The second production of the Station Theater’s 2023–24 season opened on October 26th. The play Without Rule of Law (WROL) is about a group of eighth graders who take a stand against environmental and social justice issues that we still face to this day. The play was written by Michaela Jeffery in 2017, but published in 2019. WROL, according to the playwright’s notes on the New Play Exchange website, “invites its audience to remember what it felt like to be in eighth grade, determined to correct the injustices of the world.” It stars a predominately female cast with only one male/male identifying 13-year-old character named Robbie, played by Corban Eagles in this production.
The director, Jaclyn Loewenstein, said that Robbie “represents the white male point of view” and learns a lot throughout the course of the play. Actress Eve Foley plays Jo — a female/female identifying 12-year-old in the eighth grade — who is in some ways a foil to the character of Robbie. Eagles (Robbie) doesn’t act the part of a spoiled brat. Instead, his character is more conservative in his general outlook on life. For Robbie, the world isn’t going to end anytime soon and preparing for a doomsday scenario isn’t worth the time and effort put into surviving it. This subversion of the trope, where having the character who’s fine with the status quo be portrayed by someone who isn’t conspiratorial, adds a nice bit of nuance that is made better with the actor’s long hair and a thick mane of a ponytail. Whether intentional or not, the hairstyle adds to his character’s unique persona.
Contrasting Robbie with Jo, the viewer can see the opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum. Simply put, Jo is very much a doomsday conspiracy theorist, but also wants radical social change that’s more commonly found in left-leaning groups of the political spectrum. Foley’s performance makes Jo’s character seem like she has her life together, but in a way that you can see where the cracks stop, and the mental breakdown begins.
Robbie frequently wants to call the police and butts heads with most of the female characters. He’s the annoying character who is the first to die in a horror story, giving the audience a sense of either relief or dread because of it. While not a horror per se, the setting of what looks like a serial killer’s lair certainly adds a layer of complexity with the play’s message of social justice masquerading as surviving an apocalypse.
Where Robbie embodies unchecked privilege, Jo has had to work for everything she’s earned thus far in life. Throughout the play, at least two other characters talk about what it means to be prepared for when society collapses. For instance, an idea Robbie deems as worthwhile is having a decoy wallet.
Interspersed between scenes of plot are video blogs by Jo with survival tips. The opening scene has her make a tent out of old dog food bags and a clothesline. In that and the following scenes of Jo’s monologues, Foley plays the part of a Gen Z YouTube influencer extremely well, to the point where some of what may have been unintentional flubs sounded intentional and part of the character’s natural cadence.
Moments before the ending, the four girls sing a song that nearly brought me to tears. The compassion shown in this scene and the performances of the actresses greatly enhanced the scene. Perhaps because I saw a dress rehearsal, the ending of the play felt both anti-climactic and somewhat terrifying. A fun quirky video recording of three friends plays on a projector screen, where the bulk of the expository scenes have played throughout the production. A lot of mysteries remained unsolved. The long, somewhat drawn out — but worthy of a stage magician — exit of the characters doesn’t help with the final story beat of the three girls having fun with apocalypse-inspired acronyms. Some of the more obscure acronyms are answered like what E.O.T.W. means, but in terms of the plot, it kind of fizzles out. The time for the audience to clap only happened because the people who knew the play or worked on this iteration were the first to start applauding. Without that sudden cue after that abrupt ending video, I don’t think I would’ve known the play was over. While it left me wanting more, overall, the performers and crew did a fantastic job putting on this pre-coronavirus play where the collapse of society isn’t as unbelievable as one might think.