At Lyric Hall, A Battle Over What Kind of Theater to Make

Liana Van Nostrand | November 11th, 2019

At Lyric Hall, A Battle Over What Kind of Theater to Make

Lyric Hall  |  Arts & Culture  |  Theater


Photo Courtesy Peter Hodges. 

Miranda is in an enviable position. While she doesn’t quite have the money to achieve her dream of owning a theater, investor after investor has come to her willing to put up the rest. If she accepts any of their offers, she would be able to buy the theater she currently manages. But she turns all of them down.

Frustrated, her partner Iris (Teresa Langston)—and the audience for that matter—wants to know why. Miranda (Elizabeth Harnett) bellows, “Don’t you understand that the most important thing is that I remain in control?”

Such obstinacy comes to define The One Hundred Year Flood, written, directed, and produced by Peter B. Hodges. It centers on two lesbian couples who battle to own a small theater in Greenwich Village in the early 1990s. After opening last weekend, it runs Nov. 14 through 16 at Lyric Hall on Whalley Avenue. Tickets and more information are available here.

The greatest obstacle in Miranda’s way—besides her own stubbornness—is multimillionaire Tamora (Tailor Coward) and her conniving partner Portia (Carly Hebert), who also want to own the theater. Tamora has an MFA in directing and dreams of starting her own theater company devoted to lesbian and gay stories.

Money isn’t the only thing that divides the couples. Portia and Tamora are younger. They wear leather leggings, crisp white shirts, and shiny boots (costumed by Elizabeth Bove). Their theatrical aesthetic is more avant-garde. The kind of art they would put up in the theater would push boundaries. Portia matter-of-factly tells Iris that “any art that can be understood can’t be called art at all.”

Sweet Iris in a pastel plaid shirt looks shocked. She and Miranda have a more traditional sensibility. She’s still longing to remount a musical of Miranda’s that never got its due, an adaptation of John and Abigail Adams’ love letters set to colonial tunes. Slick Portia represents an affront to the way they’ve been making theater for decades. Since when was a good ol’ fashioned narrative considered pedestrian? When did their colorful scarves stop looking cool?

While Iris and Portia couldn’t be more different, they’re both players behind the scenes—soothing, pep-talking, and questioning their zealous partners. Miranda and Tamora are the stars of the show. It’s a match-up of wills between these two brash characters and between art and commerce.

Historic Lyric Hall is the perfect setting for such a piece. The tattered velvet chaise lounges show that it would benefit from some TLC to return to its former grandiosity. Its owner, John Caveliere, put the local theater up for sale a year ago when taxes and health code regulations made running it unaffordable. Given economic realities today, the swarm of investors descending on the theater in the show seems about as fantastical as the flood in its title. Is a little community theater even possible nowadays?

Lyric Hall is the only real “set” in the piece. In the opening scene, Miranda and Iris enter through the audience as they marvel at their theater. The empty stage holds the possibility of a dream fulfilled. For the scenes set inside the theater, the bare stage is an apt setting. The scenes set elsewhere require more imagination from the audience, though the characters occasionally carry small props.

Though the goal of the show is a principled one, the route there is hampered by beleaguered exposition. We learn the characters’ histories through painful, explanatory lines (“You know me, I teach piano at a private school!” or “But you were a successful actress on Broadway!”).

In a monologue that inexplicably breaks the fourth wall, Tamora blames the “loser playwright” for casting her as a villain and tells us, “I have a ridiculous amount of money that I never had to earn that I got when I was born because why not.”

Her backstory is about as opaque as her reason for blocking Miranda. When Portia struggles to understand why her partner would try to beat down “decent” people, Tamora declares, “Because I can!” Miranda and Tamora’s motivations are equally hard to parse and the confusion makes it difficult to know who to root for. Despite Tamora’s role as antagonist, her goal to fund innovative theater about LGBTQ issues sounds pretty exciting.

Despite their differences, the couples both want to make great theater. They just clash on what that looks like. As it always seems to go, the side with the money has the upper hand.

Hopefully, whoever buys Lyric Hall shares the characters’ commitment to local theater. 

The One Hundred Year Flood continues at Lyric Hall this Thursday, Friday and Saturday (Nov. 14 -16). Tickets and more information are available here.