Theatre Exile – Completeness

Reviewers: Janae and Linor

 

The TakeAways

  • Heteromantic comedy
  • Engaging performances
  • Writing that was often compelling
  • On-the-nose design

 

In Our Pockets

Janae: I’m a POC Philly based performance artist, writer, and friend of Mary Tuomanen and James Ijames. I have seen a couple of Theatre Exile productions and done a couple of readings there.

Linor: I’m a white Philly based maker and playwright. I’ve seen quite a few shows from Theatre Exile and for the most part I like the work they produce.

 

Design

Linor: The lights by Alyssandra Docherty, like most of the elements of the play, revved up for me so that by the time we were in the last third of the play, I found myself surprised by them – in a good way. I don’t know if you had that experience also?

Janae: I’d have to say yes. They revved up and I was surprised, but I think I have feelings about the element of surprise being the way to go. I’ll save that for direction. Otherwise, the lighting was crisp and clean.

Linor: Ooh, I can’t wait to talk more about that. But yes, the lighting totally built an arena that was clinical and technical – something that’s not really in my taste but made a lot of sense for the piece.

Janae: I agree. The sound design by Mike Kiley was both highly resonant and playfully realistic. The thought of how technology and white noise can be both an assault on the senses and yet just a part of life at the same time was an interesting take.

Linor: Honestly, at first the sound design felt so on the nose that it bothered me, but like I said before, as the story revved, so did the design, and I found myself liking it more by the end of the play.

Janae: Costumes by Alison Roberts showed a level of progression as the characters went through different phases. I thought they were effective.

Linor: Yeah, totally. And really specific to their characters, and their characters’ sense of self. I also appreciated that the costuming to differentiate all the different roles Justin Rose and Claire Inie-Richards were playing was subtle but evocative.

Janae: Absolutely.

Linor: Colin McIlvaine’s set, similar to the clinical/technical lighting choices – made a lot of sense for the container the play was investigating. You know, technology, and the intersection between these high academic science and engineering theories and gritty human interactions. I think in general my problem with the design in this production was that it felt so on the nose to the container, but not necessarily to the actual themes and questions the play was grappling with (how do we communicate with each other?). The actual humanity of the play is so messy, and I kind of longed to see that in the design. Does that make sense?

Janae: Yes that does make sense. In Itamar Moses’ interview, he said he didn’t need a degree in computer science to get at the specifics of the traveling salesman problem. The set was a well executed experiment in microchip design and tiny living. Which speaks somewhat to the immense amounts of data sets and combinations in the traveling salesman problem, but then can blur out the actual humanity as you said. But I want to shout out Eli Lynn for intimacy choreography. First of all, hell yes to intimacy choreography! Thank you Eli Lynn for the work done! From my perspective I felt intimacy without objectification.

Linor: I agree! I’m so happy to know that Theatre Exile used an intimacy choreographer. I think Eli did a great job and more importantly, I felt like the nudity and intimacy was handled with total and utter respect. You could feel that the actors were comfortable, so I felt comfortable. Finally, props (Shaelyn Weatherup) were light on the ground for this show – most of the physical dressings were integrated into the set, similarly in this clinical, tech style. It was actually the props and the costumes that made me feel like I was even watching real humans at all. I think, once again, I just wished that this human vs. tech element had been woven together more successfully.

Janae: I’m gonna go ahead and agree with you on that.

 

Performances

Linor: I’ve never seen James Ijames act before, and I’m a huge fan of Mary Tuomanen. I was really compelled by their chemistry – they seemed pretty natural together. I also feel like James did a great job of capturing a character who was sympathetic even as you watched him self destruct a little bit. I mean, they both did a good job with that.

Janae: I was delighted to have them walk me through some pretty dense terminology and just enjoyed the way they played together. Justin Rose and Claire Inie-Richards came through on the supporting roles. It was interesting to see the humanity breathed into all these flawed and at times clingy characters.

