Crimes of the Heart- Curio Theater Company

 

Linor

I’ve never heard of or seen this show before, and I don’t really have any connection to Curio.

Lola

I read the show once in undergrad and saw the movie once upon a time and those performances are super iconic. I really enjoy the folks at Curio and know a lot of people onstage, but I haven’t seen much there. I was excited to read about their efforts to pick shows that get more ladies in more good parts this season! That is an issue with this company that has been pointed out a number of times. 

 

Linor

Yeah, I agree, I think it’s great, and I’m also glad that that initiative didn’t lead them to the same commonly-produced plays by women, and that I was seeing a play by a woman I hadn’t heard a lot about.

 

The Take-Away

  • Enjoyable performances

  • Safe directing choices

  • Uneven design

  • Underdeveloped themes

 

Design

 

 

Linor

The only design element that really stuck out to me was the lighting – I actually was confused about time of day a couple times. The lighting didn’t seem to match the time of day the characters were mentioning. I kind of thought we were at a dusky evening the whole show, and so was alarmed whenever one of the characters would say “Good morning!”

 

Lola

There was that one sunset cue in Act II that was cool, but the whole design was so purple. I know the exact moment you’re talking about. Meg comes in “late at night” but late at night looked exactly like the lawyer walking in “early in the morning.” 

 

Linor

Yeah, those discrepancies took me out of the piece a little bit.

Lola

Damien Figueras is super talented and his sound helped set the mood at intermission and pre-show, but there wasn’t much else for him to do.

 

I was confused by Aetna Gallagher’s costumes. I didn’t feel time or place and, of the three women only Lenny’s felt like it fit with the character and time period. Babe’s outfits were especially confusing. 

Linor

They were so infantilizing! I know she’s supposed to be young but she felt creepily too young.

 

Lola

She’s 24. I think Gallagher’s intention was for her to look like a child who grew up too fast and was still trying to fit into her kid clothes…. but this solution was unflattering. The barrettes were a lot.

Linor

I could not see Doc’s face through his hair and mustache. It was incredibly distracting. Although I will say that the lawyer’s clothes were perfect for the period, and I enjoyed his suit with the bell bottom pants.

 

Lola

His too tight pants. He looked great.  I say it always: Paul Kuhn is the most underrated set designer in town. Period. This wasn’t his most inventive but it was sturdy and clean and clever. His attention to detail is amazing. In a kitchen sink drama, the sink worked!

 

 

Linor

Yes, that was something I deeply enjoyed. I agree that it was sturdy and clean, but as always with these kinds of dramas, I wonder what the balance is between realistic, feasible design and attention to dramaturgical detail. Obviously Kuhn can’t build a house in that space, but it felt like he tried to build as much of a house as he could, instead of making intentional choices about what parts of the set would bring us into the reality of the story, and what parts of the set the audience would have to fill in themselves. If you’re doing a realistic drama and don’t have the budget to build a realistic set, then it shouldn’t hover halfway between realism and suggestion. It ends up feeling uneven to me.

Lola

He built a house for The Birds. It was next level. But I see what you’re saying. For example it did feel like the stairway was an afterthought and the acting style didn’t match the abstraction. Symbolically I guess there were no doors because people can just walk in and out of the Magraff’s life, but that might also be a stretch.

 

Linor

Sure, and it’s not that I don’t love that potential symbolism, I just don’t love that parts of the set are symbolic and parts of it are very realistic.

 

Direction

 

Linor

Director Gay Carducci kept me engaged throughout the life of the piece. The only place that felt rocky to me was right at the beginning. I don’t know if Rachel Gluck (Lenny) wasn’t fully dropped in or if the moment hadn’t been given its full due in rehearsal, but I actually didn’t feel like I got a strong sense of place from the direction.

Lola

Gay Carducci is smart and I thought the direction was gentle and efficient. You could see a steady hand was in charge and I never felt like the play was going to get out of control, which in some ways is a shame. 

I felt the actors were overstaged. What was happening onstage felt very controlled, too controlled. Without a present sense of unraveling, this is just a story about some people who do some things and then it’s the end. I knew things were going to be okay from the start. 

Linor

Carducci built a really solid family – the sisters fought a lot but they love each other and will never leave each other. When I read a description of the show as “maladjusted family drama”, that doesn’t really seem to fit this production. I think that Carducci turned up the volume a LOT on this dynamic of cavalier-quirky idea of what it means to have had a family member who was mentally ill. She also made me believe that Meg had a part in the mother’s death. Her reactions were so strong every time someone mentioned it and she kept talking about their father’s white teeth. 

I think maybe it was signaling that Meg herself had struggled with mental illness, but it honestly seemed so over-earned at that point.

 

Lola

As opposed to what the script hints at, which is maybe that finding her mother was what propelled Meg into mental illness.

 

Why This Play Now?

 

Lola

The play doesn’t actually age too well. I’m sure it was shocking in its time, but it definitely feels dated. 

 

Linor

I think it could be relevant if the struggle with mental illness was at the center, rather than Babe’s redemption.  Babe really isn’t someone who feels like they’re under the thumb of mental illness. It could be a lot more subtle and questionable if the biggest question the production grappled with was not “what now?” but “is our family cursed?”

 

Lola

It’s about sensationalism a little bit, right? Babe is all over the headlines for getting back at a man who did her wrong.

