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REVIEW: New Musical War Lesbian Seizes NYC for Limited Run

REVIEW: New Musical War Lesbian Seizes NYC for Limited Run

REVIEW: New Musical War Lesbian Seizes NYC for Limited Run

War Lesbian makes an intriguing if often baffling addition to our new favorite genre; the lesbian musical.


Though I certainly sat through War Lesbian, a new musical commissioned by Dixon Place, when I recall my experience it hardly seems real at all (which is likely, in part, intentional). It's slightly difficult to attempt to describe the experimental, loosely structured musical written by Kristine Haruna Lee with music by Kathryn Hathaway and direction by Jordan Fein, but here goes! Essentially, it follows Sedna (played by the fascinatingly gruff Erin Markey) through her life, starting with her birth in a fluffy, altrna-heavenish world where she was born 'from a thought' to a ditzy character called “Womb” and a spastic, grating demon version of Ellen DeGeneres. Sedna decides to escape the hedonistic world she was born into that doesn’t accept her want of knowledge, and ends up in the real(?) world, where she struggles with a different set of challenges. To quote the show itself, "The musical deals with impossible probabilities, ridiculous heartbreak, and absurdity in which anything, and that means anything, goes.” 

Because War Lesbian acknowledges its absurdity, it goes much further than experimental pieces that don’t. The supporting characters, portrayed by the dance company 'harunalee,'  are certainly in tune with each other, and that level of connection is hard to achieve. Erin Markey gives a rather captivating performance as Sedna, and her quirky, angsty fury is a fun journey to follow throughout the piece. Other performances don’t quite hit this mark, or are just too over-the-top to stomach properly (though, again, that may be the intention). Amir Wachterman as a particularly lazy human-whale hybrid is also a treat, though his part is both too glaring of a metaphor and too unexplained to truly understand. As to why there are sea creatures playing coherent, responsive characters, it helps to know that the show is based on the Inuit legend of Sedna, a sea goddess. 

Part of the joy of War Lesbian is that it’s incredibly unexplained, which leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions, but I also had to wonder, does the show actually know what it’s not trying to explain? It’s weighed down with heavy metaphor but then also seems to include bits that only exist to randomly amuse. Or maybe those are also metaphors? Or maybe the metaphors exist to only to amuse? Either way, War Lesbian shines when following Senda’s linear war path and falters when losing itself in its stranger tangents. I was left too often wondering if I just wasn’t in on a joke or idea. However, there aren’t many musicals out there that deal specifically with lesbian themes and characters, so that alone is a reason to check this out if that's what you're looking for in a theaterical experience. Maybe you’ll be in on the joke. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to figure out what I was missing.

War Lesbian runs weekends through December 20th at Dixon Place. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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Preston Max Allen