Linor: I agree. I think all of the characters must have been so fun to play for these actors – to really step into these chewy, at times disagreeable roles – people who were throwing tantrums or avoiding each other, or loving each other. I could tell everyone was having a good time.

 

Direction

Linor: I believe you had some thoughts about the direction?

Janae: Yes and I think this has something to do with your issues with design as well. You can tell me what you think. The thing that really got to me was the handoff as Elliot and Molly split ways, leading to the cacophonous breakdown. I felt it came out of nowhere and the choreography in that moment didn’t feel supported or dropped in earlier. There could have been a way to seed in a gesture of that cacophony sooner. I also just felt like if they wanted to lean so far into tech land then that part of the world could have had earlier glitches or surges as well. Does that make sense?

Linor: Totally. I think the choreography of that moment was a little gimmicky. And it lasted a while – I understand that it was building up to this moment of overload, but I found myself totally taken out of the piece. And it was in that moment when I realized that I was watching a relationship play. I was like, oh, this is just about a break-up. Again, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, it just makes me kind of check out. But to be honest – after the overload choreography and in that space of pause when Justin and Claire came out and took a breath with the audience – then I was totally hooked. It was one of the first times the play got me leaning forward.

Janae: Fair. I could smell the relationship play earlier. I think the checkout is not a bad thing but I just feel that because I could see it coming it sooner I just wanted more crafting around it. Me and my aesthetic wants are creeping in.

Linor: I hear you – though I don’t think it’s only your aesthetic. While the design elements certainly converged in that moment (the revving up I had mentioned before), I agree that there could have been glimpses of these cacophony in some of the direction.

 

The writing

Linor: So I as I said before, I definitely felt myself checking out the moment I realized this play was a break-up play. Which is a shame, because I think the playwright is smart. The stuff he was writing about is smart, and I actually think the structure of the play is super interesting. I loved the break in the play when Justin and Claire came out as themselves. What did you think of that moment?

Janae: I was there for it because I love that exercise. I also enjoyed people-watching to see who was uncomfortably giggly and how the actors worked with that in a moment of silence. Meanwhile I couldn’t help but notice that none of the characters ever apologized for their actions. Or at least that’s how it felt, and that has stayed with me. It just seemed a little too clean, and in platitudes about relationships. It felt like no one ever got a thought out completely.

Linor: Oh I totally agree with that, it drove me crazy. I know that that’s a writer’s choice, but likewise, talking around the thing felt evocative of a relationship, not demonstrating an actual one. Or at least, it felt like a relationship where everything was really symbolic. You know, we feel the moment that they slip away from each other, and most of it’s informed by what they don’t say rather than what they do. I suppose that some relationships definitely operate like that but of course that can make it a little hard for an audience member to follow. We can’t hear what they’re thinking, so how would we know what’s really going on?

Janae: Essentially the story here was “spill your guts to a special someone, and then go have sex with a whole bunch of people in order to come to some level of self actualization (without doing any inner work) and then realize that this special one is the one.”

 

Accountability

Linor: I guess on one level – this play is for people who are ambitious. And most people can relate to the feelings of relationships that don’t work or don’t communicate effectively. But I guess what was missing to me the most was a sense of why this play matters now – I don’t really know the answer to that. But I’m willing to be convinced! Maybe I’m just butting up against my own tastes here. I don’t really feel like we need to produce a ton of plays about straight people not being able to communicate with each other very well. But perhaps that’s ungenerous.

Janae: I’m right there with you. I can only posit that this play is for differing generations and we need it now because despite the changes in technology, the problems of relationships remain the same. But then to me that just ends up holding a mirror to the stagnant nature of heterosociety for the past who knows how many years, and offers no real questions about how to move forward/evolve. Yes, we can be here in the quiet in the same room together and breathe, but can we learn to truly listen to one another? I don’t know. On another note, I had trouble with the casting. On the Samuel French page for Completeness, the only casting attribute it says is ‘non-traditional casting,’ which makes the tokenization of James Ijames is an interesting choice. Of course that’s a ratio of 3:1 white people to POC, and in the house of where the ratio was approximately 118:2 I suppose it’s about right. But what does “non-traditional” actually mean?

