Marie Antoinette- Curio Theater

The Take Away 

  • Cool, evocative design

  • Deft direction with strong pace

  • Strong, professional performances

 

In Our Pockets

 

Cara

I’ve worked with Curio once and with Jennifer Summerfield several times before.

 

Plotz

I worked on a show that had Brian McCann in it, but we didn’t really interact. Other than that, I have no connection to the production.

 

Design

 

Plotz

Although I thought the overall design was a little too dark, I liked the way that Tim Martin’s lights played off of the set and costumes.

 

Cara

I also thought Chris Sannino’s sound was incredibly strong. The badminton game and the cutting of Marie’s hair were made so evocative through the small, repeated sounds. The use of the crowd sounds was really effective, too. It’s strange to me that occasional recorded sound effects worked so well but they really did. It was a cool risk that paid off.

 

Plotz

Aetna Gallagher’s costumes were inspired! I loved the sheer skirts that revealed the construction underneath. It was subtle and interesting. The panniers were fantastic. 

 

Cara

And the sheep! The fleecy headdress and satiny undergarments worked together to create this fantasy animal that made perfect sense in Marie Antoinette’s world.

 

Plotz

Marie’s few, subtle costume changes were so effective in showing her arc. I also liked the contrast of the sans-coulottes caps and striped pants.

 

Cara

This was another fantastic set from Paul Kuhn. He’s reliably fantastic. The use of mulch around the gilded square of Marie’s existence, and it’s later intrusion were another element that really subtly supported the story. A props designer isn’t mentioned, but I also think the rolling sheep, and tower of treats were perfect touches that didn’t clutter the story but were enough to create the world.

 

Performances

 

Cara

I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why Jennifer Summerfield isn’t in everything. She and Corinna Burns continue to be our most lamentably underused actresses. This performance showed her full range. She’s funny, she’s sharp and she’s the master of a wide, full range in emotion, voice and physicality. A lesser actress could have gotten caught up in the iconic role. Summerfield’s Marie Antoinette is a real person, in turns detestable and sympathetic but never caricatured.

 

Plotz

I am equally excited about Jessica DelCanton. Her comedic timing is just incredible in this show. And the dangerous sex of the sheep character is frightening and grotesque. Therese was similarly layered and endearing.  The few brief scenes that showed their friendship stood in for an entire court life.

 

Direction

 

Plotz

Brenna Geffers nailed this show. She did such a good job with the pace, and with modulating between the funny and the reflective elements of the show that she hid what a complicated script it really was.

 

Cara

I agree. The script requires a very careful touch, and Geffers has it. She was very exacting with the emotional flow of the story, and let it lead. However, the direction was never indulgent. She runs a tight aesthetic ship.  And literally every stage picture that she created was compelling. What I like most about the way that Geffers built this show is that it’s very clearly done with audience experience in mind. She never assumes that she has us, and continues to work to bring us in.

 

Why This Play Now?

 

Plotz

I’ll admit that in the first act, I wasn’t really sure what this show was about. It seemed strange to create a whole work reinforcing what we already know and believe about Marie Antoinette. The performances and images were compelling enough to keep me interested, but I was cringing at some of the jokes (keeping our heads etc) and unclear about what the point was.

 

However, in the second act, Marie Antionette is a very human reflection on what it’s like to be on the wrong side of history. It’s sympathetic without being didactic, and I think that’s interesting.

 

Cara

And relevant. A few of Marie’s arguments on her own behalf sound just like my relatives blinking bewilderment at accusations of white privilege.

 

Plotz

Right. I think you could actually just have the second act of the show, and be fine.

 

Cara

Oh, I disagree. I think the first act is an important part of Marie’s journey, especially her idea of cutting spending and returning to nature. And besides that, I wouldn’t want to lose all of the good theater that Geffers sculpted in the first act.

 

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The Fleecing- Almanac Dance Circus Theater

The Take Away

  • Talented group still honing their storytelling skills

  • Fantastic venue

  • Inventive design

  • Short on structure, ultimately vague

 

In Our Pockets

 

Cara

I have been to a few Almanac shows before and am invested the progress of this relatively new group because I think they are inclusive and take risks.

 

Plotz

I have a clown background so I tend to be critical when it comes to clown and circus performance

 

Design

 

Cara

This group made very cool design choices, living into the huge old mansion where the show took place. I think that the design of each small performance space really worked. It wasn’t too much or too little.

 

Plotz

I also liked the relationship of the design to the building. The building was so huge and engulfing and weird, and all of the design worked with it and not against it. For example the first Devotee we encountered was in a mulitlevel space with a massive heating unit in it. However, the placement of the occult design elements embraced the machine and didn’t try to hide it, which made for a cooler environment than she would have had if the room had started bare.

 

I also like the way the audience was involved in creating sound. It was a great comedic moment when we all tried to sing along to the Bumblefish song during the introduction- I felt like I hadn’t been in church in a long time. Then later, stomping, clapping and other sounds were created by the audience.

 

I also liked the uranium pieces we were given in a little bag. It felt good to have something to hold onto as we ventured down the stairs.

 

Cara

I think the weakest design elements were the costumes. Many of them didn’t live up to the specificity of the environments where the devotees were housed.

