Ninth Planet – Homeworld

8Y9A0897

Reviewer: LaNeshe

 

The Takeaways

  • The production paid expert attention to building an experience for a specialized audience (babies)
  • The soundscape of the show, both recorded and created live by the performers, was skilled and magical
  • The set offered exciting surprises, even to me as an adult

 

In my pockets

I love babies. I am a parent. I met one of the performers the day before I saw the show.

 

Design

The design of the show was impressive. The set designer (Tess Kunik) used heat-free lighting in the areas where the babies could potentially touch the lights. The lighting design really helped emphasize the shifts in the experience – being low and concentrated in stiller moments, and bright colorful strobing lights during highly energetic moments.

The soundscape (Steve Hayward) was also really helpful in creating the world of the production. The recorded music was great, but what really set the sound of the experience apart were the noises the performers themselves made: pops, grunts, and woo’s that really engaged the babies.

The construction of the set clearly demonstrated the thought the designers put into it. The “landing pad” offered a pre-show space to let the audience orient themselves with the world and each other. Inside the tent the set and props worked together to support the world of the play in a great way. While I’m much older than the intended audience, I still found the space magical, and in two instances in particular, when the kelp mobile was revealed and the seemingly nonfunctional ceiling structures turned into jellyish, I was very surprised.

 

The performances

The performers created engaging tableaus with their bodies throughout the piece. While there were no words, I still felt and understood that a story was being told through their interactions. They allowed themselves to be fully present and available to their audience, often being used as a prop for new walkers.  Despite the show being for babies, the performers didn’t interact with their audience in an infantile way, they performed for them.

 

Direction

Probably my only critique of the direction (Sam Tower) is that I didn’t feel like it came to a pointed enough conclusion. The ending was abrupt, but I also have to note that though the performance ended, the experience continued for the babies who went on to play and explore. My feeling of a sudden end could have been because I was one of the only adults who didn’t have a baby with me in the show.

 

Accountability

This is a great model for accessible performances. The makers showed great care in creating for their specific audience – an audience I’d argue is underserved. Performance for babies is not often presented. Ninth Planet created an experience where babies were encouraged to explore, make sounds, and be themselves.

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Inis Nua – Monster in the Hall

Reviewer: Nan

 

The Takeaways

  • Lovely design, great original music
  • Beautiful ensemble work and really smart direction

 

In my pockets

I know a few people in the cast and crew, and to be honest, it was a terrible weekend and I wasn’t sure I was ready to watch something uplifting just yet. But in the end, Monster was a really heartwarming experience.

 

Design

Lights: (Amanda Jensen) were functional and served both the spoken scenes as well as the musical numbers well, successfully evoking the different musical tones of different songs as well as keeping things well lit enough to support the comedy.

Sound/Music: Edward Smith mixed a well-balanced play and there wasn’t one glitch in the sound. The music (Moonglass and Jamison Foreman/the ensemble) was, for me, the glue that held the show together. The program says that the original production had music by Moonglass and that the Inis Nua production filled in the gaps and added new content, and the result is near-constant underscoring, primarily by Foreman on piano. At moments I wondered if it was stylistically a little more “musical theatre-y” in sound than the show wanted, but for the most part it kept the almost farcical pace up while maintaining the sweetness in an incredibly welcome way.

Costumes: Natalia de la Torre designed lovely costumes that supported the story well, with the piece de resistance being a fantastic “Fairy of Catastrophe” ensemble worn by multiple actors. The piece featured a trash bag tutu, wand, and tiara. A show like this which relies on a base actor look and layered character pieces on top can be really difficult to design. Oftentimes that strategy is challenging – you have to make the pieces simple enough that they can be taken on and off multiple times with little fuss, and de la Torre got it bang on, right down to the tiny sharpie doodles on Duck’s chucks.