Linor

That is what I liked about watching this piece now is that we’re centering some very real issues in women’s lives – abuse, mainly, but that mostly there was this underlying (if underplayed) theme of mental health. I honestly wish so badly that the production had taken that more seriously, because the “am I crazy?” question is so universal and still feels very relevant.

 

Performances

Linor

Babe (Tessa Kuhn) stayed in the safe zone for the entire show.

Lola

I did not understand who Tessa Kuhn’s Babe was. Maybe it’s because, like you said, she played it safe, but I just was confused.

 

Linor

I had trouble understanding Rachel Gluck’s choices at first, but she quickly became my favorite sister because of that nuance.

Lola

Rachel Gluck was connected and grounded and her accent was the most consistent, which is important in talky plays when accents go in and out. Meg (Colleen Hughes) was also good, but I was distracted by the fact that she’s clearly not a smoker.

Linor

Yeah. Definitely a small thing to criticize, but I agree with you, it took me out of the story. Another example where the show was performing itself, rather than living in its truth. Colleen Hughes is very funny – watching her and Rachel Gluck battle it out sister-style made me laugh so hard. Very reminiscent of my own family, especially when the fight is interrupted because company has arrived. A universally frustrating and awkward moment.

Chase Byrd, who played the lawyer, was a joy to watch.

 

Lola

Truly a joy. 

 

Linor

I just wanted to watch him listen to everyone. You can tell a truly gifted actor by how they listen.

 

 

Accountability

 

Lola

I saw the three sisters as representations of Depression (Lenny), Mania (Meg) and Bipolar Disorder (Babe). I wonder if  that was Beth Henley’s intention. I think it’s important to see more stories about mental health on stage, and this would have been very unusual in its time, especially with the focus on women.

 

Linor

There is just the vaguest skimming towards dealing with race in this show.  It felt very 1980s – we’ll talk about it but we won’t necessarily talk about. The black kid who Babe sleeps with – in the show it’s painted as a consensual, blooming relationship, but he’s 15. Babe is 24 when she sleeps with him! Nearly 10 years older than him. It felt like there was a space there that was explored, but it’s more an issue in the script than anything Curio could have done something about.

I do feel like there could have been some urgency in that relationship…because the performance is so safe, we couldn’t feel what a big deal it actually would have been. Here you have a white character in Mississippi in the 70s who’s shot her abusive white husband because he caught her having sex with an underage teenage black boy. And Babe is adamant that she does NOT want this boy implicated or in trouble at all – she really likes him. But because Kuhn’s performance – or maybe the direction – kept it so rosy, I never felt the weight of this issue.

The play is very comfortably white and not very interested in playing with that. I think my larger point is that there were a few ways in which the direction could have made this play actually really pointed and uncomfortable, but it was mostly just cozy and funny. I enjoyed myself, but maybe I shouldn’t have so much!  

Lola

I think you hit the nail on the head. Or shot the husband in the stomach. Whichever grim turn of phrase you prefer.

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The Brownings- Orbiter 3

In Our Pockets

Christine

I’ve worked with Charlotte Northeast before and I am a really big fan of her work. I was a little flustered coming into the show, because I was running late. I knew almost nothing about the historical Brownings. How about you?

Elias 

I worked directly on this production and am close friends with a number of the Orbiters. This past week I’d also been sleeping poorly and, on the day, was in a rush from staying late at work, and I also felt a bit crowded in the seating there. I also know almost nothing about the historic Brownings.
The Take-Away 

  • Great performances, very funny, fast-paced script

  • Strong, character-bolstering props and costume design

  • Sensitive and smart exploration of a complex subject and relationship

 

Design

Christine

Design-wise, I was most struck by the costumes by Marie Chiment. I sometimes sort of tune out period costumes–because I don’t really have a great sense of fashion history I have a harder time reading character from clothes I’m unfamiliar with. But I thought that the costumes for each character told us a lot about them. Especially Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s bright plaid.

Elias

Yes, I agree. I’m not sure I’m familiar with Chiment’s designs; I think this is the first one of hers I’ve seen. The pattern choice on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dress really helped tell the story, as did Robert Browning’s more-conservative three-piece suit. The whole look of all three characters appeared very well-thought-out, in addition to flattering the actors.

Christine

Also noticed late in the show that EBB’s dress had pockets, which is always much appreciated. I really enjoyed the way piano music was used to move us between vignettes through the show. It also gave Robert Schumann’s asides to the audience a really different feel than the rest of the show.

Elias

I was initially concerned that Schumann’s role was going to be relegated to just that introductory interstitial the whole time, but I was gladly proven wrong. Chris Sannino’s sound designing of this script element worked really well for me.

Christine

I thought that the set felt a little busy–I understood that the messiness was a part of these characters’ lives together, but I sometimes found it distracting.

Elias

Yeah, I saw it as a clear metaphor of two forces in opposition to each other trying to occupy the same space, so in that regard it succeeded. I’ve seen several of Apollo Mark Weaver’s set designs, and I’m generally impressed with them as well as appreciative of the range of designs he’s done. I did sit in the front row, so from my more limited perspective (it was a very crowded space, both on set and in the house) I might not have gotten as much an eyeful of the distracting elements of it.

Christine

That’s possible. From a perspective further back in the audience, I really appreciated the way the interior room set just blended right into the exposed brick of the wall behind. It actually felt much more open to me (despite the crowdedness of the audience) because of that. But there was a lot to draw my eye.

