Faye is a queer cyborg and poet.

Alexa is a cis woman, a queer mermaid, an actor-poet hybrid, and seven cats in a people suit.

 

Alexa

So what’s in your pockets?

 

Faye

Bits and pieces of things mostly–I have previously seen performances by/involving lead artist Anna Michael, Travis Braue-Fischbach, and Jeremy Adam. I also got heart-eyes for sci-fi. How about yourself?

 

Alexa

I’ve worked with both Anna and Travis before, Anna as a castmate and Travis as our trusty stage manager and troubadour. I also worked with Anna as slinging gelato at the same part-time job all summer, and heard about the development of the Hum’n’Bards and the Pangaea project back when they were a particularly shiny gleam in her eye. I was excited to see the final product of all that scheming, and to see what Anna can do when she’s at the helm of a production.

 

Faye

I have been writing notes about this show all night and I barely know where to start! There are so many intricate moving parts within the piece, it feels like a delicate task to find a jumping-off point. The set, I guess, could be a more-or-less “natural” place to start off talking about a show where much of the emotional weight is centered upon space(s) and location? Right? What were your first impressions?  

 

Alexa

I think the set is a great jumping-off point to talk about that, because it is literally comprised of those moving parts. The design is minimal, but carries clear intent. The MacGuffin’s black box space is left mostly open, which I think works well for both the concert format and the post-apocalyptic setting. Aside from the musical instruments hanging from the rafters (!), the handful of black blocks onstage are all the actors really need to clearly communicate place, story, and relationships – Director Jasmine Kojouri clearly runs a tight ship with those transitions and strong stage pictures. In true fringe fashion, we’re seeing basic resources (bodies and blocks) used very effectively to shape and punctuate story on a large scale: as the cast dismantles the central heap of blocks, the world of the play very literally breaks apart and remakes itself in weird new configurations. The uneven, vivid pink outlines of jagged shapes gaff taped along the walls added to this impression of an upended puzzle.

 

Faye

I really love the puzzle image. For me, part of the sheer wonder of Pangaea was that the “rules” of the puzzle kept changing. Black blocks that were once islands are moved throughout the play to join a larger block-continent, only to be separated and moved again. What appeared to be plain dark space pops with hidden gaff tape (I think it was gaff tape) midway through the show, when the space is abruptly flooded with blacklights and jarring, darting day-glo lines.

 

Alexa

Aw man that lighting moment is EPIC, nice one from Will Jonez. Also cool how the one really distinctive bit of costuming is a bright, jagged neon marking on each actor’s face (by makeup artist Ashley Fisher Tannenbaum). Really ties the performers and the space together for some sweet sweet design cohesion. This is one case where having one designer (Emily R. Johnson) do both set and costumes paid off.

 

Faye

Yes! And I feel that this works to really speak to the unstable nature of (surviving in) the apocalyptic future Pangaea proposes, where volcanoes and floodwaters have swallowed cities and time is measured in Days Since Christina Higgins’ Character Last Had A Domino’s Pizza.

 

Alexa

They strike a nice tonal balance between… like, the internal epic tragedy of never being able to hit “cheese it up” on the Domino’s delivery site ever again, and the incomprehensible loss of surviving a natural disaster that uproots your entire society, including all the mundane comforting junk. I think the music walks that line really well too, between dark big-scope terror and silly zoomed-in character stories. I will say the night we went, the one glitch in the programming for me was the volume on the louder plugged-in songs, because a lot of the lyrics got drowned out by amped instruments – bummer for a folk opera where plot and context happen on the lyric. That’s likely why the songs that stuck with me were the acoustic numbers, like Anna and Christine’s jaunty, spooky uke duet “Do It.” All that said, I think their Set List pulls off a great tightrope act between musical stylization and lyrical earnestness: lots of upbeat tap-your-feet melodies and raw, frank confessional storytelling.  