Set (Apollo Mark Weaver): the set is dizzying and very successful– two large overlapping platforms form the primary playing space. My fear about the actors slipping of them really added to the sense of precariousness that is the driving force behind the play. Laundry-line-like cords littered with clothes and junk fill the rather high ceilinged Bluver theater space in a very satisfying way, and the platforms are buoyed by trash detritus featuring a lot of UK exclusive food that I really appreciated. The curtains on the far sides of the space (initially they read as discarded bedsheets) could have been a hair wider. They were used for quick change hiding spaces, but occasionally I could see actors struggling to stay behind it while changing. Overall I was incredibly impressed with this set.

Props: The props, designed by Sarah Sindelar, were simple and functional with a nice eye to detail– I appreciated the contents of the center stage bookshelf which crucially featured a full set of Harry Potter books and others that would definitely inform Duck’s taste in literature.

 

The performances

This cast was so talented. They brought a tremendous amount of ease to a show that really does not pause for breath. Claris Park sets the tone and keeps up the energy in a show that really centers around their character, as well as really delivering on both the ukulele ballad and rock anthem fronts. Moyer could not have cast a better actor than Doug Durlacher for Duke– his sweetness and face-value awkwardness could easily have been overplayed for comedic value but struck the perfect balance. Eleni Delopoulos is the character actor this show needs and plays the biker anarcho-feminist just as sympathetically as the salt of the earth social worker, while also wailing on the banjo. Jamison Foreman is most invaluable as the provider of the musical air beneath the wings, but absolutely keeps up with the ensemble, notably making the jerk love interest somehow likeable. The ensemble work was seamless and delightful.

 

Direction

What a smartly directed play! The casting was great, and the show walked the tricky tonal balance of a play-with-music that was not a musical, a farce with 15+ characters played by four performers, and yet still managed to be heartfelt. Claire Moyer did a lovely job. It sounds like she was handed a show that gave her a lot of creative freedom, and the result was pretty pitch perfect (no pun intended).

 

Accountability

At face value I don’t know that the play itself, or even the way it’s being produced, has much of a social agenda, but it meant a lot to me watching a show with a POC lead in a role that is in no way about her being a POC. Claris Park is a gem and I was so glad to see an up and coming Philly actor in a leading role. I hope Inis Nua continues to prioritize casting actors of color in roles that don’t require it.

Movement Matter Group – Unhinged

"UNHINGED"

The takeaways

  • A “choose your own adventure” template is a great way to make immersive theatre immediate
  • Intentionally troubling, which was personally satisfying
  • The passion of the makers and performers was clearly visible

 

In my pockets

I had heard a lot of things about this show, both positive and negative, and was excited to experience it for myself. I’m a fan of horror theatre and excited by the idea of immersive, journeying performance. I’m also a fan of Teddy Fatcher and had a friend in the cast. I was coming off closing three Fringe shows, so I was excited that there was a show running right through the end of the festival for me to see. I’m also notoriously hard to shock and offend. My pockets were full for this one.

 

Design

It was not immediately clear who all of the designers were. Apologies for the lack of clarity.

Lights: Alyssandra Docherty is a master of mood lighting. It’s always smart and focused. Especially striking were the differences between the three starting rooms. 

Sound: The music and sound complimented the visual storytelling of Unhinged in a striking way, both fun and surprising. I was most struck by being able to hear bits and pieces of rooms B and C while I was in room A. Screams, shouts, grunts, and music all trickled into our room, teasing at what we could have seen.

Costumes: The costumes were minimal, though aided in building character. Most of the dancers were in various dark underwear while a high-powered business woman sauntered in and out of room A, made distinct by her clothes.

Set: The set was a murder shed of the highest degree: a maze and a labyrinth of open rooms, discarded mattresses, barbed wire, and black tarps. Spooky and shanty. A TV set stuck on static was a particular standout.

 

Performances

I have little to dissect about the performances – a troupe of beautifully elegant and striking dancers brought this murder shed to life. Impressive.