Plotz

And they didn’t create a cohesive narrative about the sect we were meant to be participating in. The only unifying theme was “odd”

 

Cara

I agree that they missed a chance to employ a designer who might have made them seem like oddities that belonged to the same universe

 

Plotz

Or had that conversation more carefully as a group. I liked how diverse the devotees were, but I wanted to feel like they were tied somehow.

 

Performances

 

Cara

These performers are so game, and so earnest, which is part of why I love this company. I think that they are very comfortable with silliness and with joy. It’s a testament to that commitment that a very, very diverse audience all felt comfortable participating.

 

Plotz

I agree. However, I found this performance frustrating in the same way that I found the other Almanac show I saw…

 

Cara

Fronteras?

 

Plotz

Yes, Fronteras frustrating. This group has so much skill- a huge bag of tricks to pull from– but they have a hard time applying those tricks to a narrative, and the work ends up looking like a showcase or a series of demonstrations. The Fleecing especially does this by basically creating booths in which each performer exercises a skill for the audience.

 

Cara

I agree with that, and I think the underlying problem is that each performer was left to create a complete theatrical experience on their own, but not given an objective that fed the whole. A more cohesive story, or at least a cohesive objective would have put helpful limitations on each of the Devotees.

 

Plotz

I would love to credit the performer, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a breakdown of the cast, so I’ll use the character names. I found the 53rd President to be very compelling. I stayed at his station the longest because I felt there might be something to unravel about who he was or what he was saying. In other performances, it was easy to get bored because there was no arc to them, and no question to answer or mystery to solve.

 

Cara

Right, which was a facet of the overall structural issue. If there’s nothing to be figuring out, doing, or learning it’s easy to lose interest. But I think The 53rd President delivered fragments of information in a way that made you feel that there might be a puzzle to complete. I felt similarly about the Prognosticator. For those who were relying on music or movement, although the artistry was compelling, it was harder to create something that held people minute by minute. Like you, I want to see all this carefully honed skill dissolve into the service of something larger.

 

The Play

 

Plotz

Right. This company can be very frustrating, because they seem limitlessly creative. They almost never touch cliche. They’re good with words. They’re good with images. They bring the goods on physicality. The potential for really sublime work is there. But that limitlessness means that the work always ends up vague, if not confusing.

 

Cara

The beginning of The Fleecing did feel specific. They told us who we were, and why we were there. They performed the world and left it to us to catch up and figure out who we were and play along. And we did that. The song you mentioned is an example. The rules were explained- dropping a piece of uranium on one side would elicit one performance, putting it on another side would get a different one. But this is where things started to get muddy. In order to really participate, I would need to know what makes a good Bumblefish. Or I would need to know what my political interests were within the group. Otherwise, I’m voting for the quality of performance- which feels unkind and out of the spirit of things.

 

Plotz

And you have no rubric for that, either.

 

Cara

Right. But ultimately, even that doesn’t matter, as each piece of uranium was used both to begin the performance and to vote. So you voted by inquiring. Further, the way the game was designed, you didn’t really have to spend at all. You could just walk up and watch the performances already in progress. So the uranium became less of a real part of the world and more of a device without much meaning.  This experience would have benefited so much from a specific understanding of the ultimate goal of the night, and my role within it.

 

Plotz

I think the weakness in the design was shown in the fact that our two hosts had to move throughout the space constantly badgering people to spend. If the objective had been tighter, we would have been motivated to do it without encouragement. The host characters seemed to be there to make sure the play went well, which is a shame. If they had had objectives of their own, it could have complicated the play and made it more of an unfolding revelation.

 

Cara

The final scenes were really fun, and I can’t help but think how much more fun they would have been if I had been truly invested in the outcome. Or how much more compelling my experience with each of the Devotees would have been if they had had to actively campaign for my vote.

 

Accountability

 

Plotz

This company is great about representation. A wide variety of performers were included in race, age and discipline.

 

Cara

In this Black Panther cultural moment, it’s great to engage in fantasy worlds that aren’t hobbled by structural racism and gender politics. That said, I wish that both of our hosts hadn’t been authoritative white men.

 

Plotz

The world of the play might not have those politics, but our world does. It was very uncomfortable when the white actor put his feet on the black actress like a footstool. That brought me out of the silliness.

 

Cara

I think it’s worth noting how diverse the audience for this piece were. At its best, theater brings such different people together to play pretend, and The Fleecing was a real success in that way. That’s part of the reason that I really want to see this company find ways to constrain and therefore push itself. They bring in new audiences, which is a precious platform.

 

Plotz

Agreed. I want more because I believe they have it in them.

 

Copenhagen- The Lantern

 

The Take Away

  • Interesting story chock full of moral relativism

  • Articulate, undramatic, enraging writing

  • Stale staging

  • Beautiful set

In My Pockets

 

I am a Jewish audience member at a play about Nazi collaborators. 

 

The Design

Nick Embree’s design was my favorite part of this show. He created a set that was a beautiful homage to physicist’s models, but with enough abstraction to hold the complicated narrative. The lights (Robin Stamey) were lively and effective – often cluing me into the story’s arc more than the writing or the performances did. Costumes (Natalia De La Torre) were simple and effective.

 

Performances:

 

It must be hard to perform this kind of piece as an actor. Copenhagen is a memory play– a third of the piece is exposition. Paul L. Nolan was a solid Niels Bohr despite the script’s challenge.

