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Monique Holmes as Eurayale (left), Arianna Bermudez as Medusa (middle) and Susan Ly as Sthenno (right) in Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company's "Dollface."

Image: Rod Todd

Given the need for more female-led canons in the theatre world, a Minneapolis-based playwright is once again at the helm of a play that gives a voice to women. Katharine Sherman’s Dollface, her latest opus focusing on the effects of sexual violence, premieres tomorrow at Mildred’s Umbrella Theatre Company’s performance space at Studio 101. 

With a vivid blend of contemporary culture, Roman mythology and original choral compositions, Dollface tells the story of a young woman ostracized from an unknown suitor and society after an unfavorable sexual encounter. The production alludes to the injustices and double standards women continue to face in modern time. 

Mildred’s Umbrella typically produces oeuvres that shine a light on female humanity, and Sherman’s first original production for the theatre company, the ancient Greece-inspired Cassandra, premiered in 2014.

After the success of Cassandra, the company specifically commissioned Sherman to develop another script with similar themes as her debut production. Dollface, in particular, specifically addresses rape culture. “We first thought of fairy tale concepts to show how society deems rape culture normal and okay, with women being dominated by men and having to be rescued by men,” explains Jennifer Decker, artistic director of Mildred’s Umbrella. “After the second draft, [Sherman] came back with the idea to make it as a Roman myth.”

To further bolster the performance’s prevalent themes of female identity and strength, Sherman wrote the script with dramaturgy veteran Jacey Little, who also doubled as the show’s director. Together they shaped a narrative that is loosely inspired by Ovid’s Medusa mythology.

In the original lore, Poseidon rapes a beautiful maiden named Medusa, who is then scorned by her sister Athena. The latter curses Medusa into a gorgon with snakes for hair, scales for skin and talons for fingers. Athena supplies a warrior named Perseus with magical weapons to kill Medusa. Perseus then decapitates Medusa and her head becomes one of the most feared mythological weapons. And the rest, they say, is history.

Given the script’s ethereally poetic nature, Little’s goal as director was to seamlessly translate Sherman’s imaginative lines to the stage. “Most plays are fairly naturalistic, or at least the characters are, but that is not the case with Dollface,” Little says. “I found that anytime the process seemed tough, I pull out the script to get back to the roots of [Sherman’s] writing.”  

Although Dollface does reflect the main storylines of the Ovid tale, both Sherman and Little took creative liberties with the script in order to give the women more depth and agency in their personal journeys, especially since instances of sexual violence commonly undermine the victims’ humanity. “A lot of the times when people are raped they just don’t say anything because it’s such a taboo and the victim feels ashamed,” Decker says. “The victim shouldn’t feel ashamed.” 

The creative forces behind Dollface hope that the play will spur more discussions on rape culture and how society can combat the stigmas that hurt victims of sexual violence. Although the play itself is certainly fictional, audiences can empathize and learn quite a lot from the show.

“Above all, it is not man-shaming or man-hating in any way,” Little clarifies. “Dollface presents a narrative that is intended to inspire an open dialogue about a pervasive issue.” 

April 28–May 14. $20 GA, $15 students & seniors. Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. 832-463-0409. mildredsumbrella.com

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