Inis Nua – Monster in the Hall

Reviewer: Nan

 

The Takeaways

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

 

In my pockets

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

 

Design

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

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

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

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

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

 

The performances

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

 

Direction

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

 

Accountability

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

Movement Matter Group – Unhinged

"UNHINGED"

The takeaways

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

 

In my pockets

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

 

Design

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

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

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

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

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

 

Performances

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

 

Accountability

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

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

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

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

Magda – feral wild girl child

feral wild girl child

The takeaways

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

 

In my pockets

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

 

Design/creation

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

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

 

Accountability

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

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

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

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

Trey Lyford – The Accountant

accountant

The takeaways

  • Stunning visual experience, from intricate physicality to magical theatrical effects
  • Clever references to Krapp’s Last Tape but ideologically slight overall
  • Have we seen this before? Are we learning something new?

 

In my pockets

I worked on Krapp’s Last Tape in college and so have some familiarity with the source material, and with Beckett’s oeuvre. I attended the final, sold-out performance of The Accountant in the middle of a rainstorm. 

 

Design

Lights: Robin Stamey’s lighting design was what the play needed. Fluorescent lights dominate the stage, accented by sickly greens that round out the drabness of the Accountant’s limited existence, and create a feeling of dankness on Eric Novak’s otherwise pristinely designed set. I was struck by the alluring lavender light swelling through the space when the outside world broke through.

Sound & Music/Composition: Cole Kamen-Green’s original music–a muted trumpet, some kind of electronic device, and live mixing–blend with Lyford’s own manipulations of fluorescence and hold music to create a swelling, searing score. Kamen-Green’s orchestrations are particularly impressive, elegantly transforming from a mind-numbing drone into a Romantic, light-hearted tune and back as Lyford’s Accountant reminisces about life outside of work.

Costumes: Tara Webb’s costumes are simple and pinpoint-accurate. Lyford’s drab suit blends into the world around him, foreshadowing his climactic transformation. Bass’s crisp blue suit connects him to the grey-green world of Lyford’s office while clearly marking him as something of status. And Holum-Lyford’s orange frock distinguishes her as something outside of this place–something warm, and maybe unattainable in the confines of Lyford’s prison.

Set/props: Meticulously drab, meticulously cramped with paper, meticulously designed to become off-kilter. But where Eric Novak shines is his kinetics design. His kinetic effects are fascinating–a banana you eat that has a wadded ball of paper inside! Pouring hot water into a cup that becomes upturned and produces only sugar! Unfortunately they’re so magical against a piece that lacks cerebral stimulation, so rather than these oddities being immersed in the world, I caught myself wondering how these objects were made.

Fight Choreography: Movement in this piece is everything you would expect from Trey Lyford. Specific and compelling, the piece contains everything from quiet vaudevillian clowning to gorgeous contemporary dance to brutal brawl.

 

Performances:

Trey Lyford is a professional. He navigates the stage and his own body with complete ease and control; his emotional range is endless. Meanwhile, capitalism itself is embodied by Ben Bass. He struts around alternatively grinning, sneering, barking, and howling. Bass is completely committed to this stereotype, and his physical work–snapping in and out of contorted, violent posturings–adds edge and complexity.

Coralie Holum Lyford doesn’t have much to do, but her presence is so starkly different from Lyford and Bass’s that it becomes notable–both her physical stature (a small girl) and her fresh, non-performative actions on stage. Watching Lyford play off of her is rich.

 

Direction/creation:

FringeArts’ tagline for the piece–“When you take stock, does it all add up?”–is appropriate. A middle-aged man is trapped in a purgatory of tax forms, fluorescent lights, and hold music. His torture is punctuated by absurdity, and wonder. Gorgeous as the production looks, as a message, The Accountant isn’t saying anything necessarily new. The program tells us this is inspired by “the disorientation that death can bring into our lives,” but the ideas confronting us were much less subtle: money is nothing without love, capitalism is crushing us, what matters are people not products.

