Home » Analysis Essay » “I Dislike Your Worldview:” The Underutilization of Women in VUT’s GNIT

“I Dislike Your Worldview:” The Underutilization of Women in VUT’s GNIT

Posted by on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 in Analysis Essay, , , , .

When Gnit began, it seemed like a show that would have a lot to offer this campus in its reflection of self-absorption and the young person’s search for themselves, which often manifests through their college experience. It was soon evident, however, that this show could only offer that to the men in the audience. The show’s continual dismissal of women and their relegation to insignificant or degrading roles, as well as the presence of the Dark Lady in Begriffin’s lab, demonstrated the text’s failure to critically engage the experiences and value of women, who make up half of Vanderbilt’s population. This is particularly shameful due to the strength of the women acting in the ensemble, who manage to craft compelling performances despite the dearth of fully articulated roles for women in Will Eno’s text, and the expertise of Jessika Malone as director.

Gnit opens on Peter (Scottie Scewzyk) and his mother, who spends thirty minutes onstage during the preshow knitting and inviting the audience into her living room and the home Peter grew up in. Katie Gillett’s Mother starts as a force of will who brooks no nonsense from her lackadaisical son, but Peter’s continual lack of care for her concerns, including his failure to marry and his inconsistent visits, undermine her position in the show. This detracts from the initial power she exerted in the scene and establishes the pattern of Peter disregarding Mother and any obligation he has to her in order to pursue his “authentic self” by traveling around the world and interacting with an assortment of characters who he frequently disappoints. Ultimately these pursuits lead Peter to neglect Mother and result in greater consequences for her as the people Peter wrongs sue her and leave her too broke to pay for necessary medical treatments. Mother’s death derives from Peter’s actions and demonstrates his general lack of regard for the women in his life and the sacrifices they make for him. This pattern is a disservice to both Mother as a character and Gillett as an actor, who gives a spirited portrayal of the underdeveloped matriarch.

Solvay’s introduction during the wedding presents another potentially challenging woman in Peter’s life. Peter and Solvay’s oddly sweet first exchange primes her to be the show’s central love interest, which would traditionally grant her a substantial role to play, yet Eno’s text only has the couple interact once more and includes only a few other glimpses of Solvay on her own. Annie Bradford imbues her portrayal of Solvay with such quiet and affecting sincerity that it seems criminal that her stage time is so limited, along with Solvay’s ability to balance Peter’s self-absorption. Eno’s play could spend more time examining the stark contrast between Solvay’s contentment to stay in one place and Peter’s unending restlessness. Instead, the play ends with Solvay’s death alone while waiting for Peter to return from sowing his wild oats. This diminishes the effect of these divergent lifestyles and instead emphasizes the unjust nature of Peter’s treatment of Solvay and the text’s overall treatment of the women who interact with Peter.

Eno’s play does not give its other women even the guise of status in Peter’s story. Lillian Dennison’s bit parts have no agency of their own, and the Bridesmaid and Groupie (two of the four characters she portrays) exist only to be sexually demeaned by Peter. In fact, Peter demeans and takes advantage of most of the women he encounters in Act One. He steals the Bride (Rachel Platt) from her wedding due to lingering feelings from their childhood but promptly abandons her after destroying her relationship and her life in the town. He impregnates and leaves the Woman in Green, played with disturbing coyness by Kat Ko, to fend for herself and their child. All the while Peter displays an utter lack of concern for any of these women and remains largely unaffected by their presence in his life. Instead, the men he encounters tend to be the ones spurring his search along and influencing his life.

Just as egregious as Peter’s reckless and demeaning relationships with women is the presence of the Dark Lady at Begriffin’s lab in Egypt. The Dark Lady, played with ferocious apathy by Rachel Platt, seems to be under observation for displaying feminist attitudes. This scene thus reinforces existing stigmatization of feminist ideology and feels particularly tone deaf in the wake of Trump’s election. This scene was alienating to watch and intensified my perception of the production’s underutilization of the ensemble’s women. Malone leans into Eno’s demonization of angry feminist women in this scene as made apparent by the Dark Lady’s exaggeratedly combative blocking. This aligns more with Trumpian values than Vanderbilt’s campus environment and feels out of place and distasteful for the current sociopolitical environment. Additionally, there is no apparent purpose to this scene other than to reinforce such negative stereotypes and stigmatization. Regardless of Eno’s intention, the text and its execution do not use this opportunity to interrogate or critically examine this issue.

What began as an accessible story of millennial selfishness quickly lost its relevance when I realized that the play had little to offer its women. Peter’s interactions with the show’s women soured my viewing experience, particularly as he never managed to grow from these interactions or repent for them. This devaluation of women kept the piece from resonating with my own experiences as a sometimes-selfish millennial. Additionally, I was disheartened to see demonstrably talented women relegated to these roles while other ensemble members worked with much more complex and influential roles in the text. Despite being well-executed, Gnit did not speak to the experiences or the climate I observe on this campus.

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