Linor: I agree with you, although I will say that I don’t know how Claire Inie-Richards identifies, and we could be reading her incorrectly as white. But I am right there with you on this “non-traditional” casting nonsense. It’s honestly the laziest form of playwright instruction. I can’t tell you the number of plays I’ve read where the playwright writes “playwright encourages nontraditional casting” as an addendum to the character descriptions and thinks they’ve done the work. It’s useless, because most theaters are going to look at that word ‘encourage,’ completely ignore it, and cast whoever they want. If that’s actually what Itamar Moses wrote in his character descriptions – based on the Samuel French page, so I presume it’s accurate – that’s a big bummer. The best way to ensure diverse casting is by being a playwright who specifies the race of each character within their unique character descriptions, not as an addition to be considered, and then ignored politely by theaters.

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Shreshth Khilani – Immigrant Kitchen

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Reviewer: Janae Goldsmith
In My Pockets
I’m a queer poc living in West Philly. I had just flown in the night before from my old stomping grounds with a bagful of memorabilia and a heart full of family. I enjoy experiences that don’t fit into the “traditional” theatre model. I met Shreshth in the performing arts community, and we’ve broken bread before.
Design
Immigrant Kitchen is part play part chef’s table. A journey in myth, memory, and communion – seamless storytelling in an intimate space. Immigrant Kitchen is simultaneously unfolding and sharing old memories while making new ones.
The design to my eye was entirely practical. The piece took place in a lovely West Philly community house. The feeling was no frills, just warm and real. I’d say the ingredients and the cooking ware were the strongest elements of design – if not the characters themselves. Lentils and okra have taken on new meaning for me, and I must say I love me some pressure cooker action woven into storytelling.
Performance
Shreshth Khilani’s performance is one of a life still being lived. To that end, in a sense, life is a performance that begins before our arrival and continues after the audience has left. Shreshth weaves in and out of the roles of host, storyteller, and facilitator seamlessly. The moments of stillness and circling gave me a sensation of something churning beneath the surface that inevitably must be released.
Direction
Jeremy Cohen’s direction is deft, threading together multiple ingredients with strains of linear and nonlinear narrative. The piece also carved out space for the audience’s journey, and for any myriad of responses therein.
Writing
Immigrant Kitchen begins with the breaking of bread (papad – the only thing served that we did not cook ourselves), and a guessing game of ingredients. We discuss a foodie article in the New Yorker that lead to an approximation of nostalgia. This conversation planted seeds for the narrative, and opened the space up for whatever input or memories might arise among individuals. We followed Shreshth on a journey of sense memory and nostalgia, a story of femininity, maternity, queerness and becoming. We learned lessons from Arjuna and Amba, all while participating in the production of a delicious and medium spicy meal which we ate after the show was “officially” over, though the sharing of intimacy continued.
Accountability
Immigrant Kitchen is for folx that want to be themselves and be with others. This play is for immigrants, emigrants, queer, gender nonconforming people. It’s for people who have traveled here and are willing to share and listen and learn on the journey.
It’s always refreshing and heartening for me to see a queer, gender nonconforming, POC sharing their story and spearheading the project in its entirety. I look forward to more!

EgoPo Classic Theater – A Human Being Died That Night

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Reviewers: Steele and Rue

The Takeaways

  • All the production elements were simple enough to let the two actors shine 
  • This is a very important story to have onstage right now
  • While the production succeeded in getting its message across there may be some disconnect between the production’s goals and the play’s goals

 

In our pockets

Steele: I know and love Niya Colbert, and I’ve partnered with EgoPo before.