Sally Mercer (Margrethe Norlund Bohr) was a standout. She beautifully overcame the disregard for her character in the writing and created the most engaging performance of the evening. Why is there a woman in this play? Outside of a two minute moment when she points out that complaining about your lost Third-Reich-supported research to a Jew might not be appropriate, Margrethe is a prop, who serves to tell us more about the fascinating men. 

 

Direction

It’s a true challenge to stage this play in a dramatically engaging way. It’s so literary and so drowning in its own explanations and exposition.

For example, because of its density and length, and partially because the script wants to move quickly, I imagine it was difficult to build spots with a slower pace. However, I wished that some moments could have landed and lingered, rather than been swept away by the next idea. There were so many times that the characters referenced an awkward silence, but silence was noticeably absent. 

In an abstracted set, in an abstracted memory, about abstract, theoretical physics, I longed to see the staging ground the story. Instead, actors mostly stood, or sat, but the staging failed to tell a story or to complicate the experience. To have these talented actors cut off from their bodies in a play so much in it’s head left the whole experience too cerebral. 

Why This Play Now?

Werner Heisenberg, is German, and Niels Bohr is a Danish half-Jew, living under Nazi occupation in Copenhagen. Through their shared passion for physics and through memory, the two (and Bohr’s wife, Margrethe), reflect on Heisenberg’s famous visit to Copenhagen in 1941. 

The play considers the ethical ramifications of scientific inquiry into fields that yield catastrophic weapons of mass destruction and it asks questions about loyalty.  Bohr tries to understand  Heisenberg’s collaboration with the Nazis. Heisenberg’s mind is churning between justification and guilt. 

At it’s core, though, Copenhagen is an intellectual exercise- a moral question for a college ethics class. The conditions for the discussion are as sterile as a lab. Two and a half hours of moral relativism is tough for a Jewish woman living in the Trump presidency to sit through.

In 2018, I question the choice to dwell on the “complicated morality” of Nazi collaboration.

Copenhagen’s highly literary, intellectual language – most of it about physics – means that it’s suitable for a very particular audience. I would probably be part of that group if I were able to look at Nazi collaboration from a comfortable distance. But I can’t. The idea of the bloodless intellectual argument between rational white men, and the superior ideas that naturally come from it belongs in the 90’s where this play was written. We’ve moved on. 

 

Really- Theater Exile

The Take Away

  • Solid performances

  • Gorgeous set, sound, and lighting design

  • Interesting, if sometimes inconsistent proposals about the role of art and memory

  • Some lack of structural clarity 

 

In My Pockets

 

I know two of three of the performers in this piece, and have read Jackie Siblies-Drury’s most famous play (We Are Proud to Present), but I’ve never seen a production of one of her plays before. I also identify as an artist, both in writing and in performance. I’m a white woman and I think a lot about the contributions our art makes in the world, and when that should matter. Thinking about all these issues, this play came at a good time for me.

 

Design

Thom Weaver designed a sparse set that feels like a portrait photographer’s eden – bare, white, a little clinical, but also rustic. In relationship to the lighting design (Amanda Jensen), the set took on incredible personality. Lighting shifts helped guide us through a play that, because of non-linear time sequences, could have been confusing without them.  The Latvian Society’s shallow playing space could be a real hindrance, but for this show it evoked the theme of photography. The soundscape created by Chris Sannino was both sharp and comforting as the script required. LeVonne Lindsey’s costume design made the characters familiar to me, even in a potentially unfamiliar location.

 

Props master Alicia Crosby’s photographs for Mother to thumb through were a blank, glossy black that helped to drive home many of Siblies-Drury’s themes. 

 

Performances

 

The questions I had about the performances are hard for me to separate from questions I have about the play itself. I had the sense that the actors’ experiences moved through so many different ideas, just like the play. I was searching for insights within their portrayals of the characters that would clue me into the message the play intended to send. Maybe the play itself was so dreamy that I couldn’t find the central idea within the performances. 

 

Matteo Scammel (Calvin) delivered as the brutish, unkind, totalitarian boyfriend/artist, although there were moments where I questioned the utility of how brash his performance was in keeping with the rest of the piece’s tone. I always like Nancy Boykins’ work, and Jessica Johnson’s final monologue was breathtaking.

 

Direction

 

The moment when Girlfriend pushes up against Calvin’s immovable body, trying to extract something from his chest (his heart? His soul? Was she punching him?) was a deeply resonant moment for me. To watch a black woman try to physically affect the solid wall of white man was an effecting visual. 

In general, I left with the impression that Geffers had done a steady job of crafting a piece that often felt like watching memories through a telescope with vaseline smeared across the lens. I liked the experience, even if there were moments where I didn’t feel like I could fully see the point.

 

The Script

 

This play was a thoughtful and honest meditation on how we remember or consider artists and their art. The power dynamics between a white man and his black girlfriend, and then between the black girlfriend and his white mother felt important, even if at some points that frame was more deliberately visible than in others.

However, it took too long to understand that this was not a play about interpersonal relationships. That Girlfriend would stay with Calvin because his work interested her, or because she felt she could see a side of him in his work that he didn’t display in their relationship is revealing. When we feel connected to a piece it’s hard not to feel connected to the artist who made it. Really asks what it costs audiences and artists when we discover that the beauty behind the art comes from a darker and maybe a more irreconcilable place in the artist. This is a valuable question and I wish it were clearer earlier in the play.  We are so busy piecing together Girlfriend and Mother’s history with Calvin that we are unable to see them as three artists, rather than as two women mourning the loss of a man until the end. 