 

Accountability

Production-wise, The Accountant is stunning. It’s theatrical, it’s visually lush, the performances are absolutely incredible (I will be thinking about Bass’s contorted masculinity dance for a long time). But as a piece of contemporary theatre, this new play feels strangely dated. In many ways, I was reminded of popular depictions of 80s economic angst – the working man downtrodden, longing to reconnect to his family, ultimately corrupted by the ravages of greed. These themes are never not urgent in a world where we have to work to live, even as that work compromises our lives. But the economic woes of a mid-level bureaucratic employee are woes we’ve seen before, and capitalism’s woeful reach is wide. It’s unrealistic to expect art to be all things to all people, but, if we can separate the content from the form, The Accountant gives us well-worn lessons from experiences that apply to only some people.

On the Rocks – Wolfcrush: a Queer Werewolf play

The takeaways

  • A queer coming-of-age anthem. Shamelessly and deliciously hot.
  • Strong performances and ensemble work.
  • Clear cultivation of a queer space, although occasionally overlooking more marginalized identities within the community.

 

In my pockets

I know and have worked with a handful of people in the cast and creative team. I’m very much an East Coaster and have just a basic understanding of what it’s like in the American South. I couldn’t drink the night of the show, and, knowing the culture of drinking that On the Rocks fosters, I was nervous that I would feel left out, but, as a QPOC, I was really pumped to see some representation.

 

Design

Lights: Alyssandra Docherty’s strung light bulbs throughout the space occasionally made me feel like I was in a coffee shop rather than a horror movie, but the payoff of them during the Law and Order SVU interrogation sequence was incredibly satisfying and isolating. Overall, the lighting made the piece feel sexy and dangerous.

Sound/music: Meghan Reed’s use of 2000s era song choices, while fun, left me feeling a bit confused in juxtaposition to the use of what looked like more modern technology and Junyce’s on-trend costume choices. I was a little confused about what time period we were in. Meghan did a great job clearly defining the world of the woods, and the sound created for the werewolf transformation raised the stakes of the experience.

Costumes: Corrie Meehan’s costume design expertly defined each character both in the world of their high school and within the world of the werewolves. Beecher, Junyce, and Kyle all had a textural calling card for their werewolf, which helped tell each character’s story of how they came to this form.

Set design: Julia Montante created an simple and effective set paired with loud and hilarious props that helped communicate the heightened world of the play. The woods’ constant presence served as a reminder of the looming danger throughout.

Choreography: Kevan Sullivan fostered a language of tender intimacy, animalistic lust, and painful transition that created an engaging other-worldly quality to the expression of sexuality on stage.

Also, a shout out to Stage Manager Scout Cox, who called this fast-paced show amongst an awesomely rowdy audience.

 

Performances

Syndey Banks as Junyce was a standout for me. Her energy demanded that time slow down whenever Junyce appeared. Campbell O’Hare (Kyle) and Josh McLucas (Huck) navigated characters with internalized systemic sexism, racism, and homophobia with humanity, each portraying specific and heart wrenching character arcs. José Raúl Mangual’s Beecher communicated a universal experience of unrequited teenage love that often got vocal reactions from the audience. Jenna Kuerzi moves through multiple adult male characters with ease and amazing comedic timing.

 

Direction

Elaina Di Monaco’s direction was crisp, fast paced, and brought out the best in her ensemble. It was clear that she created a room that empowered the ensemble to explore messy topics with boldness.  At times, I felt as though the piece focused more on psyching the audience up rather than pushing the plot forward or baring the teeth of the systemic issues presented in the play. Mayor Crabapple was a bumbling conservative clown, which was hilarious to watch, but a moment or two of unbridled and terrifying racism or homophobia would’ve helped to raise the stakes as the wolves closed in on White Coon County, or communicate the undeniable power of government at play here. I particularly appreciated the time taken on the first sex scene between Kyle and Junyce, which so clearly illustrated a sexual coming of age for Kyle and a softening of Junyce’s hard exterior and celebrated consent. Queer womyn don’t get this kind of representation on stage and Elaina utilized this as an opportunity to take space and cover it with queer joy.