Rue: I came into this show knowing absolutely nothing except for one of the performers.

 

Design

Steele: I thought the lights (Amanda Jensen) for the movement between Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela’s (Niya Colbert) presentation and when she was in the prison with Eugene de Kock (Paul Nolan) were simple and effective.

Rue: I completely agree. I thought the lights were really clean and efficient. The framing of the play where Pumla breaks away from the intimate prison scenes was largely informed by the changing lights. I had questions about the windows though–light was coming through them, but it felt like there was a lack of specificity as to what those lights meant and what any changes in them were supposed to tell me.

Steele: I agree. There was only one time when the lighting in the window made me feel like we had moved into the morning, but other than that I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to get from their shifts. I also wish the convention of Pumla’s character showing a powerpoint was used at least one more time.

Rue: Yes! Opening with the powerpoint set up expectations for me that it would be a much more consistent convention. I did think that the powerpoint was in a strange position for half the audience, so having it appear only once did remedy that for me.

Steele: I attributed that problem to the simple set, though I also found the position of the powerpoint strange.

Rue: It felt to me like the set design came first and the powerpoint was made to fit after, rather than integrating the two together (which, seeing as the powerpoint only happened once, does make sense). Moving into sound – to be blunt, I thought the sound was a little distracting. The opening cue was really hard for me to hear. And there were a number of cues that felt out of place or unacknowledged and took me away from the intimate immersive experience (like the brawl happening outside the prison room in the middle of the play).

Steele: I really craved more of the natural sound of the room for such an intimate setting. I loved when we heard the chains rattle. I wanted to hear water pouring, chair squeaking, pens tapping, etc.

Rue: Sound notwithstanding, the costumes provoked a pretty big question I had about the whole show for me.

Steele: Oooh, what are you thinking?

Rue: The big thing I walked away from the show thinking was, whose story was it? A lot of the different elements of the show had me torn, but costumes was a big one. Overall, I thought the costumes were really effective: simple, clean, told us a lot about the characters quickly–Pumla in her muted pant suit and Eugene in a bright orange prison uniform. But the costumes made Pumla recede a bit to me. She blended more into the gray of the set, whereas Eugene literally visually popped. It gave him more focus, in my opinion, by default.

Steele: OH, I was thinking about this too. I had a lot of thoughts around the fact that the play really does set this up to be Eugene’s story. He is the focus, his journey is the one we’re tracking. I hadn’t even thought about how the costumes played into that, but I think it did. I suppose that makes sense considering (if I remember correctly) it’s based on a book Pumla wrote about Eugene. Meanwhile, the set (Yoshi Nomura) felt appropriately simple to me (noting what we’ve already mentioned about location of the powerpoint).

Rue: Agreed. I appreciated the hard edges. Angular, and reaching out into the audience a bit – it felt like it was pulling me in but keeping me at a distance at the same time. I liked that give and take. I liked that the props were sparse. Felt very consistent with the rest of the vibe of the show.

Steele: Everything felt appropriately pedestrian. And I don’t think there was anything unnecessary on stage, which was important for such an environment.

 

Performances

Steele: Niya’s restrained strength was wonderful to watch. She has the skilled ability to move from completely professional to emotional. They both did a wonderful job keeping the audience engaged in a two-person show, which isn’t easy.

Rue: I completely agree. The performances absolutely took my breath away in this production. It felt like all the technical elements were kept simple to really let them shine. I thought they had really great chemistry and played off one another incredibly well. I was impressed by Paul’s ability to command so much power during his monologues when he was literally chained to a desk almost the whole time.

Steele: I agree! It’s what made the one time he did try to pull out of range so effective, because he’d been so strong in such a small physical space.

Rue: Yes! That moment terrified me. I was like, get ready to scooch, Pumla! This show played with my mind.

