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In Performance: Half Straddle, Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription

Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription
Half Straddle
The Kitchen
January 4-12, 2019

Is This A Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription is, in many ways, exactly what its title says it is: the performance of the verbatim transcription of the FBI’s interrogation of 25-year-old Reality Winner. As the lobby display (by Murphey Wilkins) and program note help explain: in 2017, Reality Winner, an Air Force vet and intelligence contractor, was charged with violating the Espionage Act for leaking a document on Russian interference in U.S. voting systems. In 2018, she was sentenced to over five years in prison, the longest sentence anyone has ever received in a federal court for passing classified information to the media.

Tina Satter/Half Straddle’s production of the transcription is beautifully true to the material. The outstanding cast flawlessly performs what appears to be every unredacted word of the transcript, including stutters and coughs and bizarre half-thoughts (like the title). Yet Is This A Room is also utterly transcendent. While the transcription contains all the words spoken, it does not, of course, contain any explicit notes about the arrangement of bodies–of Winner and the many male interrogators who have shown up, perhaps with a warrant, on her property–and it is in those arrangements that the production goes beyond the documentary. Satter’s simple, striking staging, on Parker Lutz’s simple, suggestive set, is all about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and all the ways to take it, lose it, or give it up. Those ideas are in the text, too, as Winner (played by a devastating Emily Davis) in all too stereotypically female fashion consistently downplays her accomplishments (which are many, including speaking three Afghani languages, competing in weightlifting, and rehabilitating a rescue dog) and the male FBI agents pretend to be her friends or her father only to cut her down with all the other girls in their minds (by early on, for example, joking that the AR-15 she has must be pink). But Satter elucidates the dynamics line by line, move by move, as Winner unravels, is briefly triumphant, and then unravels even more. Half Straddle’s Is This A Room brings crucial attention to a remarkable woman and makes a strong case that she is a remarkable patriot, and it shows how she was taken down through systemic marginalization that she–and no one of marginalized genders–should have to face.

Photo: Paula Court

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