Elias

The exposed architecture of the actual space did distract me a bit from my front-row perspective.  I’m not sure I bought the need/decision for exposing the whole room.

Christine

From a storytelling perspective, for a play is an anachronistic take of these historical poets, it felt like a way of blurring the boundary between where the characters are and where we are.

Elias

The lighting design felt fairly traditional for me in a lot of ways. Jerry Forsyth did make use of some moving LED light fixtures that sometimes distracted with colored light on actors’ faces. It was sometimes too unnaturally blue-white, but in other instances it blended in well. However, from my past experience with those lights, I know they’re primarily used for live music performances or social dance parties instead of as static, refocusable washes in a theatrical sense. I liked the use of lighting through the wireframe windows in the set as effect as opposed to natural lighting; they helped heighten some dramatic moments.

Christine

The end of the show also featured a lovely fire glow on the actors’ faces. Before we move on, I do want to shout out Emily Schuman’s props. They were very fun. The metronome in particular cracked me up.

Elias

 I kind of seriously fell in love with the pens for the Brownings. I think Emily Schuman is  an amazing props designer, and I’m glad to see more and more companies picking her up for work.

I think that the show could have used an intimacy choreographer, which is a thing I only just learned about a few months ago. The romantic/sexual movements with the Brownings didn’t play very well for me. It looked kind of forced, or at least not smooth or supportive of the story.

Honestly, the only reason I even know about intimacy choreography is because one of my friends travelled to a workshop to learn about it. I hope it comes to Philly in a big way.

Direction 

Christine

I thought the show was really, really well paced. And that the very different tempos and energies of the three performers were balanced well, too. The script is really funny and almost every joke landed really nicely. That speaks to the work of the actors, but also to the skill of Harriet Power.

Elias

Very much agree. I particularly enjoyed the direction in the scene where Robert Browning starts off dancing. It was a really good choice in how that vignette moved and fit in the rest of the show.

Christine

Oh! Yes. Me too. I also loved the scene when Robert Browning reads a very long poem–it was almost cinematic the way Power managed to show the passing of a very long time in just a simple moment.

Elias

Yes! That was a great moment of collaboration with script, acting, and design, which had to be handled by a very deft directorial hand.

Christine

It seemed like there was a lot of synchronicity among the artists making this piece–the director and actors and playwright seemed to be really clearly interpreting each other’s work.

Script
Elias 

As with all of Orbiter 3’s plays, Sam Henderson’s script is a world premiere. I know he’d been working on the script for a number of years, with readings also directed by Harriet Power. I have a copy of the script but haven’t read it all the way through yet, which allowed me to be surprised by the show itself.

Christine

 I liked the script a lot overall. As I mentioned above, I found it very funny, with humor on multiple levels. I found the view of romantic love and marriage that the play explores to be pretty challenging and honestly a little upsetting.

Elias

 It’s a very, very disarmingly funny script. And then it delves directly into issues of co-dependency and mental illness and hit me squarely in the middle of all my feelings.

Christine

 I had a really similar experience. I think that one of the things that makes the play special for me is that I expected a version of it that was just the competition and bantering between the two Brownings. But it was much more than that.

Elias

 And I think it was a very honest and vulnerable telling of the story of such relationships. Those themes really resonated with me.

Christine

 I found the vignette structure really effective for this story, because, with all that we see of the Brownings relationship, I found myself thinking about the totality of their lives together outside of what we see of them. The snippets painted a picture without kind of overwhelming us with the intensity of their lives together.

Elias

 Usually when scenes are written as short as they are in The Brownings, it doesn’t work well. Henderson was able to make each scene so well self-contained in his vignette structure that also linked together smoothly and thoroughly.

Christine

The last thing I want to bring up here is the characterization of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I have a particular distaste for stories about tortured male genius writers and I thought that EBB was a fascinating inversion of that trope’s characteristics. It also really refreshing to watch a story where the female character is acknowledged as obviously creatively superior to her husband.

Elias

 Yeah, that was great. And it carefully walked the line of the “crazy woman” trope that could be damaging. I’m still rolling that around in my mind as to whether the script succeeded in critiquing it, though.

Christine

 I hear that. I felt that it mostly did for me. Mostly because the male characters in the show, though they are critical of EBB and sometimes even a little cruel to her, are never dismissive of her. I think women are often given the “crazy” label to disempower them, but that doesn’t seem to be a a box that EBB gets put in.

Elias

 Yeah, I agree with that. And it paints a fuller, more human picture of mental illness than just an exploitation of it for dramatic effect.

Performances

Christine 

As I mentioned above, I am a big Charlotte Northeast fan; she brings so much weird humor and boldness to everything she does. This role had a huge emotional range for her character and I thought she navigated it really beautifully.

Elias

Charlotte Northeast is always a powerful presence on stage. I was similarly captivated by her ability to command the range of the role, in all her small and big gestures. I also found David Ingram’s Robert Browning to be nuanced and compelling. And I loved James Ijames’s turn at Robert Schumann: so charming and introverted and excited and excitable.

Christine 

Agreed. James Ijames made me laugh with the simplest things–repeating the word “Cool,” widening his eyes, headshakes. 

Elias

A really great cast.

Accountability:

Christine

As you brought up above, I think this play presents a really complex view of mental illness. I found its treatment of traditional gender roles really interesting as well.

Elias

 Yeah, we don’t often see responsible representation of mental illness on stage. I don’t know if the play was specifically for people with lifetime mental illness, but I think it could be.