 

Direction

Steele: I thought Steve Wright did a great job. He let the performers shine. I felt a bit of inequity in how much “face time” house left was given to Pumla. Although the two of them are focused on each other at most time, as they should, I felt like Eugene was able to find more moments with house right than Pumla did with house left.

Rue: I noticed that too, and completely agree. Overall, I thought the production was really consistent in the narrative it was trying to tell and, as you said, first and foremost was able to let these performers be the power houses they are.

Steele: The direction was able to give us both character’s arcs with utter emotional availability, which was great.

Rue: I really loved the choice at the end to have the characters switch which sides of the space they commanded, once Eugene wasn’t chained to the desk anymore. I always like a solid visual to accompany an emotional arc.

 

Accountability

Rue: I really think the play–in the writing–is set up to be Pumla’s story–she establishes the framing device, she’s our narrator, our tether, she creates the circumstances for their interaction to happen at all. Meanwhile, I thought EgoPo’s production pushed us to focus more on Eugene’s story than Pumla’s, and that created some tension between what the play might be trying to say and what the production wanted to say.

Steele: What I can’t determine is if that is a problem. In the curtain speech and marketing materials, it is noted that this production was picked to mirror America’s current race situation. There are plenty of stories set here in the States that could have tackled that issue. What I believe to be true is that EgoPo knew that this story takes place just far enough from their audiences’ reality (and I think specifically their older white audiences’ reality), and allows them to give a more unbiased look at the truth.

Rue: I completely agree. I think overall, the production really succeeded with that (kudos EgoPo!). What I struggled with was if there in fact was any tension between the intent of the story vs. the intent of the production. What can we learn by EgoPo pushing forward the narrative of the white character over the POC character without addressing that choice?

Steele: Yes, I felt that same tension. I want to believe that pushing the narrative of the white character over the narrative of the POC was in an effort to reach the audience they hoped to impact. This play is a good choice if they wanted to mirror America’s struggle with race. The new South African vs. Old South Africa is pretty much the same as “Make America Great Again.” White people’s fear that their way of life will shake as a result of equality is definitely relevant. Who was this play for? That’s a hard question. But I would say that the message of looking at the humanity of someone like Eugene is important. It’s important to look at where his fears came from that made him do what he did.

Rue: My initial impulse was to say that this play is trying to wake up white people, but after chewing on it, I actually think it’s for a much wider spectrum than I initially gave it credit for. Yes, making white people address their fears and irrationalities is super important and I think this play and production did that really well, but also representation in general is so important, and I can also see this production as a way for POC to get to celebrate their power. Pumla ran that room. I’d follow her anywhere, to be honest.

Steele: Absolutely!

Hager Productions – Basic Witches

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Reviewers: Wendi and Benjamin

 

The Takeaways

  • Warmth and support from start to finish
  • Beautiful performances
  • Accountability for their community

 

In our pockets

Wendi: I do not know a lot about the Drag community so that’s probably the main thing in my pockets. I didn’t feel excluded in that space, though, despite not having been to many drag shows in the past.

Benjamin: I know a lot of the folks in the show and was surprised to see so many familiar names in the program book!

 

Design

Wendi: The costumes and make-up were spot on. I love how they invoked images of the witches they were representing with the drag flair. The names were also amazing – I did spend some time trying to figure out who two of the witches were representing, but it was satisfying when it finally clicked.

Benjamin: I agree! Every new costume somehow managed to top the previous one. I loved their bed robes!

Wendi: I will say that the music was SO LOUD – to the point where there were one or two moments where I couldn’t quite understand what the performers were singing, and that frustrated me. That being said, the music was pretty good. Most songs were catchy and fun with the occasional campy-ish (but effective) I WANT songs.

Benjamin: Some of the music in the show made me feel like I was at various clubs in the Gayborhood. Some of the quieter pieces made me feel like I was at The Piano Bar at Tavern on Camac and then the next song would transport me to Voyeur at 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday night.

Wendi: Wow, that’s a great way to put it.

