Scissoring

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Scissoring takes place in present-day New Orleans, and even though several ghostly spirits make appearances in Christina Quintana’s thoughtful new one-act, it is modern Catholicism and not voodoo that haunts the play’s protagonist, Abigail Bauer. Free of any Southern stereotypes, the work has a sensibility that is not only post-Katrina, it is decidedly post-Blanche. Abigail might be suffering from delusions, but she has no need for brutish men nor the kindness of strangers. Instead, she is empowered by the women she knows and made strong by the tough kindness of her lover and her colleague, before gaining the wherewithal to be kind to herself.

The play’s title blatantly announces the production’s sexuality but more subtly hints at its psychology. Two of Quintana’s characters are each of two minds, their social mores cutting against what their bodies are telling them, like scissor blades in action. Two other characters live holistic, if opposing, lifestyles, pulling Abigail in different directions. The halves and the half-nots.

  Marie Louise Guinier as Lorena (left) and Elise Santora as Eleanor in Christina Quintana's  Scissoring . Top:   Ashley Marie Ortiz as Josie (left) and Vanessa R. Butler as (Abigail).

Marie Louise Guinier as Lorena (left) and Elise Santora as Eleanor in Christina Quintana's Scissoring. Top: Ashley Marie Ortiz as Josie (left) and Vanessa R. Butler as (Abigail).

Quintana wastes no time in setting up the conflict. The play begins with Abigail (Vanessa R. Butler) engaging in an intoxicated and public display of affection with her partner, Josie (Ashley Marie Ortiz), then nearly being caught in the act by Elaine (Kim Brockington), the principal of a Catholic girls’ high school where Abigail has been newly hired as a history teacher. The position comes with a morality clause: she will need to play “straight” every day to maintain Elaine’s faith and stay employed. Each night, though, she has to try to justify to Josie why their relationship needs to be closeted.

Complicating matters further, Abigail, having been raised Catholic, does possess a certain sort of religious conviction, although it seems to stem more from the comforts of established boundaries than from any faith in God. Her inner conflict, between being the devout teacher known as Ms. Bauer and the free spirit known as Abbie, could drive anyone a little batty, and sure enough, bizarre hallucinations ensue. The high school’s public-address system comes alive, in the body of a saint that is, in turn, inside the body of a large transvestite (Ryan Vincent Anderson), who gives her nothing but grief.

But another vision instills wisdom. From out of the blue comes Lorena Hickok (Marie Louise Guinier), the real-life journalist who was close (very, very close) to Eleanor Roosevelt. As a woman with a vibrant career and a hidden relationship, she’s the ideal, if imaginary, role model. And Eleanor (Elise Santora) also pops in for a few witty insights.

  Ryan Vincent Anderson as Father Ray. Photographs by Carol Rosegg.

Ryan Vincent Anderson as Father Ray. Photographs by Carol Rosegg.

So it goes, as we follow Abigail over the course of her first school year, with the job seemingly winning out over her strained romance with Josie. She bonds and shares her secrets with a fellow teacher, Celia (Ally Carey), who has problems of her own. Stuck in a stifling marriage, she longs to escape to live out her dream, if only she could figure out what that dream entails. An intense physical encounter with Abigail gives her a few clues. Abigail also seeks guidance from Father Ray (Anderson again, swapping his wig for a priest’s collar), a Haitian Jesuit who takes her confession.

This whole gang, the imagined and the incarnate, ultimately steer her in a hopeful and sane direction. It all makes for a satisfying, if not especially fraught, 90 minutes. The stakes often feel low here because the playwright has provided safe fallback options for her women. If Abigail loses her job, grad school awaits. If she loses Josie, Celia wouldn’t mind being a rebound. Josie, meanwhile, has another woman on the side to whom she can turn. Oddly, the character shouldering the greatest risk is Father Ray, who risks his livelihood to secretly officiate at a friend’s gay wedding.

Butler has a deep, stoic voice that instills strength in her Abigail, while Ortiz endows Josie with intensity, a limited patience, and the ability to forgive. As Celia, Carey comes close to stealing the show, first with a stark dressing down of Abigail, then with a hilarious bit of sexual awakening. Guinier is sleek and smart as Hickok, suavely puffing her cigarette. Brockington brings a surprising warmth to her principled principal, as does Anderson to his padre, after his awkwardly ridiculous turn in drag. Director Estefanía Fadul guides her ensemble through a well-paced procession of mostly two-character scenes, pairing them in the various nooks of Raul Abrego’s spare scenic design. In all, the production constitutes another fine outing by INTAR, which has been promoting Latino voices in the theater for more than half a century.

Scissoring plays through June 30 at INTAR (500 West 52nd St., 4th floor, between 10th and 11th Avenues.), Sunday at 7 p.m., Monday and Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call (866) 811-4111 or visit www.intartheatre.org.

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