Christine

Agreed. It felt like there was a lot in there for people who have not had experience with mental illness as well, but for people with that experience I imagine it was probably a deeper and different experience.

Race was directly addressed in one scene of the show, and I’m not sure I found that scene totally clear or satisfying.

Elias

I also had questions about that scene. Were they lampshading us? “Look at Robert Browning telling a racist joke, isn’t it bad that he’s doing such a racist thing?” But you still get to make that joke at us, even if it is truncated by Robert Schumann. How necessary was that scene in the end?

Christine

 Yeah, it felt like it was only dipping its toe into this idea that didn’t really appear in the rest of the play. On the one hand, I respect that the play made some attempt to address the whiteness of the Brownings–I think that, too often, whiteness just gets to be an unquestioned default state in theatre–but on the other, I don’t know that it was addressed in a way that fit into the rest of the piece or included a clear perspective.

Elias

 Fair points. It did seem odd to bring it up without going more deeply into the issue, but that would’ve either made the play another 20 minutes longer or a different play.

Christine

 Agreed. Overall though, I thought this was a play that really knew its audience. It felt particularly directed towards artists–speaking to their particular fears and struggles.

Elias

 Yes, I think that it very much was effective in that.

The Gap- Azuka Theater

In Our Pockets:

I’m a major fan of Azuka’s Pay-What-You-Decide policy and have enjoyed their productions in the past, so I’m invested in the company’s future

 

The Take-Away 

  • Simple and efficient design helped to tell the story

  • Sensitive material explored honestly without feeling exploitive or overbearing

  • Powerful performances

  • Crystal clear directing illuminated complicated female relationships

 

The Design

Masha Tsimring’s lighting was very simple, yet effective. I’m a sucker for multipurpose lighting choices, so I enjoyed watching how clip lights were used throughout the play. It aided the storytelling by reinforcing this idea that the worlds we see are manufactured by Lee, but maintaining that there is a certain sterility to the whole thing. The metallic lights gave off a stark light that have only one setting that couldn’t be dimmed or brightened; to me, this symbolized Lee’s ultimately limited control over the world. 

The costumes (Jillian Keys) for each character provided me with an immediate understanding of the tone of their individual personalities. Alice Yorke’s flower child dress and sweater combo immediately revealed her new age mother-to-be, and the hipster intellectual vibe of Maggie Johnson’s costume as Lee was perfect for a an artist/professor. The costuming overall was really effective at showing who every character was without hitting us over the head with expository details in the dialogue.

I’m obsessed with the efficiency of Apollo Mark Weaver’s set! Who knew that moveable, white plastic sheets held up by string line could create so many spaces? Such a smart way to create a little theatre magic without breaking the bank.

The Direction

Sometimes when all of the moving parts of a piece meld so beautifully together, it can be difficult to suss out whom to give the credit. But perhaps because everything (the design, the acting, the communication of this relatively new text) worked so well as a whole, it’s safe to say that Rebecca Wright was the perfect director for this piece. The pacing moved along swiftly, the staging was dynamic, and the development of the relationships was communicated beautifully. 

The Script 

I said this to several people the next day, but this play broke me in half in the best way. The subject matter is something I hold so close to my heart, so I was bound to feel connected…but I really want to give Emma Goidel all the praise. However, I did find the framing device to be a glitch in the system. We take so long to get to the emotionally raw ending, and I wanted to sit there with Lee and Nicole longer rather than being pulled away from them so quickly to Real Lee. I think I know what Goidel was going for by not allowing the audience to stay in that emotional place and forcing them back into something more meta and intellectual but it undercut the journey.

The Performances

This super strong ensemble complemented each other well.  I didn’t quite believe in the professor/student relationship between Maggie and Ciera Gardner (who played Nina), due in part to their closeness in age. Gardner has such a strong presence on stage that they felt more like an equal of Maggie’s, rather than someone lower in the power dynamic. Alice Yorke slayed as the high-strung and fragile Nicole…she rode the arc that Emma crafted for her with grace, and her transition into a more-grounded Nicole later in the play was seamless.  

Accountability:

Hooray! A play for everyone! Those who might be triggered by themes of sexual assault should certainly take heed, but I do think the treatment of that subject matter is sensitive and well handled.  It was really exciting to see a queer person’s story told on stage, and to see that story told by someone who identifies with the queer experience.  I feel like we’re finally getting to a place of frank conversation about sexual assault, so THE GAP is pretty damn necessary. It engages with that topic and doesn’t let its audiences sit back.

By Fiona 

*Note: This review originally referred to Ciera Gardner with the wrong pronouns. We regret the error.

 

 

Touch Tones- The Arden

 

By Lola

In My Pockets 

I know people in the show and saw a very early draft of the show.

 

The Take-Away 

The Design 

Lights were minimal. Very minimal. I think we were treated to weird, blocky, blue and purple lights once during a musical number. It would have been nice to have been transported out of this dingy office building at some point during the story.

The 90’s costumes had a fun flair, but they disappeared and became less specific and nostalgic as the play progressed. By the end, there wasn’t much to place the clothes in time.

For a two location show, I wish we could have seen the shifts in Christine’s (Alex Keiper) life reflected in the spare office of Touchtones, as well as her modest apartment.

