The Miss Neo Pageant at the Neo-Futurists | Theater review
Five Neo-Futurist women consider feminism and female competition via beauty-pageant tropes.
"What is a feminist?" a cast member asks Neo-Futurist Jessica Anne, who responds with a nuanced stream of consciousness about the word's loaded connotations and their evolution and a stray musing or two on defining a fourth wave of feminism. An audience member recruited for the exercise—on this occasion, a woman approximately a generation older than the 30ish cast—is asked the same question. "A feminist," she responds, "is anyone who cares about women."
Tensions around the term and its meaning(s) are the driving force of the Neo-Futurists' latest prime-time show, which uses many of the tropes of the beauty pageant to explore just what is expected of women these days. Neo co-artistic director Megan Mercier and her four co-creators each came of age roughly in the ’90s, when a First Lady was first allowed to take on serious policy but dubbed a feminist setback in her failure, and Girl Power slowly morphed from rallying cry to marketing ploy.
So what's a girl to make of the constant onslaught of mixed messages in daily life? That's the presumed question that hangs over the pageant-like proceedings, with talent portions running from Mercier's rendition of The Little Mermaid's "Part of That World" to Molly Plunk literally walking a tightrope. Leah Urzendowski Courser does a slapstick bit on roller skates; later she comes back in boy shorts and sports bra for an impressive display of what some might call unladylike strength with a sledgehammer and tractor tire.
As with any such collage-like piece, some bits land better than others. A running gag that has the five women line-dancing to Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like a Woman," for instance, wears out its welcome. But as a collection of ideas about female competition and success, The Miss Neo Pageant is mostly winning.