 

Writing

At the core of Haygen-Brice Walker’s piece is a connection between queerness and danger and beauty that crystalizes in different ways for each character and drives the plot forward. The piece really sings when examining this connection either within the queer relationships or juxtaposed by the straight white maleness that is presented as it’s foil. The scene between Principal Roman interrogating Juynce in Act 1 geniusly portrays a meeting of two equals – one in power and one empowered – that rolls all of these things into one.  Act 1 runs long and gets lost in portraying the nostalgia of high school. Characters making comments on Junyce’s race but not necessary Beecher’s led me to believe that the play was trying to comment on the white passing experience, but I wished that had been more explicit.

 

Accountability

Wolfcrush was unapologetically for hot queers with one or two drinks in them, and Eliana and Haygen, or On the Rocks, created an atmosphere that not only welcomed this audience but embraced and encouraged them to be their fullest selves during the show. This led to an amazingly engaged and vocal audience here for every twist, turn, and removed item of clothing in the play.  

The director’s note of the show states that “Wolfcrush is for every queer, everyone who loves a queer, anyone that might be queer, and everyone in between,” and it is truly amazing to see queerness so loudly represented on stage. But, when Principal Roman repeated jokes about his (unseen) wheelchair-bound wife requiring medical assistance, but there isn’t a disabled person on stage to undo the myth of victimhood, On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. When the play treats fatness as entitlement, references eating disorders, and puts an actor in a fat suit to get laughs on stage – On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. When the producers encourage drinking excessively in an overheated space but don’t make their water free and don’t provide non-alcoholic options or shout outs to the sober buddies who can’t or don’t drink – On the Rocks’ definition of queerness shrinks. I really appreciated the production, but these instances tainted an otherwise joyous night. I have no doubt that On the Rocks will continue to grow in visibility, and I am excited how they continue to represent.

Renegade Company – (Kensington) Streetplay

(Kensington) Streetplay

The takeaways

  • Non-theatrical, but that hardly mattered
  • Pressing and moving monologues from the performers
  • A beautiful, urgent way of getting to know a neighborhood

 

In my pockets

I live in West Philadelphia, and hardly have a reason to go up that far north in Kensington (the show starts at the Allegheny MFL stop). In general, I don’t like traveling up to Kensington or Fishtown. The only reason I have had to go in the past is to visit friends, and they live in the parts of the neighborhood that feel like Brooklyn (and I don’t want to be in Brooklyn). I’m also a white, educated young woman, and have varying degrees of comfort walking around in a city (in all parts). This was an illuminating piece for me.

 

Design

There is no real design in this show, unless we think about it geographically. The “play” starts at the Allegheny stop on the MFL, in the parking lot of a Walgreens. This part of Kensington is busy – there are people waiting for folks to step off the train in order to sell them wares and trinkets, or folks waiting for buses down on the street – it’s a bustling intersection, and obviously a really interesting place to start a theatrical experience. From there, the audience is split up into groups, led by a facilitator in a blue shirt (a Renegade Company member) who takes you on a walk down Allegheny Ave. Occasionally, they will bring you to a stopping point (a lamp post outside of a gas station, a fence by an abandoned lot, a church yard gate), where two performers will share the monologues they have developed over the two-year course of this show. After this walk, the performers and facilitators bring you to Campbell Square, a beautiful park in a part of the neighborhood where gentrification’s effects are extremely visible. The design of this second half of the piece is more like an outdoor fair – each performer invites you to join their station where they lead you through an interactive activity of their design as the sun sets.

 

Performances

The monologues the performers deliver all have the same theme: “when you look at me, you see one thing. But I am so much more than that.” The performers – most of whom do not consider themselves performing artists or folks who have a performance background – obviously feel great ownership over this piece, this process, and the writing they have chosen to share with you. Their personhood is so magnetically visible in these monologues, and range from poems, songs, or, in one spirited performance, a message about Jesus Christ’s love for every single one of us. Regardless of the form, the monologues open up these people to visitors of a neighborhood, and challenge all of us to get to know the Kensington streets through the people who live on them.