There was little to no choreography, even in the musical numbers. Mostly people standing and singing at each other. Which worked better at moments when the blocking was more specific. The most exciting choreography (Melanie Cotton) done in the piece, was a circle around Christine (Alex Keiper) while everybody tried to awkwardly put a feather boa around her shoulders. It’s very strange to leave a musical not remembering even one song. 

The Direction 

Emmanuel Delpeche is really wonderful at creating dynamic stage pictures, even with non-physical performers, but the direction lacked specificity. As a result, the pacing and the experience were flat .
The Performances:

It’s hard to talk about the performances because the script doesn’t give the performers much to do. Alex Keiper brings energy and sincerity to a one dimensional character. Michael Doherty mugs throughout most of the show, until the last scene where he shines with vulnerability, but it feels out of place. Out of town actor Darick Pead fares best as douchey Brad, but he is given a song about unleashing his Latin lover “Marco” that is really cringey. The rest of the cast is given stereotypes that they, not surprisingly, don’t bring much energy to. 

 

Accountability:

This old-fashioned script is another case of “let’s focus in on the white people problems while the people of color poke their heads in every once and awhile to help” At one point, that literally happens.

People of color, and the one queer character onstage, are turned into stereotypes. Hetero, white, relationships are idealized. The Hispanic character has an abusive husband. The “quirky” office chick is living with her sister, but given no other attribute. The strong black woman in charge takes care of her grandson because her child is out of the picture. And the straight, white, dude is the liberator and love interest.

Also uncomfortable is the fact that the central couple is fixated on virginity and a woman’s purity. The script probably thinks it’s being very progressive, liberating it’s female lead by having her work at a sex phone hotline, but at the end of the day, she still promises to explore marriage with her jerk fiance, even though they haven’t really resolved their infidelity issue.

It’s clear this piece was written for  a very specific (see also: older and rich and white) audience. It’s frustrating that Arden subscribers walk out feeling like they’ve done something edgy by seeing the same play they always see, and never having their ideas or norms challenged in any way.

 

Broken Stones- InterAct Theater

 

with Elias and Nan

In Our Pockets

 Elias

I have worked with InterAct in the past and had also read the script before seeing the show and wasn’t very impressed with it at all. I’d also been having insufficient sleep up until the point I saw the show on opening night, which definitely influenced how I experienced the show that day.

Nan

I also had read the script before seeing the show, but I haven’t worked with InterAct in an official capacity. I know a few of the actors. I had a strong negative reaction to their publicity images (featuring a white man as if he were the lead of this show about POC) so I came in thinking about that.

 

The Take-Away 

  •  A clever play with some valiant effort put into it that gets way too masturbatory in the end, has no right to have so many white men play POC, and should not have been directed by a white man.

  • In this world where we must ask who tells what stories, we must ask why this story was told with so much white control.

 

The Design

Elias

Lights by Peter Whinnery were mostly functional, though it seemed like there were some gaps on the set. The design didn’t feel like it enhanced any storytelling, but it also didn’t very much get in the way.

Nan

The sound, by Larry Fowler seemed to be actively trying to be cinematic, but was very distracting and never succeeded in eliciting true emotion. The play definitely played with the boundary of “reality” and cinema but I would have appreciated more sound choices that contributed to the “reality” feeling and less cinematic movie soundtrack music.

Elias

I agree. This play really wants to be a movie, and it seems like the design and direction in its soundscapes reflected that. 

I found that some costume choices were, frankly, cartoonish in some choices, particluarly the military characters.  Others were uncommunicative, which may have been a result of a lack of resources for a show with eight actors and 23 named characters.

Nan

I thought the costumes did what they needed to do in terms of function and storytelling, and I don’t think this is a show that gave room for Natalia de la Torre to do more than that. Also, good on her for succeeding in getting full breakaway pants to work!

Elias

The set by Nick Embree was built by the non-profit scene shop Philadelphia Scenic Works, in which InterAct’s Artistic Director and director of this show, Seth Rozin, has a stake.

Nan

I didn’t know that about PSW. I was not initally impressed with the set, but the first transition in which all the pieces move was actually very successful and exciting!

However, in following scenes where the set pieces were pushed back, specifically in the museum scenes, there was not enough going on visually. That said, the red archways for the museum/rich home were a subtle and smart choice.

Elias

I think it was a fair attempt to produce space for the myriad scenes that the script demands, in a theatre with no flyspace or wing space to track pieces on and off. 

Nan

I liked the half eaten hot dog that the police chief had every time he appeared! Emily Schuman was the props designer.

Elias

The set dressing in the film studio and the rich collector’s house were really good details, too

Notably, no one’s credited for fight choreography, though there is definitely stage combat in the show. I think it’s irresponsible if they actually have no fight director. Even putting safety aside for the moment, lacking a fight director (or, perhaps, violence designer) resulted in the combat getting in the way of telling the story instead of helping it.

Nan

Fight directors are mandatory for any kind of violence.

The Direction

Elias

This script is very challenging to mount and it would take a very adept and deft hand to wrangle all the parts together to really make the incredibly long show move at a solid pace. I think the direction did not accomplish that very difficult ask. There are so many long scenes with dialogue between two characters which don’t really have any stakes.

Use of the space on stage often created weird stage pictures for me.

Nan

I agree that the script is very challenging and I do think that there were a lot of things Rozin succeeded in– the pace was mostly kept nice and fast, the transitions were clean.

