Nan is a cis woman & actor.

Espie is a queer multiracial director and producer.

 

NAN

Pockets?

ESPIE

Not a ton – I saw Jaws Project when it came out last year and had enjoyed it.  I was really looking forward to seeing this iteration.  Nothing in my pockets for It Girl.  How about you?

NAN

I also saw Jaws Project last year and reviewed it for Bonaly, and was interested to see if/how it had changed in time. And I also had nothing much in my pockets for It Girl, other than a rough idea of who Amanda Schoonover is as a member of the Philly theatre scene– I’ve only ever seen her in Anna K at EgoPo. How did you find this new/ish iteration of Jaws Project?

ESPIE

I really enjoyed it!  Similarly to the first Jaws Project, I thought the use of space was fantastic.  I also really appreciated the changes that were made to the piece from the first time around.  I thought the increased focus on Brian and Marjorie’s relationship made for a tighter story.

NAN

I also definitely still loved the same things about it. Mary Tuomanen, Robert DaPonte, and Sam Henderson do a LOT with extremely minimal costumes, lights, sets, et cetera, and it’s really exciting to see them do so much with so little. I felt like they had the time to really round out the final arc of the story this time around, and it was really lovely to see. It was such a well-made play already but they filled out the ending this time in a very satisfying way.

ESPIE

Yes!  I really enjoyed them jumping ahead to the future for the ending – it felt like a very cinematic mode of storytelling translated to theatre, like we were seeing the montage that would happen at a series finale.

NAN

It did. I actually think it would work very well for the screen as well, which is pretty rare for plays, I think. I think very cinematic plays often don’t work very well onstage, but maybe this gives off that sort of potentially cinematic vibe because it is so very pared down technically and visually?

ESPIE

I think so.  The low budget awareness paired with the cinematic storytelling in a way that really highlighted the shitshow that was the filming of Jaws.  For example, the use of the bike pump as the blood pump for the shark combined with the dramatic choice to have Brian (Robert Daponte) more upstage and Sam Henderson’s character shouting orders in a separate space, really got the point across about the stakes – that the shark was not even close to a perfect creation and that was NOT a good for the movie.

NAN

Yes! The low budget quality worked really well for the show as well as drawing great parallels with the subject matter. It’s also such an actor-centric show as well, which I love. It’s essentially a two character love story with a third actor who plays every other part. And watching Sam Henderson work in those roles is such a pleasure. With only rudimentary props he creates a score of characters– from Steven Spielberg to Marjorie’s tow trucker dad to the woman writing opinion pieces for the paper (and also moving the plot along).

ESPIE

Agreed – I want Sam Henderson’s Barbara to narrate my life (or at least a week of it).

NAN

Yes PLEASE.

ESPIE

I also really appreciated that his interpretation of a female character didn’t involve using a high “girly” voice or sticking out his check to pretend there were boobs.  

NAN

Yes! I was also really interested to see them integrate projections, this time. I wouldn’t have guessed they would attempt it because their production aesthetic is so pared down and projections are, I think, usually the most involved and complicated component of anything. But in a play about a movie it was done really simply and elegantly. I think we may not have gotten the full effect because the actors were sitting in front of the screen looking out at the audience as if watching it from there, and we couldn’t quite see their faces from where we were sitting? But I appreciated the choice.

ESPIE

I thought it was smart that the projections were obscured a bit by the actors every time – I think the satisfaction of being able to sit back, disengage from the piece and watch a movie clip was not the intent of the choice.  We were being asked to engage in the behind-the-scenes stories of those affected by this industry and I thought that gesture really highlighted that.

NAN

For sure. Also, as someone who (still) hasn’t seen either Jaws or the favorite movie Mary mentioned, it was sort of nice to get a glimpse of them, even though the scene wasn’t about the film showing, but rather the people watching it.

ESPIE

This is nitpicking, but I didn’t fully understand what the point of the Jaws Project was.  I kept trying to draw parallels between the story they were telling and gentrification, but other then that I just felt like it was a fun night out at the theatre.  

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

NAN

That’s true. I think if anything its themes of insider/outsider and class issues were what I was picking up, but the play wasn’t really about either of those. I don’t know if there was an overarching theme they really wanted to talk about that really came across to me, actually. It was a love story.

ESPIE

Yeah, I didn’t feel like they were trying to talk about anything overarching. Wanna move on to It Girl?

NAN

Sure. Definitely an interesting choice for a double feature– both plays about movies and the people that make them.

ESPIE

Yes.  I also, like that both stories dealt with the making of not just movies, but truly iconic movies and iconic actors.  It made the stakes in both pieces feel related which I enjoyed

NAN

For sure. That said, I think It girl is almost as aesthetically different from Jaws Project as it can possibly be. There are a lot of great costumes, many music cues, and a lot of projections, in addition to lights and props. Jaws Project is really just dialogue, and It Girl has no speaking at all.

ESPIE

I thought Jillian Rose Keys’ costumes in particular stood out for It Girl – they were simple and did a great job of conveying the progression of Amanda Schoonover’s character.

NAN

For sure. It’s not easy to costume a period show with that much movement that beautifully, much less on a budget! The costumes did everything needed, told the story well, and looked fantastic.

ESPIE

Yes, the moment when the podium was pulled away from Amanda along with the dress was really effective.  