Accountability:

Theater Exile made effective choices in terms of representation. Without knowing the complex stories of each member, the team appears to be diverse: mostly women in the cast and on the design team, a black playwright known for her work which includes explicit conversations about race.

Really never divorces the power structures that surround the characters from the overall message. Although the show is neither about being a black partner to a white man, nor about being a black artist, it does not shy away from those realities. As Calvin speaks from atop his dresser, basking in and then quickly resenting his numerous achievements, we see an extraordinary effect the white supremacist patriarchy has on men: inflating their sense self until it is so stretched out they become as buoyant and as vulnerable as a balloon ready to pop. 

It’s strange that Siblies-Drury, who is so mindful of the issues of race and gender that surround her play chose to put so much focus on Calvin.  He is the only character given a name and a full history. Meanwhile, Mother and Girlfriend remain identifiable through their relationships to Calvin, and I wonder if that is intentional. Either way, I longed to know more about Girlfriend.

 

 

Written on Skin: Opera Philadelphia

The Take Away 

  • People of color do not have speaking roles and are used as props or to move scenery

 

  • Beautifully sung, but narratively confusing

 

  • Glorifies pedophilia and lifts up a wealthy landowner who verbally and physically abuses his wife

In Our Pockets

 

Benjamín

I really love opera.  I am extremely aware of its disgracefully racist and sexist history. This makes it difficult for me to enjoy the incredible music that it has produced over the past 400 years.

J

I love it too. I saw La Traviata last year at the Academy and it was really wonderful. I also am aware of the history of opera and how it doesn’t hold up, but oh, how I was unprepared for this sexism.

I was really misled by the marketing. I walked in expecting something cool and modern. I was looking forward to some atonal sound and to supermodels and weird angels in a Lynchian future. Most of all I was excited about a leading lady getting to sing about blood and sex, and own her femaleness.  So I was disappointed.

Benjamín

I read the synopsis and student guide before attending so I knew what to expect. We should also say that there were technical issues the night that we attended. 

 

Design

Benjamín

I didn’t like the choice to light all of the performers throughout the opera. They were constantly being covered in their colleague’s shadows and there were multiple instances of actors or set pieces not being properly lit. 

J

I agree, these not intentional, dramatic shadows.

 

Benjamín

Agnés’ costume was really unfair for the performer, Lauren Snouffer. She had to frequently walk up and down a skinny spiral staircase in a dress with a long trail. It easily could have snagged on the steps or she could have slipped on it. It was hard to watch. 

The costume designer was also the set designer. I would not have guessed that considering how little costumes and set belonged to a cohesive vision. 

J

It seemed like the director didn’t know how to fill the giant set. 

Benjamín

I found the big grey box more unwieldy than innovative.  Some of the scene transitions were painfully lethargic and silent. 

J

There was a technical issue the night we attended during the first transition, but there were other issues, for example the door they were having trouble opening.

Benjamín

I saw one of the supers struggling to open it and the stage manager in me was internally screaming, “YOU GOT THIS! I AM ROOTING FOR YOU! WE ARE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!” because that door was not budging.

The blackouts were even more depressing since you could see audience members leaving the hall with their coats and possessions in hand. They clearly weren’t planning to come back. 

Also, the fight sequences were not carefully choreographed and the lack of realism took me out of what was supposed to be a tragic moment.

J

Musically, Agnés and the Boy had the best pieces of the evening.

Benjamín

Agreed! Their duets were beautiful! The instrumentation was certainly unique. It included pebbles, a typewriter, viola da gamba, and glass harmonica (shout out to the instrument’s inventor, Philadelphia’s own Benjamin Franklin!)

J

I like atonal music, but I felt this piece often verged on screechy.  Especially when Agnés went full on wildcat in Part II.

Benjamín

I liked the way they took advantage of certain words for percussive effects. Overall, though, I feel this is the kind of music that turns people off contemporary opera. It was overly ethereal and chaotic when it didn’t need to be. I was really unclear on melodic continuity throughout the piece. And there were a lot of instances of atonality for atonality’s sake. 

J

There was no real musical theme connecting the characters’ motivation or even telling us who they were. Part of the reason that I enjoyed Marie so much is that I understood who she was.

Performances

Benjamín

I was really unhappy when the supers, the only POC in the production, silently stood still for entire scenes holding the illuminated pages like they were a display case. I appreciate the nod to #representationmatters by having #diversity on stage but that does not mean giving artists of color subservient, non-speaking or inanimate roles. 

J

Marie (Kristina Szabo) was a shining star among the cast. Every time she was on stage she transcended the melodrama of the moment to make something not just well sung but also theatrically interesting.

Benjamín

I loved her voice as well! I just wished she was more than just a plot point. Anthony Roth Costanzo, the countertenor that portrayed the Boy, was also a standout. His voice is soaring and angelic. However, seeing him remove his shirt to seduce Agnés and then remembering that he is portraying a child was disturbing to watch.

J

I hated that shirt moment. The character was upsetting, but so well sung.

This interpretation of The Protector didn’t work for me. 

