Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


The primary and persistent aim of a reviewer is to be objective at all costs. Yet in truth, I'm a product of my own unique history and preferences as much as the next guy, and sometimes it's difficult to discern whether a connection I feel accurately represents the universal audience experience. With that caveat, be advised that in its world-premiere run at Performance Network Theatre, playwright Kim Carney's The War Since Eve resonated massively with this viewer: I found myself, as an adult woman with a mother, entirely at its mercy.

The play concerns feminist trailblazer Roxie Firestone (Henrietta Hermelin) and her two daughters, steadfast personal assistant Milty (Leah Smith) and rebellious, estranged Tara (Sarab Kamoo). Hours before Roxie is to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Tara reaches out to her family for the first time in decades, triggering prodigal-son levels of unfairness that ignite Milty’s inferiority complex like a rocket. Throughout the pre-ceremony first act and post-party second, the characters make headway into their family history and life choices, all the while affirming that mothers and daughters are patently unable to discuss when sparring is an option. Carney's characters are easily simplified into types: each has an established place in the family, and the varying ideologies are essentially concrete. However, what individual points of view they represent and the content of their disagreements are dwarfed by the universality of the high stakes and underlying ridiculousness that characterize a family argument. The playwright’s heightened take — the kind of scorched-earth battle that mothers and daughters are inexplicably capable of reversing in a moment — may not be initially recognizable from outside the fray, but feels utterly authentic on an emotional level. Yet at the same time, using the benefit of that distance, Carney unfolds these petty and regressive exchanges with abundant hilarity for the viewer.

Under the direction of David Wolber, this magnificent cast of three churns through a two-hour running time in the blink of an eye. Hermelin embraces Roxie’s use of contemporary jargon, showing a woman as in tune with her cause and the times as she is variously out of sync with her children, and cultivates just enough intrigue to keep the viewer wondering whether she fully realizes her effect on them. As Milty, Smith perfects the lashing-out tactics of the maddeningly underappreciated child who does anything and everything to please her parent, but with the desperation of a mature adult rather than bratty petulance. Kamoo’s Tara, her life in turmoil, eases back into her role as equal parts black sheep and enduring favorite; her rapidly shifting alignment keeps the second act moving, but all of her varied motives and choices feel like they originate from a single believable character. Together, the trio expertly maneuvers the exhausting beats of the play's real-time presentation, reconnecting and disconnecting with admirable fluidity and showing the serious and absurd duality of the parent-child dynamic.

The effect of one long night passed in a chic hotel suite is well combined in Sarah Tanner’s set design and Mary Cole’s lighting, even extending into a gorgeous intermission-spanning slip from sundown to a hazy nighttime cityscape. Properties designer Charles Sutherland spruces up the sterile putty-and-bronze backdrop with a parade of flowers and gift baskets that add welcome dimension to this fishbowl scenario. Costumes by Suzanne Young nail the essence of the varied characters, whereas Will Myers’s sound design speaks volumes with a single ringtone. The production elements generously complement but don’t stand in for finely tuned characterization and chemistry, which lay the groundwork for this hard-fought comedy. With its sharply funny sensibility overlaying painfully familiar relationship patterns, The War Since Eve is a superlative production of a bright new script that any viewer may appreciate, but women (and their mothers — or their daughters) will laugh the hardest with cathartic recognition and affection.


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