That said, I think this play absolutely should not have been directed by a white man. This script is about who has the right to tell our stories. It’s about a Venezuelan-American lawyer who in going to write a book about his experiences at the Baghdad Museum has his story hijacked and whitewashed by “the writer” and twisted into something leagues away from his authentic experiences. It’s blind to the intention to choose a white man to direct.

Another big issue is the fact that white men were cast as Middle Eastern characters. I expected more of InterAct.   I would have loved to see this play directed by and fully cast with people of color, and as a launchpad for talking about cultural appropriation and other relevant issues about culture and race. But it ended up being just another story about the boundary between reality and fiction, overshadowed by masturbatory metatheatricality.

The Script 

Elias

The script did not feel like a fresh take on questions of reality and fiction. As a critique of who gets to control the narrative, it fails by virtue of a stunning lack of self-awareness.

The character Alejandro Ramirez/Al Romano at one point says, “Oh, we’re white-washing me now?”  That’s called “lampshading” where you point to the thing you’re supposedly trying to criticize, but actually you’re just doing it. You expect the audience to let you off the hook because you merely named the crime.

Nan

Yes! And the moment when Sarpkaya’s character is arguing with Guzman about how America is a warmongering machine, she walks off loudly protesting “You do know I’m half Lebanese, right?” And it was played for a laugh? That was really tone deaf. The play was also peppered with references to “fake news”, but never with any actual point behind it– just referencing it for cheap chuckles.

I do actually think the script has some merit but I strongly feel that Kennedy needs an editor or writing partner who will help him get his head out of his butt.

Elias

Yeah, the “fake news” lines had been added since the time I first read the play back in January of this year. So it seemed like those were very much afterthoughts in a plainfaced bid to make the script sound relevant.

The performances:

Elias

Charlotte Northeast was a standout for me. She brought subtlety and nuance to the role of The Writer that I didn’t expect from my reading of the script. Nazli Sarpkaya and Najla Said also brought distinct physicality and even some humanity to the multiple characters they played. On the night I saw the show, Nov 1, it sounded like not everyone knew all their lines, and that was distracting.

Nan

Most of the cast had some serious trouble getting the lines out, whether it was articulation or memorization problems, or just being able to sound natural. Sarpkaya and Said were absolutely holding the production down.

 

Accountability:

Elias

This is a show for (maybe) well-meaning but highly ignorant white liberals. 

Nan

Yeah. People who want to feel good about seeing work by or about POC and talking about art. People who want to feel better about being white and privileged, but not actually have to think about race or culture. My audience seemed so much more interested in talking about the semiotics of artifacts than anything else we saw.

Elias

That I have so many questions about what this play might have been trying to say is probably due to the fact that the production itself was unclear. A white British playwright wants to use the stories of real people of color to do a thought-exercise on who controls narrative and how.  

Nan

In a play set in Iraq, there were only two middle eastern actors. That’s a failure. The one throwaway gay character also seemed to be played for laughs, which was frustrating and sad.

Elias

A lot of audience members started laughing at the joke of his gayness. Whether the audience itself or the script or direction is to blame, I’m not sure. The active whitewashing in the casting makes this whole production more than a little suspect.

Why This Play Now?

Nan

I don’t think the production answered that question. I think that produced differently, the play might have started interesting conversations about Islamophobia, cultural identity, cultural appropriation, and more, but that was not this production. 

 

Blood Wedding- The Wilma Theater

 

Fiona is a local writer, dramaturg, and actor

Beneatha is a local director, playwright and arts administrator.

Nan is an actor, maker, & Philly girl. She is a white-passing intersectional feminist.

In Our Pockets

 Fiona

The weather was atrocious that day, so I came to the show drenched, a little cranky, and a lot sleep deprived. But I LOVE Lorca’s essay “Theory and Play of the Duende,” so I was ready to see its influences. Campbell O’Hare, Lindsay Smiling, and Assistant Director Elise D’Avella are artists that I have worked with in the past and greatly admire.

 

Beneatha

So drenched in rain! But made it on time. I’m familiar with many of the the ensemble in some shape or fashion. Some casually, some from working with Young Playwrights and others from our Alma Mater The University of the Arts.

 

Nan

I know a few people in this production and have been seeing Wilma shows on and off since 2009.

 

The Take-Away 

  • Percussive dancing and dissonant music gave LIFE 

  • Lorca’s language is dense and difficult to unpack, but the movement helped to dissolve the mystery surrounding it.

  • Strangely female-centric production, even though the text was heavily patriarchal.

  • The specificity of ALL movement was breathtaking

The Design

Fional

Thom Weaver’s lighting hit that sweet spot of present and guiding/reinforcing the storytelling without being overpowering. Reds were used economically, which enhanced their effectiveness when they were incorporated in the narrative. The lights helped clue me in when danger was ramping up.

Nan

The live music was lovely and not overdone, but when in the second half there was finally a transition from the woodsmen’s live upright bass to prerecorded music I was a bit taken out of the action. I wished they had stuck to live music, I got really spoiled!

Fiona

The recording didn’t bother me as much, but I think that’s because there were so many stimuli (lights, movement, costumes) that I didn’t notice the shift when it happened. Plus, the live music was so eerie and brash (in a good way!) that it stuck with me throughout. Major kudos to composer, Csaba Ökrös!