 

Accountability

We were all gathered in the lobby of the Schmidt’s Commons building. There was no plumbing, no ceilings, and so Matter Movement Group had to create this world from scratch. The audience was welcomed by an older man with ghoulish makeup who gave a speech about the Fringe festival and its roots. He reminded us that theatre is not a safe space and we were not expected to be taken care of in this show. It was also said that we were to experience either an epic failure or a great experiment, but in the spirit of Fringe, it is also pure passion thrown into a room. In retrospect, I’m glad that the piece was bookended with speeches that provided context (Teddy Fatcher gave a speech at the end of the show) because without them, I don’t think I would have been as moved. The opening speech generated excitement, set the tone, and provided context in a way that wasn’t pandering or telling us what to think about what we were about to experience.

Devised by the ensemble, the piece itself is interesting and disturbing. People are chained up and chased, donning freakishly cheery masks as they taunt the audience and each other. Stand out pieces include a dance with two people in a radioactive barrel, and a breakdancer eating a piece of paper and rubbing red paint over his face on top of an American flag.

At the end of the show, before the curtain call, a small carpet was rolled out over the soaking wet marley floor for the dancers to bow. As they exited, they set up a single “Wet floor” sign for the audience. A sign of care.

Fatcher stood in the middle of the floor and addressed the audience, hair still wild from an emotionally taxing performance. His soft voice addressed us: “If you were offended by anything you saw here tonight, good. So am I. I’m offended and scared and need to say something. Have a good night.”

Magda – feral wild girl child

feral wild girl child

The takeaways

  • Honest storytelling
  • Visceral, calm, joyous, and surprising all at once
  • An honesty about how hard it is to process grief

 

In my pockets

The tropes of experimental theatre can oftentimes bother me, so I was hoping this wasn’t going to be self-indulgent. I knew the piece was inspired by hospitals (with which I am very familiar), and I had seen a promo image of paint splattered on a wall. I was also coming off of a Fringe whirlwind and was looking forward to seeing the show all of the “BEST THINGS TO SEE IN FRINGE” lists had included.

 

Design/creation

Walking into Magda’s small studio in the ground level of Bok, you automatically feel taken care of. There are cushions on the floor and the audience is comfy and cozy the whole time. Like a sleepover. Fluorescent lights stay on for most of the show. Props are simple and surprising. The most delightful of which include a paper mache tiger and snake, marshmallow rainbow ice creams, a pink IV holding a wig and sequins, and a trophy with no engraving.

The evening is extraordinarily careful and I never felt unsafe once in the space, even as the piece embraced chaos. From the beginning, we are aware that this piece was inspired by Magda’s time as an artist in residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the kids she met there, and how it has shaped her life.

 

Accountability

I saw this show almost a week ago, and I’m still processing. One of the first segments includes Magda putting an IV tube up her nose and down her throat. She tells us she watched youtube videos to get it right, and if anybody needs to leave or close their eyes, feel free. “I know what this means to me,” she told us, “but I can’t even begin to understand what this means to anybody else in this room.” A fellow audience member fainted during this portion, and Magda stopped her performance to make sure the audience member was okay. We were all in this space together, as a unit, and we were looking after each other. This is because of Magda’s heart and honesty and the semi-non scripted world she created. For the next 45 minutes, we watched her dance and sing and bring joy and thoughtfulness into this little studio. Paint was flung all over two walls of her studio space, and the “mess” was crafted into a beautiful tribute to one little girl Magda had met who left the biggest impact. We, the audience, were given smocks and hoods to cover ourselves in case of rogue paint splatters.

With every serious point about grief and illness and sadness or poignancy, there’s was an equally giddy and childlike observation to follow. The piece became a tribute to these brave kids at CHOP, who carried themselves with joy and strength. At the end Magda said “This is it. I’m going to leave now and I’m not coming back.” And she left.

And that was that. The show was over, and I still cannot stop thinking about it.

I look forward to seeing how the work will grow and evolve, and to hear other people’s experiences with the piece.