- Gorgeous, immersive design
- Delightful, plucky moments
- Inconsistent tone
In my pockets:
I don’t have a collaborative relationship with any of the artists working on this show, though I do know them from around the scene and have seen some of their work before. I am also very familiar with ArtChurch as a space.
As usual with pieces at ArtChurch, I am always so impressed and delighted by how artists make use of the space in their design. In Bon Iver Fights a Bear, the basement of ArtChurch was converted into a forest cabin, complete with mulch underneath our feet and leaves and sticks strewn around the space (scenic design by Emily Schuman and Doug Greene). With original sound design from Cat Ramirez and lighting design from Maura Krause and Doug Williams, the cold West Philly basement really felt like a chilly outdoor space. I couldn’t help getting the same feeling from the design as I get when I listen to Bon Iver – warm and cozy, minus the angst. The original songs by Emily Schuman were a satisfying new texture to Bon Iver’s dramatic self-pitying.
Emily Schuman was a dependable performer who lent Bon Iver (or Justin)’s depressed hipster boy language a specificity that didn’t feel too mocking or too serious. My ability to engage in Doug Greene’s performance as the Bear was shaded by my experience with the writing. Even though I had a hard time with the way the Bear was written, Doug Greene was still fun to watch.
Maura Krause and Doug Williams are long-time collaborators (previously in Orbiter 3), and this play is the first production for their new company, maura ampersand doug. Though I enjoyed myself and was oftentimes invested in the story and the performances, I had trouble with the way the bear was written, which ultimately made me curious about some directing choices. The Bear’s voice never seemed to land in any one world, which was a stark contrast from Bon Iver’s deeply specific hipster bro-speak. Where the Bear was most interesting to me was when he revealed a magic that Bon Iver longed for to help him write his album. This felt like the heart of the play – a bear and a musician in a cabin talking about how to really listen to the world around them. It took us a long time to get there, though, and because the Bear traveled back and forth from one tonal mode to another, I was left craving a landing point for the character that never came. Regardless, I enjoyed my experience, and knew I was in the hands of artists who had lovingly crafted a small and cozy piece in the woods.
I got the sense that this was a play made by folks who both appreciated and were simultaneously annoyed by Bon Iver’s story and his music – which I think is the right balance. It would have been unwatchable if the makers were only annoyed by Bon Iver. That being said, this play is for Bon Iver fans, who also have the ability to laugh at themselves and at him. That so much of the Bon Iver fanbase culture is stereotypically white and male was an element that the play was quite aware of, and certainly made use of. In the end, the piece chronicled a sad hipster boy’s growth – from a place of selfishness and self-pitying to selflessness and compassion, which is a journey we could all stand to go on.