 

Direction

Mike Durkin directed this beautiful experience, and what is clear is not necessarily how he crafted the performative quality of each resident, but rather the effect of the overall theatrical process he led with these folks for two years. Even though this play is not necessarily very theatrical, and it is hard to talk about it like it is a show, it is clearly an event and experience that is deeply informed by theater and performance. It’s a wonderful example of what kinds of collaborations and community experiences can be created with the tools that performance gives us.

 

Accountability

This play was for me, a transplant to Philadelphia from another place, with economic mobility and privilege. It’s for the gentrifiers, essentially. As we move into neighborhoods with cheap rent, we draw arbitrary real-estate lines to make us feel safer about the people that we’re pushing out. There’s a whole host of politics in the question of what distinguishes Kensington from Fishtown, and where those lines are drawn. As we entered the park, one of the performers shouted, “We’re in Port Richmond now! Addiction doesn’t exist here!” Regardless of the sarcasm, you could tell that there was more money going into this half of our walk than the other, more gentrification, more denial.

That the show asks you to engage with the material by walking through a city landscape is incredibly potent, and a very personal experience. There are a lot of preconceptions that I was asked to abandon at the start of the play, and by abandoning them, I noticed what they were – preconceptions about the kinds of people I was likely to encounter in (Kensington) Streetplay, about the performers, and about the neighborhood itself. For a lot of white women, there’s an old narrative about walking around urban (i.e. black and brown) neighborhoods, and how are bodies affect and are affected. But it’s not true that only in poorer neighborhoods do I experience more harassment. I was shouted down on Saturday night on UPenn’s campus by a frat boy to suck his dick, and at (Kensington) Streetplay, one of the male performers hugged me tightly for way too long and thanked me for being adorable. Neither was great, to be honest. The thing that (Kensington) Streetplay illuminates so beautifully is that people are really just kind of the same everywhere – families love each other, people strive to succeed, everyone loves food. The difference between the residents of (Kensington) Streetplay and I is that the geopolitical effects of our country have affected us in deeply unequal experiences. Gentrifiers have to own up to that shit, especially because we are the first steps in a wheel of development that will eventually price us out of these neighborhoods as well. Our desire to live in Brooklyn no matter where we are has a deep impact on the kinds of services that come into a neighborhood, and who they’re for. A necessary reminder in a necessary new form.

Revolution Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida

Troilus and Cressida

The takeaways:

  • Clean cut design with clever subversion of traditionally masculine garments.
  • Can a misogynistic play written with patriarchal influence also be a commentary on misogyny?
  • Badass ensemble work

 

In my pockets:

I’m a white cis woman, and I was very excited about a Shakespeare production sans men. I’ve never worked with Revolution Shakespeare before, but I know and have worked with the designers in the past, and I’m friends or acquaintances with members of the company. I started the show a little distracted, which made it difficult to focus in the expansive outdoor arena. 

 

Design:

Lights: It’s tough to make a meal out of lights when you’re working outside, but Andrew Cowles’s lights helped us seamlessly transition from day to night.

Sound: The trouble with working with sound on an outdoor production is so much gets eaten up by expansive space. I’ve loved Daniel Ison’s work in the past, but I just couldn’t hear much in the outdoors. That being said, the soundscape provided by the actors was electric, swiftly and effectively establishing the tone of the show.

Costumes: The black bases did make it slightly trickier to remember who was who when I was still learning all of the characters (especially when some cast members played multiple characters!), but I loved the use of ties. Given that this was an ensemble of femme-presenting folks, using something associated with masculinity was a fun subversion. Doug Greene’s costumes were streamlined with just the right flourishes to reinforce characterizations.

Set: Doug incorporated the ties into the set as well, which was made up of two tents on opposing sides of the stage and a structure in the center. The structure in the center was not particularly visually striking, and I had a hard time figuring out why it was there, but I also didn’t pay a lot of attention to it during the show. I personally love basic sets, especially for Shakespeare, because it allows for an audience to use their imaginations to build upon what’s given. Doug did a great job of creating consistency between design elements.

