Perhaps no show this Spoleto season is timelier or more emotionally effective than "They Call Me Arethusa," an original one-woman show created and performed by College of Charleston alumna Colie McClellan.
The one-hour show is a character exploration of women who have experienced violence at the hands of men, both emotional and physical. This show rubs you raw. Dark secrets of dorm room friends potentially taking advantage of each other, abusive boyfriends torturing defenseless women and Greek goddesses being hunted and hounded by male gods who take what they want make you squirm in your seat.
McClellan flows seamlessly between Southern belle college students, frightened girlfriends and mythical Greek nymphs as they recount their worst memories and put them into perspective. How men have shaped these female lives is evident in their monologues, the scars visible in their physicality and voices.
The Greek characters are particularly interesting. Having the women recount these well-known myths as acts of rape and violence, painting Zeus and the Greek heroes in a different light, gives these old stories new voices and poignancy.
McClellan developed this show herself through the personal confessions of friends and strangers (without using women's shelters; she wanted to find instances where rape or violence may not have been reported).
She keeps the rhetoric to a minimum and gets to the heart of the characters, the truth of the stories. So fellas can and should apply. Nothing is heavy-handed, but nothing is soft or easy, either. No one is let off the hook.
McClellan has infused herself into the core of the show. She could be all of these women. Her versatile dress, change of voice and cadence and the props she employs help to define the character changes.
Some of the sound cues are awkward and can confuse the scene changes, and a few of the more performance-piece moments of the play don't seem as connected to the show as one might like. But the impact is still there.
Warning now: there are bound to be emotional triggers for those who have connections to these women. For those who don't, you'll still feel for them. In the current climate, perhaps we all need to feel the sting to get the message.
Michael Smallwood is an actor in Charleston.