Spine: ‘Raw’ and Revolution at Venus Theatre and Women’s Voices Theater Festival

Revolution is in the air.

As Arab Spring lies bloodied beneath military dictatorships in Egypt and religious extremists in Libya and the same ol’ same ol’ dictatorship in Syria (plus Islamic State, plus those four or five brave democratic, US trained Syrians who soon disappeared beneath waves of barrel bombs and executions)….

Katie Jeffries (Caroline the Cow). Photo by Curtis Jordan.
Katie Jeffries (Caroline the Cow). Photo by Curtis Jordan.

Bernie Sanders chants “Revolution, Revolution!” against the oligarchy of supreme wealth that now seems posed to declare itself the new American Aristocracy.

As those brave Animals declare “Animalism, Animalism” in Orwell’s forever relevant Animal Farm only to watch those pigs–first that reasonable Snowball but then that hoof-slamming Napoleon–steal their utopian dreams away….

Now the cows have their turn to strut their stuff, in Amy Bernstein’s new play, Raw, playing at Venus Theatre through November 15th. Raw is Venus Theatre’s final installment of Feral 15: Feminist Fables, no strings attached.

For Michael Poandl’s review of Raw…

Orwell’s pig-led rebellion drove the drunken farmer off his ill-run farm. In Raw, by contrast, the leader of the cows, Carolina, aka Wilimena (played with sass and fiercely feminist conviction by Katie Jefferies), takes a more explosively passive approach. She films the dairy farm’s demise, in inexplicable cahoots with the farm’s matriarch Eliza (played by a long-suffering Allison Turkel). Their ploy it seems is to raise money from the audience by showing us this “raw” theatre piece, an early draft of the documentary film. One can assume that all donations to the film are tax-deductable and can be made through Venus Theatre, a 501C3 organization.

You see, Eliza is in the midst of an epic struggle to save the family farm from a corporate takeover, land developers perhaps who see little value in Carolina’s pure white milk.

Eliza’s own prodigy are split over the matter. Her endlessly inventive daughter Jamie (played with a wide-eyed enthusiasm by Rebecca Korn) loves the farm but not necessarily the heifers’s milk. She wants to import a rare Balkan Jenny (female donkey) and make pule cheese, a cheese that currently sells for 700 dollars a pound (and that’s actually true). Carolina is none too pleased with this idea.

On the other hand, artist daughter Harriet (played with a cynicism beyond her years by Jennifer Berry) wants to have nothing to do with the farm and its legacy of Father beatings. Suspicious of Carolina, and her strange place with camera now inside the farm house, Harriet pleads with her mother to give up the ghost of farm’s past.

Eliza has other ideas. It seems that there are folks out there who want nothing to do with pasteurized milk and who will pay top-dollar for the “raw” unpasteurized variety. Under positive, plenty of good grass circumstances, that’s fine apparently; but as the cows start eating closer to the dirt and bacteria begins to increase, Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria form in the milk, and then in the tummies of small children.

(Jamie) Becca Korn, and (Harriet) Jennifer Berry. Photo by Curtis Jordan.
Becca Korn (Jamie), and Jennifer Berry (Harriet). Photo by Curtis Jordan.

When friend and farm inspector Chuck (played earnestly by Patrick Gorirossi) tells Eliza that raw milk bacteria has sickened three children, Eliza denies it, calling such reportage a fabrication.

Carolina does not lead this cow-caused plague; she merely films the process and asks for donations.

Orwell’s fable uses the events of the Russian Revolution and the advent of communism to allegorize how a people’s ideals can be subverted by a intelligent leader: their own passion for a better world can turn them into subjects of a ruthless dictator.

Thus, one would suspect that Bernstein’s fable, “raw” as it may be, uses the events surrounding the demise of the family farm to represent (Raw is not an allegory) how modern revolutions–feminist or otherwise–are undermined.

There are no arrogant, powerful pigs to lay blame on.

No manipulation of Animalism’s basic tenets to help deceive the public.

Unlike Orwell’s classic, which edifies its complex allegory with great precision, the feminist fable Raw leaves its audience to ponder its larger implications.

Playwright Amy Bernstein. Photo courtesy of Venus Theatre Company.
Playwright Amy Bernstein. Photo courtesy of Venus Theatre Company.

Raw’s bovine is neither domesticated nor compliant, like the crude slang term “cow” would have its listeners think. This Caroline reveals to the audience her robust, passionate self. That passion won’t save the family farm from ruin, but it might raise some donations to document the ruin and save Caroline from the slaughterhouse.

I’m sure that as Amy Bernstein continues Raw‘s development, the script’s allegorical dimensions will develop. And, more importantly, that cow’s determination to get this story documented will intersect ever more meaningfully with her fierce desire for revolution.


Raw plays through November 15, 2015 at Venus Theatre – 21 C Street, in Laurel, MD. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 236-4078 or buy tickets online.


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