Fight Choreography: Jacqueline Holloway’s fight choreography was clean and engaging. Her knowledge of working with varying audience perspectives is clear, as the fights were brutal and had enough “stage magic” to be believable in the moment. I’m not sure if it was Jacqueline’s idea to have the actors do sword fights without weapons (they still moved as if they were holding them) and have the weapons be held by non-fighters to be used for sound effects, but I loved it and was excited by the unexpectedness.

 

Performances:

The ensemble members as a whole were thrilling, but there were a few standouts for me. Tai Verley is always a revelation, and her Pandarus stole the show whenever she came on stage. Her text work was crystal clear, and she had such an ease with text that is difficult to achieve and all the more impressive. Similarly, Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn’s Troilus had tremendous range, but I found her work the most compelling when she was in direct address with the audience. Overall, really solid work by everyone and I wish I could go through each actor and dole out individual praise.

 

Direction:

Troilus and Cressida is one of the tougher Shakespeare plays to lift up, but Brenna Geffer’s staging helped to amp up tension in a relatively static narrative. Her guidance along with Krista Apple’s text direction gave stark clarity to the story and text. I’m guessing that she was the one who made the cuts to the script (which was considerably pared down), and I greatly appreciated her choices — this play is a dense one. Her condensing of characters and hacking away at the tangential infused the piece with necessary urgency. The downside of significant trimming is the loss of what could provide depth. For instance, Cressida’s father (who was absent in Rev Shakes’s production), is the reason that she is traded to the Greek Camp; he had defected, and he trades a Trojan prisoner in order to be reunited with her. Without that, Cressida’s treatment as a pawn has a different spin on it. I could really see Brenna’s influence throughout the show, and while that was mostly exciting, it was at times a bit overbearing.

 

Accountability – why this show now?

Troilus and Cressida is a difficult piece to stage, because it’s a lot of scenes of negotiations and men sitting around talking about other men. And for that reason, it’s a particularly difficult piece to revive, especially with the men also saying terrible things about women, posturing, and making rash decisions that affect the course of a war. I’m personally struggling with how I feel about Shakespeare these days, because it is really difficult to make something that’s steeped in misogyny and was written with a patriarchal lens be anything but a misogynistic relic — even if you stage it without men in sight. But I’m also a believer that we can look to pieces of the past to help give us context to what’s going on socio-politically in the now, so I can see how Troilus and Cressida is timely and a smart choice by Rev Shakes.

Ants on a Log – Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline

Pipeline of Fun: Ants on a Log Reach Kids through Humor and Music

The takeaways

  • The performers did an expert job of using props and costumes to differentiate characters
  • Much of the content went over the heads of the children in the audience
  • As an adult, I found the story clever

 

In my pockets:

I attended the show with a four year old. I acknowledge that she was younger than the recommended age so her reaction to the show does impact my opinion.

 

Design:

The musical elements of the show were lively, and were the most engaging moments of the show to the audience, especially the children. I wish there had been more musical numbers that incorporated audience participation.

Although there were only two performers, the show featured multiple characters (in past iterations of this show, there have been 12 performers!). The creative use of props really helped to distinguish between the different characters. The performers used costume layering and simple props for quick changes between characters that were very clear. My favorite was the pencil!  The smog filled city line backdrop served the show’s theme and message quite well.

 

Performances:

I enjoyed Ants on a Log’s performances. They were animated and engaging throughout both the scenes and musical numbers.  

 

Direction:

The message of the show was clear – increasing civic engagement around pollution, working against corrupt politicians and corporations.The stereotypical characters in the play are the corporation CEO and the politicians, but to be honest, I think that’s necessary in the world of the play and in a show for young audiences. Although the performance space was small, the two performers created a very distinct setting throughout the space that helped the the flow of the show. It is succinct, just about an hour, but the characters were able to take the audience on a full journey.