Benjamín

No. He was too villainous. Opera has its fair share of misogynist womanizers but this character takes it to a new level. He neglects the people that worked in his fields. He abuses his wife. He murders the Boy. He rips out his heart and forces his wife to eat it. He’s a corrupt narcissist. All of that puts the responsibility on the actor to find shades within it.

J

To help make the character credible, I think he needs some degree of charm, or some redeeming quality to help us understand why his wife stays. Agnés…. what the fuck are you doing?  Run.

Benjamín

Where would she go? 

J

I know. That’s my own modern sensibilities. If I lived in the opera canon, I’d probably run to the battlefield and die in a fiery shootout, or fall into a flaming pit. That would be on brand for me.

 

Direction

J

My question here though is how thoughtful and reflective Opera Philadelphia was about this subject matter.

Benjamín

Instead of contextualizing the story and using it critically, this production seems to be  endorsing the Protector’s behavior.

So much was invested into bringing this production to life. I really wish Opera Philadelphia had reached out to or partnered with an organization in the city, like WOAR or Planned Parenthood, that could lend insight about abuse.

J

I agree. It doesn’t feel like the subject matter was handled with care.

Benjamín

In this moment of the #metoo movement and another Kimmel Center resident company handling allegations of sexual misconduct from one of their conductors, it feels tone deaf for Opera Philadelphia not to think about what this opera says in a larger context.

This is what happens when men control the narrative and the direction in stories about what happens to women.

 

The Script

 

J

I had a lot of questions about the rules that governed this world. I did enjoy Marie’s little shoe patter song, but it put some anachronisms in the timeline. We have airline miles in this medieval world?

Benjamín

I turned to the person next to me when I heard the airline lyric and asked if I understood that correctly because I was so surprised by a lone contemporary reference in 14th century France.

Benjamín

I agree that it was hard to find a sense of place, or how things worked in these places. For example, the book the Boy used to sensuously put into words his exploits with Agnés weren’t in the same world as the illuminated pages. Where were each of these stories taking place, and how “real” were they meant to be?

J

I’m also offended that the script asks us to empathize with the Protector.

Benjamín

We watch a woman who was married as a teenager seduce a boy and demonstrate a generational cycle of pedophilia. Not only that, but we have to hear her husband read the “secret page” that describes pedophilia in sensuous detail set to music. It’s not a condemnation. It’s a celebration, and it’s meant to be sexy. 

 

Accountability 

J

I always enjoy the event of going to the opera. I had a fine evening. Overall, however, I was perplexed by what this opera is trying to say. It seemed to glorify outdated gender roles and pedophilia, but I’m not sure to what end. 

Benjamín

I would love to know why this story resonated with Benjamin (composer) and Crimp (librettist) and why Opera Philadelphia decided to pursue this work this season when they could have done something less alienating and problematic. It’s so important to cultivate the future of opera, and piece did the opposite.  The audience members that left during the show proved that. 

Keep believing! There is great non-sexist opera out in the world but it is not at the Academy of Music right now.

Sensitive Guys- InterAct Theater

The Take Away

  • Refreshingly funny script by MJ Kaufman that provokes important questions while avoiding resolution.

  • Strong performances by the ensemble in a number of different roles.

  • Effective design choices, if sometimes lacking in specificity

  • A cast of all female and non-binary performers raises questions about who is responsible for bringing problems of toxic masculinity to light.

 

In Our Pockets

 

Nan

I know several people in the show; I haven’t worked at InterAct but I’ve auditioned more than once, and I really was not a fan of Broken Stones this fall.

 

C

I also knew a few people involved in the show, both performers and members of the creative team. I’ve seen several shows at Interact over the years, some of which I’ve loved and others I’ve not been crazy about.

 

Design

Nan

I thought the set dressing was really lovely– between the plant and the student notices papering the door, there was a lot to add color to a show which didn’t really have or need any set pieces. The set itself was simple and totally did the job. I appreciated the sneaky upstage entryways which weren’t really “doors” in the room, but enabled them to enter and exit more than one way.

 

C

Agreed. I felt the same way about the small cabinets under the bookshelves that helped facilitate quick-changes. I also thought the set succeeded in creating a recognizable prestigious-college atmosphere. I especially loved the portrait of the college’s founder (an old white man, naturally) hovering above the action.

 

Nan

For sure. They didn’t need a lot of objects to build the atmosphere. The placement of the old white man in a major focal point was also really wise! The sound design was fun but kinda took me out of it– that mix tape style of riot grrl tracks? But on the other hand I also would rather have that than orchestral, atmospheric music.

 

C

Yeah, I hear that. I think that the music choices grew on me as the show went on–I appreciated that they accompanied these kind of fun and really well-choreographed transitions between scenes and characters. But it took some getting used to.

I also really liked the overall look of the transitions, especially Maria Shaplin’s lights. They helped kind of seal in each vignette and then push us into the next.

 

Nan

The transitions were really elegantly done. I appreciated that they tried to make something of them rather than just trying to move through them as fast as possible. They made a nice button between scenes.

 

C

Totally. The costumes were also all designed in a way that kept those moments really tight. I especially liked Emily Lynn’s skirt that they could kind of swirl off in their transition to their male character.