Benjamin: So I personally enjoyed how amped up the bass was for some of the numbers. I do agree that it may have overpowered the vocals and I missed out some of the great lyrics that Robi Hager and John Treacy Egan crafted for this musical.

Wendi: Yes, missing those lyrics was frustrating, because there were a few moments where I really didn’t know what was going on. I was along for the ride, but I was aware that there were stakes around the story that I didn’t understand.

Benjamin: Like what?

Wendi: Well there was a moment where it was time for them to do magic for the title of Supreme Witch – but I thought they had already done that. I was confused by how time passed in those moments – a year, maybe? I’m really not sure.

Benjamin: Yes! I remember being confused by that as well. Because there was a song where each witch made the lights change – it was really engaging, and so I thought it was the Magic portion of the competition, but then The Host (Eric Jaffe) later announced that the competition was coming soon – it got hard to follow.

Wendi: What about the lights?

Benjamin: The lights were the perfect level of campy.

Wendi: Lights had that club aspect for me, and I never felt harassed by them. The set was simple and easy. The costumes take up so much space and I think that was a good call.

Benjamin: I was impressed with how they were able to create wings in such a small space.

Wendi: The design was like a character. It let you know: this isn’t a regular world we are in right now.

 

The performances

Wendi: The highlight was definitely the performers.

Benjamin: Yes! They were always committed to their characters, which was so satisfying. I really appreciated that Bony (Lorenzo Ballesteros) added a layer of brujeria to the show.

Wendi: Yes!

Benjamin: The audience interaction never made me feel anxious like it does in other productions I’ve experienced.

Wendi: I think they talked to some people ahead of time. Which is what you should do. Or they made everyone comfortable enough so it would feel that way.

Benjamin: For sure. All of the performers were really good at feeding on the audience’s energy, as a collective and also with one-on-one moments.

 

The writing

Wendi: The book was lovely. I appreciated the cultural references and metaphors. I think there were a few moments where the story could have used some tightening, and I longed for clearer stakes for everyone. Eddie (Sav Souza) was such a lovely character, but it seemed like they gave up very easily on their goal. I get that they realized it wasn’t really what they wanted, but how they came to that realization wasn’t clear.

Benjamin: I really appreciated how this musical touched on transphobia within the drag community. Oceana served as a nice foil for a generation of folx on the outside, or in between the binary that have suffered prejudice. The musical was written in a way to turn the audience bias against Davanity. 

Wendi: Wow! That’s so interesting. I truly was never rooting for Davanity. I wasn’t sure which Witch to root for actually, I saw them all as the enemies to Eddie which is maybe why I wasn’t as satisfied with the ending. It was fun and low stakes, but I really didn’t get why Punkin’ (Brennen S. Malone) was crowned or what we were supposed to take away from that.

 

Accountability

Wendi: I really appreciated the care they took to call out their own community.

Benjamin: Yes, I think it’s worth it to include the Dramaturg’s note for folx who weren’t able to see this musical, because it so concisely defines the piece’s terms surrounding identity:

Transgender is an umbrella term for people who defy social expectations of how they should look, act, or identify based on their birth sex. This umbrella is expansive and some examples include everything from transgender women & men (people who were assigned female & male identifiers at birth, but knew themselves as something different) non-binary people, (a group that includes people who do not identify with gender at all, more than one gender, or a gender that is neither male nor female) and gender non-conforming people (a group that some include under non-binary, characterized by a general eschewing of conventional expectations of gender all together). These are just some of the wide expanse of transgender communities. While the conversation around transgender rights in the United States may seem fairly new, this has been an active social identity stretching back millennia with similar concepts present on every continent across the globe, such as the Cultists of Cybele in Ancient Greece, the Two-Spirit Shamans of indigenous American cultures, the Hijra of India, and even playing a significant role in European High Courts through the Renaissance.

Ninth Planet – Homeworld

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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.

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.”