 

The writing:

I think the show as it stands is good for young audiences, but older than their suggested age (5+). It feels more suited for 8+. Some of the references are too referential to adult political pop culture to land with the kids, and there isn’t enough simple sight and sound entertainment for younger children. For example, in order to engage the children more effectively, characters could have integrated broader lessons about pollution in general (as opposed to pollution from the play’s oil refinery).

Lee Minora – White Feminist

White Feminist

The Takeaways

  • Minimal yet effective design did just enough to create the talk-show world
  • Minora’s daring, cheeky performance made her Becky equally rich and revolting 
  • The material might be upsetting for some, but if you can get into the room, nothing says community like collective laughter followed by a knowing groan.
  • Brutal satire covered in a perfect sheen of lipgloss.

 

In my pockets

I’m a white cis woman, so I expected that this piece was about to come for me. I was super excited about it, but in that stomach-churning “let’s get uncomfortable/weird” way.

 

Design

Lights: The plot in the Skinner Studio at Plays and Players is pretty basic, so this is mostly a “lights up/lights down” situation.

Sound: Adriano Shaplin designed an appropriately cringe-worthy soundtrack, using popular music at just the right moments to make me squirm in my seat. One particularly pleasurable moment during the show was a callout of 90s Gwen Stefani for cultural appropriation, which then led me to remember that “I’m Just a Girl” was included in the pre-show incidental music. 

Costumes: Minora’s Becky costume is perfectly evocative and self-aware enough to keep it from being frustratingly on the nose. Her white dress/cape combo, flawless jewelry, neatly coiffed blonde wig, and alarmingly perfect manicure are the right ingredients for a solid lampooning. And yeah, there are pussy hats.

Set: this show has been on the move, so I imagine the set needed to be pretty spare and utilitarian. But there is just enough gauzy fabric and subtle touches (like a present yet unobtrusive B for “Becky” that rests on the floor) to create a white lady’s dream talk-show set. It’s not always easy to transform the Skinner, but I was given just enough. It helps that the way the risers are constructed is reminiscent of the kind of seating you might see on a morning talk show when the camera pans to the smiling, clapping viewers.

 

Performance:

Minora is dynamic and I want to commend her on how well she listens to an audience and how quickly she can adapt and shift within her own material. Her swift comedic timing is undeniable (even when you want to strangle Becky with the good wig).

 

Direction:

Though clear that Lee is the master of her own concept and craft, Alice Yorke’s direction helped to further refine the edges of an already sharp play (aside from a clunky initial transition between the prologue and main act that accommodates a costume change). White Feminist reflects a solid partnership between Minora and Yorke.

 

Writing:

Minora is an economical writer, and she plays with comedic length in the fun and slightly dangerous way that the best comics do. She had a lot of material to work with, but the pace clips along beautifully, keeping things from feeling overfull or under-explored. Though the message stays pretty consistent throughout, there were just enough surprises to keep me from being certain that I had it all figured out. I question the incorporation of food into this piece — Becky takes bites of cookies and cupcakes a couple of times, leading to brief (and of course, humorous) bouts of almost vomiting in front of the audience. I couldn’t quite make out the significance of the moments, other than perhaps a metaphor for choking on your own bullshit. I’m not convinced it enhanced the piece. But this is just being picky in the face of an otherwise complex and achingly funny show that finishes with a satisfying kick in the stomach.

 

Accountability:

I’ve been turning it around in my brain since I saw the show, and I honestly can’t tell for whom it is intended. The easy answer is that White Feminist is meant for the well-meaning but deluded white liberals who do more harm than good in their activism and, potentially, any white conservative who accidentally stumbles into the theatre and has no clue what they’re in for. But sitting in my seat, I considered myself for a moment: a white woman whose blend of gendered socialization and political values has bred me to feel nothing but constant guilt. I knew this about myself before the show began. And looking around the audience, I wonder how many other people identified this way. Did I learn something new about the potential and realized horrors of white women who unknowingly step on the heads of the oppressed to get power? Not really, because I wasn’t totally oblivious before seeing White Feminist. So, in a room of white people who might be aware of their flaws, does a play that rebukes the power-holders have much traction? The answer is of course it does, because we’re still working to do right by those we have harmed, and we sure as hell haven’t figured it all out. This show does have so much to teach someone who desperately needs the education, but it also serves as a much-needed reminder of how much work still must be done, even if you think you know what’s up.

