who won last year's critics' choice for her musical-comedy Tell Me on a Sunday, displays an equal aptitude at gut-churning drama here, seemingly emptying her soul on stage, and Alia Laurence matches her emotional range step by heart-wrenching step. Director Laurel Clark (who also helmed the brilliant Thomas Jefferson: My Master, My Slave, My Friend) does everything imaginable to visually enliven two actors chained, and James Dryden's soundscape is as effective as nails on chalkboard at ratcheting up the tension. 

I have nothing but praise for the talent and effort of NINE's team (who are reprising their production from nine years ago), but the script made me seriously uncomfortable with its refusal to give any context or consequences to the depravity it details. Such things happen in real life (though usually to women of color, not gorgeous Caucasians), but NINE only has a few fleeting moments of tenderness, and a glimmer of hope in the final fade-out, to balance or redeem the suffering we watch these excellent actresses endure. The end result is an enigmatic, excruciating exercise that I could admire, but never enjoy.

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