 

Faye

I found the music to be quite haunting in a quiet and inconspicuous sort of way. Like, there are some sheer breath-takers –“Be Afraid” comes to mind, which contrasts Jeremy Adams’ strong vocals with these hushed, huddled ensemble moments – but I was also nicely unsettled by those silly “little-scope” things, like Anna Michael’s verse in “The Friendship Song” where she sings about living alone in a tree and growing antsy over Possibly Seeing Another Person. There is humor to it, but beneath that there’s a desperation for closeness and connectivity that makes the song a little bit tragic in its own right.   

 

Alexa

I love that moment! I love watching Anna because she’s very funny, but she never lets humor override emotional honesty. She’s great at sprawling out and living openly onstage. And meanwhile Christina’s downstage having that bonkers ballet pantomime with the tiny stuffed hedgehog. True innovators.

 

Faye

But actually! Most post-apocalyptic narratives I’ve seen focus on how people get on as communities after the world ends. Pangaea tells a different story, of individuals splitting and sequestering for survival. This piece does something pretty novel with the genre by challenging T.S. Elliot’s “the world will end not with a bang, but a whimper” approach to the apocalypse: the world ends and it is a HUGE bang, if only because the every survivor is hiding in a cave while simultaneously shouting out, “HELLO?! I’M STILL HERE!”

Alexa

Yeah! I felt like a lot of the play lived in that contradictory tension of withdrawing into technology in order to scream into the void: how we close ourselves off from the physical world around us when we get too absorbed in our devices, but ironically we’re using those devices to send desperate streaming S.O.S signals of our existence TO the outside world.

 

Faye

And in that way, I feel that Pangaea exposes a huge problem with the way the IRL/URL dichotomy is approached, specifically the idea that the IRL world/mode of connection is more “real”/”deep”/”meaningful”/”purposeful” than the other (Nathan Jurgenson calls the way the IRL/URL split is treated “the IRL Fetish,” which I feel really sums up the notion!!!). Like, the fear of disconnection that many of the characters face is not based in the loss of their technological “luxuries”/that they have to survive in the “real world” without their phones, but in how many of their usual means of communication have suddenly become inadequate – how they still have cell reception but no one alive to text. The scene where a phone is found in the woods and two complete strangers text excitedly or hours is no less of a “real connection” than the few scenes where characters recognize/speak to one another face to face.

 

Alexa

Nice point. I mean, all of my closest friends when I was growing up were “strangers” from the Internet, because at the time I expressed myself much more honestly and confidently in writing than I did in person. I think Pangaea did a fair job of showing how there’s room for tech mediums to bring people together, while also exploring how much they can drive us apart. In a key moment near the end, Anna talks to the audience about her fears at the root of the Pangaea metaphor: that human connection as we know it is going extinct, and we were not born to survive in the approaching pod-like isolation, though our children may learn to thrive in it.

 

Faye

The main thing that Pangaea had me thinking when I left the theatre was “What are the ‘rules’ of loneliness?”–what spurs/kindles loneliness, and how do changes in one’s environment affect their potential connectivity or isolation?     

 

Alexa  

For me, the magic of this show is how it celebrates the bizarre, desperate, makeshift ways people hunt for connection when their old methods are rendered obsolete. I entered the theater feeling crappy and closed-off for no good reason (because loneliness doesn’t need a good reason), but I left feeling hopeful because of those displays of desperation. It made me feel like the rules of human connection can be reshaped as we go, to change with the new rules of loneliness and poke through them, like hacks in a code, or sprouts in a cracked sidewalk.

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2 thoughts on “PANGAEA: A FOLK OPERA

  1. This is a very insightful review. The more I read the more I understood what the show was like and also appreciate the specific analysis of the themes presented. Love to mah bebs.

    Like

    • This was incredible, glad the review went up in time to catch the last performance. Had a pretty hit-and-miss Fringe so far, this will have been a highlight by Fringe end.

      Like

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