The costumes were a bit of a mixed bag for me. I was so taken with Campbell O’Hare’s costumes throughout the piece (all varying shades of red), and her wedding dress in particular was stunning yet simple (and those HEELS). The suit that Jered Mclenigan wore as the Groom, on the other hand, looked like something out of a bad production of “Guys and Dolls”; perhaps intentional, but it was just tacky in comparison to the other, more understated costumes. However, Mclenigan’s was the outlier for me. Overall, Oana Botez’s costuming were effective and helped to establish a sense of time and mood.

Beneatha

The Reds utilized were stunning, as was Jalene Clark’s plum from head to toe. I was a little distracted at Brett’s seemingly ill-fitting blue ensemble when they were the Old Lady.

Nan

It’s not an easy show to costume, with that much movement but not grounded in a specific time period or aesthetic. Some were super successful (the bride, especially) but Taysha in a corset and fluffy skirt with heels straight up felt like it was in the wrong show. I did love the fur coat and silver silk dress on Brett as Death, and the silver suit for the Moon.

Fiona

I wasn’t taken with the aesthetic of Thom Weaver’s set of pull away-able rubber mats that covered the stage, though the initial effect of revealing the bursts of color underneath was effective. That being said, having the set be so interactive gave another layer to the movement. Watching the actors negotiate with having to pull away strips and then moving around the wreckage was intriguing.

The Direction  

Fiona

More director/choreographer combos please! Though some of the more “conventional” (more park and bark/less dance-y) scenes were less dynamic, the incorporated movement made up for it. This piece was really a feast for eyes/ears, so I commend Csaba Horváth’s approach.

 

The Performances

Fiona

Amazing ensemble. Nearly two hours straight of ATHLETIC movement is not easy to pull off, and those actors did the damn thing. I was continually struck by the sheer range of skill, from Sarah Gliko’s  musical talents to Jaylene Clark Owens’s fierceness and honesty while playing an older woman. The pairing of Campbell and Lindsay ended up being a bit of a let down for me though. The two of them are strong individually, but I wasn’t convinced that they had a consuming passion for each other. It didn’t seem like the right fit.

Accountability

Fiona

This play is so heteronormative, it’s REALLY tough to work around that to bring a diversity of experience. Female presenting people played women, male presenting people played men. Pretty conventional choices in that regard.

While I’m a bit obsessed with Lorca and pretty much drooled over the movement in this production, I still found myself wondering how to answer the question “why this play now?” The play grapples with ideas like the dangers of consuming passion, a woman struggling in a male-dominated world, and violence, etc., and the Wilma’s production certainly highlighted all of that. But I still wished it went further and gave me more than just a heady, intellectual gaze at questions that have been out there for a long ass time. The movement was a step in the right direction, but maybe I wanted something a little less beautiful? Maybe.

White Nights- Asian Arts Alliance


C is a white femme and a director, deviser, and museum educator. She is most interested in work that is subversive and surprising, intentional and brave. Her lens is intersectionally feminist.

VT is a deviser that makes it a point to not see shows too often in the hopes that it won’t taint the joy and wonder they feel whenever they watch live performance.

 

In our Pockets:

C: I knew basically nothing about this show coming in, which was really nice. It’s rare that I feel like I’m seeing something without a lot of assumptions. I was in a pretty relaxed and happy mood and also jazzed about the art downstairs at Asian Arts!

VT: Agreed, I was in a very similar place. I had seen some programming at the Asian Arts Initiative, but I knew absolutely nothing about Zhang’s work. And honestly, that’s how it should be. I later learned that a bunch of Pig Iron alums/students had worked on it, but I never felt like that affected my perception of it in any way.

 

The Take-away:

  • Gorgeous set design/installation art surrounding the audience

  • Fascinating relationship between Eastern and Western performance conventions

  • Beautifully made and manipulated puppets in various styles

  • Occasional distractions and issues with seating may affect viewing experience

  • Strong ensemble performances

 

The Design

C: I loved the set when we first stepped into the space. Coming into the show pretty blind as to its content/themes, the large white curtains and floating chairs and shadow elements immediately put me in a very dreamy place–I felt very primed for the kind of show it turned out to be.

VT: I felt as though the design pretty much stole the show – which makes a lot of sense considering how much of the work was dependant on puppetry and shadow play, and it really demonstrates what happens when visual artists try to create live performance. The result was deliciously non-theatre, and it really transcended a lot of expectations I have in a setting like this.

C: Oooh, yeah. “Deliciously non-theatre” is a great descriptor for this work. One thing that I appreciated throughout all of the design and performance elements was a really bold mixing of different elements. Just to pick one element, there were so, so many puppets and masks and many of them were made of different materials, manipulated differently. There were also a bunch of ordinary objects that were manipulated really successfully–I’m thinking especially of the clear drop-cloths that were used for water.

VT: I really had to stop myself from screaming “yas!” in that moment. That big white orb in the first few minutes of the piece was especially interesting. Somehow, they managed to create some kind of human relationship with this inanimate object. And the collective audience response was a testament to how powerful the puppetry was.

C: I think the sound (a combination of live and recorded music by Bhob Rainey) also worked really well in moments like that–the white orb–to get us all in a dream-like space. Occasionally the music seemed sort of dissonant with the action–I’m thinking specifically of when a performer entered the space and approached the drop-cloth water to wash her face. The music in that moment felt kind of suspenseful; it gave me a sense of dread. It was an interesting juxtaposition.

VT: I think some of that dissonance goes hand-in-hand with the artists’ goals. Zhang really wanted to find a blend of Western and Eastern influences in her work, and I think the music was really a testament to that intention.

