Arts & Culture

Riveting 'Bully' creates worlds of anger, revenge

Mirrorbox Theatre launches second season with hard-hitting drama

Simone (Noel VanDenBosch, front left) and Wren (Christina Farrell) are on the prowl for a woman to beat up in “Bully,” while expressionless specters haunt the background. This searing drama is making its Iowa debut through Saturday at Mirrorbox Theatre, housed in CSPS Hall’s first-floor black box theater. (Greg Billman photo)
Simone (Noel VanDenBosch, front left) and Wren (Christina Farrell) are on the prowl for a woman to beat up in “Bully,” while expressionless specters haunt the background. This searing drama is making its Iowa debut through Saturday at Mirrorbox Theatre, housed in CSPS Hall’s first-floor black box theater. (Greg Billman photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — “Bully” is fierce. It’s violent. It’s alarming. And it’s riveting in its Iowa debut via Mirrorbox Theatre, onstage through Saturday in CSPS Hall’s first-floor C-Space.

While the black box theater seems too small to contain the anger that’s flung throughout the show, it’s also the perfect size to create a visceral experience for actors and audiences.

Amina Henry’s hard-hitting drama has rightfully drawn accolades, being named to the 2015 Kilroys List of outstanding new plays by women and trans writers.

It’s also the perfect way for Mirrorbox to launch its second season. “Bully” captures the professional troupe’s mission to produce Iowa premieres of plays offering “dramatic reflections on contemporary culture.”

“Bully” is the story of three adrenaline-fueled women who spend their weekends seeking women to beat up — and the revenge scenario planned by two of their victims and a reluctant but supportive best friend.

Ironically, all six women work out in the same aerobics class, led by tough-as-nails ringleader Wren. Christina Farrell embodies this role with fervor, drive and anger, ensnaring shoe store clerk Simone (Noel VanDenBosch) and factory worker Tanisha (Diviin Huff) into her horrific scheme.

Because they put a pillow case over each victim’s head, stuff her in a van and beat her mercilessly, they don’t realize they’re actually assaulting women they know. The two victims we meet realize they’ve been beaten by women, and neither one reports the crime to the police.

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But first victim Bree (Tierra Plowden), a supermarket manager, smells the scent of lavender on one of her captors, then catches that same scent off Simone at the gym. When Delilah (Megan Merritt) shows up for class with a black eye and the same skittish wariness Bree is feeling, Bree approaches her, telling her she knows one of their assailants.

Convinced the police will not act on their complaints without evidence or witnesses, Bree convinces Delilah to help her enact their revenge.

Bree just wants to know why they were targeted but realizes she’ll have to intimidate Simone to get a confession, so she turns to best friend and confidante Candace (Carrie Pozdol), who keeps a gun under her bed.

Simple, versatile staging, dramatic lighting and a pulsing soundtrack reel us into their worlds as their truths unfold.

Director Katy Hahn has given the actors the tools, space and vision to create fearsome characters whose strengths and weaknesses throb side by side.

Choreographer Cara Viner has created expert, harrowing fight scenes where you feel the terror and the thrill alternately pierce each heart, even though the blows stop just short of making physical contact. The effect is electrifying.

And every actor is so thoroughly entrenched in her character that you sympathize with each one — except perhaps Wren — as they discover the commonality of the damages that have shaped and scarred them.

The action can be hard to watch, but the messages relayed through the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the characters make this an important piece of theater that holds up a mirror to society in a time of turmoil.

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• Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

If You Go

• What: Mirrorbox Theatre’s “Bully”

• Where: C-Space, first-floor theater at CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids

• When: 7:30 p.m. through Saturday

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.