The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women by The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, PA
February 13, 2019
Review submitted by Allegra Greenawalt of Harriton High School
In our modern day and age, feminist movements are bringing important messages of women’s rights to light as equality for all is still a distant reality. With their production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women, The Agnes Irwin School aimed to display a farcical, but profoundly engaging excursion into a plethora of ethics for females who are both survivors and unexpected perpetrators of abuse toward women.
Written in 2011 by Carolyn Gage, The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women tells the story of a small, all-female theater group on opening night as they try to come together to present a courtroom drama on the case of Anastasia Romanov. Combating personalities and heavy disagreement present themselves as the main obstacles for the group of women, and so they must try to overcome their differences before the curtain opens on their new production.
The Agnes Irwin School’s production featured many impressive elements both onstage and off, from talented actresses to ingenious audience interaction that had the ability to influence action within the play. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the performance was the nine actresses’ chemistry and incredible group dynamic onstage. Despite having apparent differences and unique quirks about their individual characters, the ensemble as a whole demonstrated a found understanding for one another, and played off of each other’s energy incredibly well to create an emotionally charged piece of theater.
Leading the performance was Lizzie Dixon as Diane/Prosecuting Attorney and Sophie Urban as Athena/Defense Attorney. Both actresses’ commanding stage presence and natural acting ability allowed them to both deliver the important messages their play-within-a-play aimed to tell and keep the story moving along at the same time.
Standouts among the rest of the cast included Wren Francis (Lisa/Zinaida Tolstoy), Meredith DeCarlo (Marie/Clara Peuthert), and Parker McQuaid (Betty/Bailiff). Francis’s refined German accent and DeCarlo’s drunken antics had the audience in stitches during their respective moments on trial, while McQuaid stole the show with her sarcastic humor and attention to detail in every scene.
Although the technical requirements of the performance did not appear too demanding, they largely contributed to the quality and smooth run of the show. Taylor Carter’s lighting design was simple yet effective, and Caroline Freiwald’s costumes captured the quirks of each of the characters very well.
The verdict is in: The Agnes Irwin School’s production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women is guilty of being a striking piece of theater, incorporating feminist perspectives, innovative audience interaction, and hysterical antics that left everyone in stitches.
Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School
Feminism. The word alone evokes a myriad of connotations, and yet not one clear definition— even among the feminists themselves. In the Agnes Irwin School’s production of The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women what starts as an indie play crumbles into chaos as the actresses begin to question everything they know about the female identity.
Written in 2003 by feminist playwright Carolyn Gage, The Anastasia Trials in the Court of Women is an unconventional play-within-a-play packed with audience participation. A women’s theater group is performing a dramatized trial for Anastasia Romanov, the Duchess of Russia who died under mysterious circumstances following the February Revolution. There’s just one problem: the actresses can’t stand each other. Typical women’s theater, right?
The small cast maintained a large collective stage presence throughout the entire performance. Whether they were portraying the fictional performers, the characters of the Women’s Court, or an indistinguishable blur between the two, the real actresses navigated the play’s complexities with commendable ease.
Dominating the stage for the majority of the performance were the two attorneys: Diane, depicted by Lizzie Dixon, and Athena, portrayed by Sophie Urban. The two fictitious lawyers fought with a combination of poise and ferocity, both bouncing off the other’s energy effortlessly.
Another notable performance came from Betty (Parker McQuaid), whose shy character was chosen perform as the bailiff. Betty’s awkwardness and anxiety were executed with uncomfortable accuracy, down to the constant leg bouncing throughout the entire hour and a half performance. Other highlights included when Lisa, or ‘Zinaida Tolstoy’ (Wren Francis) and Marie, or ‘Clara Peuthert’ (Meredith DeCarlo) took the stand. Francis’s character’s thick accent elicited humored gasps from the crowd, while DeCarlo’s comedic delivery stuck out from the cast.
As for the show’s technical elements, The Anastasia Trials proved that less really is more. The simple costumes and lighting design enhanced the actresses’ performances making their lines all the more riveting. Worth mentioning was how the audience seats were a part of the set —on stage, inches from the actresses— making for a one of a kind performance.
The play-ception of The Anastasia Trials makes it a production like no other— and Agnes Irwin tackled it with aplomb. Though no play can fully encapsulate the true, elusive essence of feminism, the Agnes Irwin actresses exemplified female excellence in its rawest form.