 

Nan

I appreciated that the costumes had a really difficult job in making each character totally distinct and also being easy to get off and on quickly, but there were a few that didn’t quite work for me, and Emily’s “Diana” role was one of them. Maybe it was mostly because they seemed so uncomfortable? But the hair stitched into the hat looked super unnatural as well. There also wasn’t quite enough differentiation between Lexie Braverman’s costumes for me.

 

C

I think that there’s a challenge in this show of trying to create a lot of distinct characters through costuming using only a handful of actors, and some were certainly more successful than others. I really likes the costuming for all the adult characters–i thought they felt more complete and specific.

Direction

Nan

I think it was pretty crucial they chose a nonwhite man to direct, though why they couldn’t find a woman or NB person of color I am not sure. Is there a less bitter way to say that?

 

C

I appreciate that there were a lot of female and non-binary voices on the creative team, but I hear you.

I think that this script is challenging in the way it tackles painful topics with subversive humor and satire.

I thought Evren Odcikin managed to navigate the tone of the piece pretty successfully throughout. As we were talking about with the musical scene transitions, I found that it took me a little while to settle in as an audience member (What am I laughing at? Should I laugh at this?). But I think that those bits of discomfort were intentional.

 

Nan

I really appreciated Odcikin’s touch as a director– also having read an earlier draft of the play, I definitely got the feeling that he’s a really solid director for new work, in addition to being nonwhite and really bringing that to the table in a play about a super white institution and how minority populations navigate it. I appreciated that the script was really centered in this production, with the words able to speak for themselves and not too much design or other choices smashed on top.

 

C

Agreed. And again, those transitions! (Can you tell I’m obsessed with transitions?) They worked so well as a way of laying bare the transformation of the actors from one character to another, so kind of winking at this device in a meta way, without being boring or overwrought or slowing the show down!

 

Nan

Yes! Such a smart choice. Though of course the night we saw it there was one rogue audience member who kept clapping through the transitions?? Like it was a musical???

 

C

Oh my god

Yes.

WHY?

 

Nan

Humans. Honestly.

 

Performances

 

C
Everyone here had a marathon of a show, with at least two roles per actor.


Nan
Absolutely! There was some really elegant work for sure. And a script that needs everyone’s ensemble work and sharing to be really solid, which they absolutely rose to. I was pretty distracted by the LOW men’s voices for a good chunk of the show.


C
Yeah, I hear that. It was something that struck me at first but I kind of settled into. What I appreciated in the ensemble’s male characters was that they sort of went hard on stereotypically “male” physicality at first (so much manspreading) But as the show went on their characters were fleshed out and started to feel more real.

I was really struck by Lexie Braverman’s performances as Jordan and Jones–both of those characters were different examples of men who really want to be “good” but have just huge fucking blind spots about their privilege–I thought she nailed the psychology there.


Nan
Yeah, it did feel like a  deliberate progression, for sure. I think it was also meant to be really striking in the beginning and wear off, which mostly worked, for me, but raised interesting questions about why it’s assumed that we need to hear this kind of commentary from specifically lighthearted, non cis male voices for it to land? 

I really enjoyed Braverman’s performance. The scene in which she really loses her temper as Jordan and breaks down to show his true colors was really skillfully played.
I also really loved Bi Jean Ngo as Pete. The extreme masculinity was surprisingly natural coming from her, and her final Pete scene was really lovely.


C
Me too! I also thought that Maggie Johnson brought a really powerful vulnerability as Leslie and a lot of nuance as Will–their portrayal of that character really put me on edge, somehow.


Nan
Yes! Johnson’s work was really nuanced in a play where the temptation to play extremes as far as possible was very high. I did want a little more out of the character to round out their journey towards the end though.

 

The Script

 

C

I have been thinking a lot about the end of the show since we saw it on Saturday.  Overall, the play felt a little unresolved. I wanted more from Maggie’s character Leslie as the action concluded.  But I wonder if that was intentional. Part of what this piece deals with well is the question of what justice or resolution in the wake of an assault looks like, and usually that question does not have a concrete answer. So maybe the play’s structure was meant to reflect that.

 

Nan

In the earlier draft I read, the show actually finished with Danny being confronted and proceeding to sort of “own” his actions and apologize. On one hand I’m really glad they did not let him get off that easily this time, but I also felt very unresolved at the end, like it dropped off very suddenly.

Mostly what the ending left me thinking about this time is why non cis male voices are necessary to tell this story. I think the intention is to make the content more accessible through comedy, and using different voices to really put high focus on these cis male issues because they are so jarring coming from non cis male performers. But I also think that it sort of lets audiences off the hook. Why should it be on women and NB people to voice these problems? If it had ended with Danny apologizing, why do we have to be the ones to muppet the things we want to hear out of men? I found myself wondering how the show would have gone if it were a cis male cast.

 

C

Mmm. That’s a really interesting point. I am glad that the ending of the show felt unresolved if the alternative was a sort of redemption arc for Danny. I think for me the choice to cast non-cis male performers felt less like a heaping of the responsibility of education onto female and non-binary performers, and more like an opportunity to clown, mock, and take back the narrative from cis males. But I really see your point here.

 

Nan

It’s true, it was incredibly fun it was to watch the cast mock toxic masculinity.

 

C

And to mock the men who think they’ve freed themselves of it.

 

Nan

Absolutely. I also appreciated the amount of time devoted to watching all the characters self correct to be less problematic– adding they/them pronouns, moving from “girls” to “women” — it was mostly the guys but even on the women’s side, it was good to watch everyone trying to do better.