Heiner Goebbels – Songs of Wars I Have Seen

Image result for songs of wars i have seen

The Takeaways

  • Concert, not a theatre event
  • Nice lighting design and impeccable musical performances
  • Problematic concept

 

In my pockets

I’m an inter-disciplinarian artist down with the historical avant-garde. I’m also Jewish, and was curious about what a famous German artist wanted to communicate about World War II.

 

Design

The lights were effective, with a soft ambiance and nice shifts. The orchestra members were individually seated next to vintage lamps. There was a nice mix of blues and indigos that filled the stage midway through the performance, and the finale of the piece was striking with a single hanging bulb lighting a trumpet solo. This moment seemed a good meld of content and meaning. The lighting was great.

The set was basic and consisted of two platforms; a raised staged where the brass and keyboard musicians played, and a half circle orchestra below. Drums flanked each stage on opposite sides, and the conductor was central. To my knowledge, just basic, conventional concert formation. It was pretty fantastic to see a female musician wielding a powerful drum and xylophone set-up, which was a great image in itself. The conductor was also female-identifying, and it was nice to see her at the helm of this power structure.

This was more of a concert than a theatre event, and nowhere near a conventional play, so costuming was simple, and worked to not distract from the music itself. The male-identifying musicians wore all black and the female performers wore solid neutral colors, which may have reflected the gender-based theme the performance was trying to explore.

 

Performances:

The performance was a musical composition collage layered with American Jewish modernist writer Gertrude Stein’s World War II memoir, which she wrote in occupied France while living with her partner, Alice B. Toklas. The memoir itself is problematic, as noted in the program, because of Stein’s emphatic support of the anti semitic Nazi collaborationist Philippe Petain. The performed excerpts I heard highlighted her apathetic view on the war, (described in the program as “neutral and meditative”). Deliberately executed in dispassionate, blasé fashion by the musicians, it felt like the performance was asking the audience to channel Stein’s neutral voice as “Art Critic” in our own observations on war. The music was a pastiche of baroque works, modernist harmonies, director/composer Goebbels’ own work, and ambient sound sculpture.

There were a few moving moments, like Stein’s strange but astute definition of war which as time, where “the years and months are long, but the weeks go quickly.” Similarly, other moments struck close to home. I couldn’t help drawing parallels between her description of “disappearing bodies” and what is happening with ICE. In a performance without characters, the musicians became stand-in symbols of lost populations, whose solos echoed in the space hauntingly, particularly in the last moment of the trumpet finale. The musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tempesta Di Mare were strong and skilled.

 

Accountability:

There seemed to be some effort in empowering women, from the marketing to the orchestra musicians and conductor. Goebbels also chose to highlight Stein’s description of “the 19th century as a white man’s world”, so clearly there was an direct effort. And yet I never felt this this production transcended that world in any clear, definitive way, outside of quoting Stein and staging gender division. The “gendered experience of war” (as found in a lot of the supportive materials) was never really unpacked. Also, the full-house audience I saw was only made up of older, white people.

Personally, I had a volatile, triggering experience. I found the work indulgent, where Stein served as puppet figure/token-Lesbian Jew, further complicated by her sympathy for Petain. Her writing was never deconstructed – it became the authoritative voice on war because it was never challenged. To me, this piece functioned as an experiment in old school avant-garde collage, and Stein’s perfunctory voice underscored a performance about war while avoiding any direct reference to its devastations or the forces that perpetuate it. Why does the piece feel like war needs a neutral exploration? What can we contemplate neutrally anymore? After all we know – dramaturgically, personally, philosophically – and especially now – why should we try to be neutral?