NAN

That kind of costume trick is tough to pull off. Big hand to Keys for sure.

ESPIE

Much props (and by props, I mean huzzah for the costume design)! What did you think about the use of projections?

NAN

I wasn’t a huge fan. I appreciate that they were using the stylized screen cards, and the attention to detail was great, but not only did they have actors passing in front of the screen making it hard to read the text, but it ended up feeling weirdly like a Monologue Propelled Play where you have someone come out and just do a ton of thinly veiled exposition to demarcate every scene rather than showing it? I think they could have seriously cut back on the number of cards they used, if nothing else, and kept them up for longer.

ESPIE

As someone who reads very slowly and often misses subtitles, I felt immediate pressure to speed through the cards as soon as they came on screen.  Though I understand that the cards paired with the music were meant to emulate a silent movie, I would’ve much preferred to have the cards narrated (maybe by the Philly Theatre “It Girls” that were projected at the top of the show).  For me, the piece felt more like a warped documentary of the silent movie industry then a silent movie itself and I would’ve liked to see that leaned into.

NAN

Great point. When you lean that heavily on projected text you really need to make sure everyone in the audience can read it or access it in another way.

ESPIE

Also, going off my previous comment, I thought the slideshow of the current Philly theatre “It Girls” (Hannah Van Sciver, Stephanie N. Walters, and Campbell O’Hare among others) was a missed opportunity.  I got so excited when the opening began to get really specific about Philly theatre and was really craving a savage Philly-specific critique and was disappointed that aspect of the piece wasn’t taken further.

NAN

Agreed. They seemed to take a step in that direction but then it was a false start. I would have really loved to see the show they set us up for with that! It felt like they were just looking for a framing device for a Clara Bow biography, in that the two didn’t really come together in a way that made sense, but sort of coexisted separately.  Overall I thought the dance work and physical storytelling was really interesting and well done, but I wasn’t super interested in the actual story being told once it became clear that it was just telling her biography, and it was an unfortunately familiar “rise and fall of female celebrity” story.

ESPIE

Yeah, once Clara’s story got rolling there wasn’t really an opportunity for a breath of fresh air.  Everything just seemed to go downhill once she got her first part.

NAN

It was a bit frustrating for me because there was so much there emotionally, as an actor– it was really personally difficult to watch, but it didn’t use the emotional strife it created toward any real point that I could see. And especially watching as an actor and sort of constantly aware of all this coming from Schoonover and wondering how self-referential it was meant to be.

ESPIE

So well put!  

NAN

It’s rough when the main dramatic tension of a piece is the audience wondering if they are watching a sort of self-critical personal reflection on the part of the performer/deviser. And then even when they came back to the framing device at the end they didn’t really make much of everything we had just seen– they have this intense, lovely sort of stage combat/dance bit with heavy metal laid over it but I wasn’t sure what it meant? Maybe Clara/Amanda sort of reclaiming her own agency in a kind of way? But it didn’t really pan out for me.

ESPIE

I loved the use of the heavy metal as a way to propel us back out of the 1920s (it’s also generally a choice that I’m a big fan of), but I never got the sense of reclamation.  Maybe because one of the last things – or was it the last thing – that Amanda said was “sorry”.

NAN

It felt like a “sorry not sorry”. But she didn’t say that, of course.

ESPIE

Gotcha, I didn’t pick up on that at all

NAN

At the end of the day though if it was supposed to be a reclamation of agency and voice, wouldn’t she have said what she meant? I would have loved that. Like a real throw down pissed off speech at the end? I know you’re meant to show not tell (and obviously I am going against what I just said about the projections) but I would have loved something a little more explicit at the end!

ESPIE

I agree, though I think at this stage of the piece, that moment wouldn’t necessarily feel earned, we spend so much time in Clara’s bio that, at least for me, I didn’t get a clear enough image of Amanda to have her throwing down the gauntlet make sense.

NAN

Yeah, you’re right. Overall I think they did some really interesting and unusual things– an almost entirely nonspeaking show, that tries to talk about the nature of female celebrity/artists, that style of old fashioned physical storytelling merged with dance– and the movement was definitely very unique and really strong. But it didn’t really come together for me. Talk about an unintentionally (it seemed to me) but extremely alienating piece of theater.

ESPIE:

Yes! I loved all of the tools that Brenna Geffers employed to make this piece and the specificity and rules of the world, and I thought both Amanda and Anthony Crosby (who deserves a shout of for delivering a truly generous performance) both knocked it out of the park, but the story just wasn’t there.  Additionally, I wish they had a trigger warning on it, while I knew it was going to get dark, I wasn’t aware quite how violent Clara’s downfall was going to get.  I think it’s especially necessary in that setting (Second floor of Plays and Players) or any setting where alcohol is more prominent.  Folks who’ve been drinking can be more emotionally vulnerable.

NAN

Definitely agree that a trigger warning is called for. And regarding Anthony Crosby’s character– I’m still not sure if he was meant to represent something, and if so, what? But very generous work on the actor’s part for sure.

ESPIE

What did you think of the evening overall?

NAN

I thought it was a great example of what one can do without many resources, and how much room there is for new work, especially when artists team up like this. And I hope to see many more double feature style collaborations like that in the future! And you?

ESPIE

Agreed!

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