 

C

Totally. I think that part of what I found so endearing about the end of the play is the way that that Pete is trying so openly and sincerely to be better–and still fucking up all the time. There is an interesting dynamic at play in the piece where the men’s group becomes the kind of “safe space” where secrets and horrible behavior are kept hidden as long as a person claims they are learning from it. I think that the play is a compelling illustration of how those spaces can come to be havens for shitty behavior, and how real openness and accountability has to exist outside of sealed spaces like it.

 

Nan

Yes! I’ve been thinking and talking a lot lately about about what happens in the wake of assault, specifically after a call out or once the assault comes to light. By ending where it does, the play seems to try to completely center survivors’ experiences and what it means to stand up for them, but the most interesting part of the play for me was what happens inside the men’s group once Danny’s actions begin to come to light. How do we move forward? The production strongly chooses not to answer that question, but I’m glad it’s the final query they leave the audience with, and hopefully conversations were started after the lights went down.

 

C

It’s a question I’ve been sitting with for a few days now too.

 

Accountability

 

C

This production feels incredibly timely given the #MeToo movement, and I found it both provocative and in moments incredibly cathartic. It felt powerful to be able to laugh with folx about an issue that has gotten so much media attention lately that it’s become exhausting to talk about.

 

Nan

Oh my god yes.

 

C

And in that way, I think it has something to say to a lot of different types of people. I would hope that cis men would be unsettled and activated by it. And I hope that for everyone else, there is something in it that feels life-giving or resonant.

 

Nan

Absolutely. I’m really glad it is being produced.

 

 

 

 

 

Tiger Style- Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists

The Take Away

  • This was a very fun and meaningful theater experience for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show before that so particularly delved in the Asian American experience. I felt like I got a unique look into a culture outside of mine. The show was very funny, many greatly set up comedic moments. The entire cast did a great job, with extra kudos to Arlen Shane Hancock, Anita Holland, and Daniel Kim who executed multiple characters and many quick changes.

  • A pretty good production, with some stylistic inconsistencies perhaps, and ultimately still really, really important for me (and the whole damn city) to see.

  • With a perhaps rocky start, this was a really solid show that was smartly crafted and performed, about an experience we don’t often see on our stages, which was really important to watch.

 

In Our Pockets

Steele

I didn’t come into the show with any preconceived notions. I actually didn’t know much of anything about it besides it was being presented by PAPA. I was a clean slate.

 

Elias

I am an active member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists and gave a small amount of labor to the production. I know almost everyone involved in the production personally.

 

Linor

I know of and support PAPA’s work, but I didn’t work on the show and only tangentially know some of the people who made it.

 

Design

Steele

Lights set the scene and mood for individual locations and I experienced really clean movement of lights up and down between quick scene changes from stage manager Melody Wong. 

Elias

The lights mostly did a competent job of keeping the show lit and setting mood for scenes, though I downstage left was underdeveloped. The overall lighting design felt a little stylistically inconsistent, which may have been a directing issue.

Linor

I agree with all of that; the lighting design felt at some points patchy, but not in a way that fully distracted me from the action onstage

Steele

Daniel Ison’s soundtrack was really great! While I’m not at all well versed in Asian hip-hop the music choice hit on a major theme of the show for me – that Asian people are a part of their culture, but also individual human beings and that manifests in breaking down the boxes they are usually put in.

Elias

Yes! The Ison’s choice on the soundtrack really worked for me. It helped set the overall feeling of the play and in making transitions.

Steele

Asaki Kuruma’s costuming was appropriate and the quick changes, especially for the actors who played multiple characters, were well executed.

It did feel like the downstage left area- which you also mentioned was underlit– was also underdeveloped in comparison to the upstage, and downstage right areas sets.

Linoor

I was actually pleasantly surprised by my ability to follow the story without being confused about location, so kudos to both the designer and the performers that were able to make use of the space so well.

Elias

I do understand the constraints of the budget can limit prop choices but I wondered how anybody gets IT work accomplished with a Chromebook. I loved the tiny piano in the second act: it functioned as a great joke as well as a storytelling device.

The fight choreography (no choreographer credited) did a decent job of telling the story without getting in the way, and the actors performed it adeptly. I also particularly enjoyed the movement piece set to the sonata in the second act. I thought that was a very creative and well-executed solution to a script challenge.

 

Performances

 

Steele

Richard Chan and Stephanie Walters were strong comedic leads.

Elias

I think the direction didn’t offer enough of an arc, and as a result their portrayals came off as one-note, or without as many levels as I feel like the text demanded.

That said, it was a very good note.  Chan and Walters do a very admirable job carrying the play forward. Both their energy and commitment to their characters and the narrative arc of the play are consistently high and fast-paced, without being confusing. They play off each other so very well and offer that harmony to the audience.

Linoor

I agree with you, Elias, that Chan and Walters’ performers felt at times one-note, more at the beginning than towards the end. Maybe it was that I finally found a rhythm with the performance, or maybe because the beginning was just off to a weird start the night that I was there, but the world of the show really starts to hum for me when they go back to their parents’ house for dinner the first time.

Steele

Those who played multiple roles did a great job distinguishing their characters. Daniel Kim in particular showed great range between is more comedic and serious characters.