C: There were a few costume pieces utilized outside of the really magnificent masks and puppets–I honestly could have done without some of them. I really appreciated the moments where the performers were just in black clothes, interacting with the puppets they were manipulating. That also really drove home the intention you mentioned above–this grounding in two different worlds.

VT: I actually enjoyed a majority of the costumed beings we encountered. The shapeshifting paper dancer was really effective, and ESPECIALLY the puppet being controlled by that stretchy white fabric.

C: I think when the costumes were consistent with the textures and materials that showed up in the puppets and masks, I found them very effective–there were a few times, though, that it seemed like performers had just added on some drapey pieces of fabric that didn’t necessarily have the same impact.


VT: I have nothing but nice things to say about this piece, with the only exception being the way that I experienced the 360’ viewing angle.

C: HARD agree. I think we can get into that a little bit more in directing, but I’m totally with you there. I think that since this piece is going to be performed again in a different space, a little bit more intentionality about the way the audience views the action is going to be important. I will say that once I abandoned my stool in favor of standing, crouching, and sitting on the floor to see what was going on, I immediately felt more connected to the piece. It felt like my participation became more free and playful.

VT: I’ve always had wild dreams of making some kind of performance that utilizes this kind of viewing experience, only for a production manager to tell me: “Please don’t do that, that sounds like a terrible idea.” I think seeing this helped me identify some of the challenges of working in a space like that.

 

The performances:

VT: Travis Draper really owned the puppets that he controlled – from that stretchy fabric dinosaur (for lack of a better descriptor) to the olive-colored masked figures. He even used the performance as an opportunity to show off some interesting movement.

C: Huge shout-out to all three of the performers manipulating the olive masked figures. There were many, many provocative images in that show and that trio has really been the one haunting me since last night. Also really loved the dinosaur/snake stretchy figures, and found myself really moved by what seemed to be a love story between a blue puppet and a masked figure.

VT: YES! The blue puppet was the only time we saw Zhang perform in the show, and when she did, it pulled a vulnerability out of me that I’m not used to experiencing. This is probably the biggest superpower that her puppetry has (and great puppetry in general) – we feel far more empathy for these constructed characters than we do for live bodies on stage.

VT: But some additional performances I felt were very strong included Jeanne Lyons, who juggled both stage business and puppetry in a way that never took me out of the world of the story. Chad Williams had a really great moment with that smaller blue puppet and the dragon-like costumed performer, and played a great sidekick to Travis Draper’s white fabric dinosaur.

C: I Really loved Elizabeth Weinstein’s movement work. I found her really interesting both with and without a puppet, and in a show with SO much visual interest, I was really impressed to see the simplicity of just a body in space be so captivating.

The Direction

C: To continue our conversation from above, I think that a little more attention could be given to audience arrangement and visibility of the action. Having action all around the space was cool, but depending on where you were seated or standing in the crowd, certain things were very hard to see. There was a lot of action on the ground that I missed by being in the back of the crowd.

VT: Even standing didn’t provide the best viewing point, and in order for me to be able to see the action onstage I had to be willing to be rude to another audience member and get in their way. I also felt like there were a lot of off-stage distractions that took us out of it all – loud noises, a member of the ensemble passing through in the corner, etc. A lot of heads were turning.

C: Yeah, I think that was another thing that came out of having action and set all around the audience. There were times when movement out of the corner of my eye was drawing me to a piece of action and there were other times when I was being drawn to a light being moved. I would be really interested to see if there are ways for the audience and the action to be integrated a little more fluidly. One of the things Zhang talked about in her director’s notes was her desire to have the audience take an active role in interpreting the work, and I think that making the role of their participation a little more physically clear would really kick this piece up to the next level.

VT: Definitely – and I’d be curious to see what kind of space they’re working with when the piece goes to Taiwan. To some extent they were limited by the configuration of that room – it’s a big empty space that’s hard to soundproof with just those white curtains alone. There’s a lot of acoustic challenges.

C: Outside of sight-line challenges and some off-stage distractions, though, I really admired the variety of pace and tone we saw throughout the show. It got very meditative by turns and then at time quite funny or rolling. Those shifts felt very natural and not at all jarring to me, which is a credit to the direction and to the performers, too.

VT: Totally, I think Zhang’s role as the lead artist demonstrated a clear vision that never felt confusing or unbalanced. I would agree that her biggest strength was in playing with the mood. It’s an arc that’s very difficult to capture in what seemed like a very ensemble-driven collaborative process.

Accountability:

C: This piece felt timeless to me in that it left a lot up to the audience in terms of interpreting meaning. I think it probably affected different audience members in very different ways. Because of that, I didn’t think it spoke to this specific cultural moment, but that that wasn’t necessarily to its detriment. What did you think?

VT: I would agree, but I would also be interested in learning how her audience outside of the West would respond. It seems like the content was generated here in the States, and there would probably be moments that would take on an entirely different meaning to a different audience. A moment that stood out to me was the shadow puppetry involving skylines.

C: That was a really interesting moment, yeah. I think it was an example of the blending of Eastern and Western culture that the piece was interested in exploring. I also appreciated that, though the show featured white and non-white performers, the vision was driven forward so clearly and specifically by Zhang.

VT: I definitely wanna hear how her show went while it was touring.

C: Yeah! Super interested to see how it plays for other audiences.