Elias

Daniel Kim’s comedic timing is impeccable, and he lends a lot of humor to every character he portrays. Having said that, I could have used more differentiation between his roles. Unless there was a distinct directorial or textual choice being made that I missed, I think the show would have benefited from more vocal differentiation (yes, maybe even an accent, bad Asian, Elias!) for the Weird Old Chinese Guy Tzi Chuan versus Melvin. The choices for General Tso showed more distinctiveness.

Arlen Hancock was in the difficult position as an actor of having to play one hate-able character after another and he succeeded. I really hated all his characters, and all for different reasons!

Anita Holland is a standout performer for me. Their presence onstage is unmistakable and palpable, and I think they did an incredible job of creating multiple complex, motivated characters. Playing with the parallels between the western therapist and the Chinese matchmaker was also excellent.

 

Direction

 

Steele

Staging and physicality of the characters was done well. The actors seemed to move around the stage in alignment with the text. I particularly enjoyed the use of the stage left door.

 

Elias

I’m less enthusiastic about the direction. I wasn’t sure, exactly, if this play was supposed to be stylized or not. Some strong choices came through in places where the actors would, apparently, address the audience, but those choices were inconsistent. Sometimes it felt like it was trying to be a flat-out madcap comedy, while other times it retreated from that energy and became, stylistically, more like a couch-and-talk play. That might be one of the challenges of the script itself, which sometimes stops its own action in order to try to tell the audience all the issues of society instead of showing them. I felt like I needed more commitment from the direction than I had.

Jeff Liu did do a great job of ensuring the pace kept moving forward, and that is a major challenge of some points of the script.

 

Linor

Oh wow, that’s so interesting, because the one thought I had consistently during my experience was this director really knows what they’re doing. While I agree with you about the tension between stylization and naturalism, I frequently felt that I could see the hand of the director really expertly guiding the performances through that tension to these great moments of mad-cap, yes, and also of public pleas for recognition.

The problems I had were with the playwright more than the direction: you’re right that the play gets in its own way, but I thought the direction handled those moments really expertly.

 

The Script

 

Steele

There were moments where I felt like the mini monologues coming from the main characters were too wordy. I couldn’t tell if it was an overuse of exposition or if it was a strategic way to express to the audience all the narratives that run through the sibling’s heads at any given moment as they think about balancing their culture with their individuality. Were we supposed to feel overwhelmed by their thoughts like they do? Could Lew have shown, rather than told to get those points across?

 

Elias

Mike Lew’s play is relatively new, written in 2016. It has the feel of an early work of a playwright who was driven to try to work out the numerous and overwhelming issues of being raised as a marginalized person in the United States, specifically as a child of immigrants and as a model minority. As a result, sometimes the text gets crowded with trying to get those ideas and feelings out, and it pushes aside the story being told. And I’m someone who really, really likes crowding conversations with the issues and ideas and feelings!

There are a lot of good jokes in the mix, and many of them very specifically revealing the Asian-American experience and immigrant identities, and those really worked for me. The overall pacing of the direction did help with those moments that might have otherwise really bogged down the show.

 

Linor 

I thought that Lew tricked himself into these moments of explanation when really, the best jokes and the best moments were the spots where the play was unapologetically, inexplicably itself. No explanation necessary. In that way, it did feel like early work of a really promising playwright. In the end, because it traveled to so many stylistic places (and so many geographic locations!) and because some of the conversations felt more realistic than others, I felt like we were zooming back and forth between styles that the playwright thought worked for each moment, when really, we could have stayed in the hyper-mad cap style and I think the play would have been better for it.

 

Accountability

Steele

This play both serves Asian American, allowing them to see themselves and their issues on stage, as well as others, giving us a much needed view into the Asian American experience. The play was perfectly inclusive for the context of the show. While the white characters were almost caricatures I think they were written in such an outlandish way that the audience understood they represented the wildest of white male personality traits that Asian people encounter.

 

Elias

I’ve said a lot of things that are critical of this production, but the bottom line for me is still this: it’s important that this production, led by a majority Asian-American production team, under the representation of an actively-advocating Asian-American theatre organization is happening right now in Philadelphia theatre.

I think it’s really important that this play exists right now, because I cannot remember a single time in my 10-year-history of being a part of this community that I’ve seen that many Asian faces onstage in a full production, that I heard an Asian-American story told by Asian Americans, fully embodied in a complete production. The only other time I saw anything even close to  that was on Broadway, and it took until 2016. This play was for people like me: a child of immigrants, hovering unsteadily between worlds that they can neither own nor be owned by, a tenuous place of belonging/not-belonging that lends a lifetime of core instability.

And it was important that it was funny! And it was so funny, in so many places. We survive because sometimes we can just laugh at the absurdity of the luck-of-the-draw of our birth. And this production didn’t need to be mindblowingly, exceptionally awesome to be important, because we’ve all worked at least twice as hard for four times as long to get half as much recognition, or resources, or even acknowledgment of our existences, while even more mediocre plays by white people (and even actually bad plays by white people) get more of the recognition and resources and second-, third-, umpteenth-chances to continue producing. You don’t need a shining titanium-alloy tool to break a chain; sometimes you only get a rusty hammer, and you pound away. This production, by these folks, in this city, was still groundbreaking, and that’s why it’s important it’s here.

 

Linor

What you said.