Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review of Interrobang Theatre Project's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? It was written by Edward Albee and directed by James Yost. It was about a man named Martin (Tom Jansson) who is an architect and lives with his wife Stevie (Elana Elyce) and child Billy (Ryan Liddell) in a big home in the suburbs. One day when Martin is doing an interview, he opens up to his best friend Ross (Armando Reyes) and tells him he is having an affair with a goat named Sylvia. That's who Sylvia is, if you were wondering. The play is about family, love, pain, and what counts as perversity. I think this is a really interesting and mind-boggling show. I was laughing a lot during this show--sort of uncomfortably, but still laughing. And I've been thinking about it and what it has to say about relationships a lot since.

I think the theme of this show is not really bestiality, though that might seem like what it is at first glance. The theme is cheating. If you are being cheated on, it can seem like the other person your partner is with isn't even human. The feeling of being betrayed by someone you trust so deeply makes it not even matter if the other person is human or not. I think the actor who played Stevie did a beautiful job of portraying that feeling. It is a very complex emotion because you still have to see how much Stevie loves Martin even though he is treating her like crap. A lot of people who are cheating on their spouses compartmentalize their lives so that one part can be about loving their family and another part can be about sleeping with someone else. Martin really still loves Stevie, but he is just being an idiot because being a partner is about making someone your full devoted priority, and not just making a compartment for them. People who are in polyamorous relationships agree to certain terms and know what they are getting into. But Martin and Stevie don't have that kind of relationship, and it is really hard to make that shift, especially if only one person wants it. The ridiculousness of suggesting, "I love you but I want to sleep with other people" is emphasized because the "person" he wants to sleep with is a goat.

I think this show was even more devastating because of the happiness that you see Stevie and Martin share at the beginning of the play. They joke around together and flirt and altogether just seem to be a really good couple. But then a few days later their whole relationship falls apart because of a goat. She starts throwing plates and antiques and artifacts all over the house. She doesn't really scream, she just breaks things. He has broken something important to her--their marriage and her heart--so she breaks things important to him.

I think it is interesting how Ross--who has cheated on his wife numerous time and doesn't seem to love her anymore--we don't seem to think of as the worst guy in the show. Having sex with a goat just overrules all that. But it is hard to say if the fact that Martin still loves his wife actually makes him better. Ross does tell Stevie the truth and Martin doesn't. But it seems strange that Ross doesn't tell his own wife about his own excursions if he is so committed to telling the truth. It is a very confusing play for deciding who is immoral because everyone makes rash decisions. It is not a simple play. There is not a right or a wrong or a good or a bad. It is very mind-boggling to figure out what the play wants you to think, but I like that about the play. I like when shows make you think, make you question, and try to understand the play better, I think this show did that very well.

People who would like this show are people who like questioning your own moral compass, plays about broken families, and broken plates. I think people should go see this show. It is a very thought-provoking experience with remarkable performances by the lead actors. I really liked it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review of Blank Theatre's Spring Awakening

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Spring Awakening. The book and lyrics were by Steven Sater and the music was by Duncan Sheik. It was based on the play by Frank Wedekind. It was directed by Danny Kapinos. The music director was Tyler Miles and the choreographer was Britta Lynn Schlicht. It was about a town in 19th-century Germany and the teenagers that live there and how they relate to each other, their parents, and teachers. It is about how little they have been told about their bodies and sexuality and how society treats them. I think this is a really interesting show to see in a small space because the movement is so big and the play is so relationship-oriented that being so up close with the performers makes the audience feel even more connected to the show. There was a lot of figurative impact, but because of the small space sometimes it also felt like there could be a literal one as well. That keeps you on your toes, which I think the show wants from you, because that is how all the characters feel in the play--like they are always worried about what could happen next and how they might be hurt.

The main topic in this show is sexuality, and the show has many views on it. It shows many different ways that sexuality filters into these teenagers' lives. Almost everyone in this show has some ounce of guilt over how they feel because of what their parents and society have taught them. Hanschen (Jonah Cochin when I saw it, usually Chase Heinemann) and Ernst (Adam Ross Brody) feel guilty about being gay. Wendla (Haley Bolithon) and Melchior (Chase Heinemann when I saw it, usually Jeremiah Alsop) feel guilty about connecting and enjoying being intimate with each other. Moritz (Sam Shankman) feels guilty about even knowing what sex is, basically. I feel like everyone has a sense that they shouldn't have to feel guilty, but because that is what they have been taught their entire lives, that is what they feel like they have to feel. Even though the show is implying you shouldn't feel guilty, it still shows the consequences that having sex at a young age can have. There are also many instances in which people should feel guilty, not about appropriate hormones, but about inappropriate actions like are talked about in "The Dark I Know Well" by Martha (Cari Meixner) and Ilse (Claire Latourette).

"Totally Fucked" is a totally relatable panic song about how Melchior is being accused of writing an essay on sex that he gave to his friend Moritz who was very oblivious about what sex actually was. It is a surprisingly upbeat song for how terrible the situation is. Everyone comes out on stage dancing in a way that seems almost joyful but still seems angry. I love this song because it is taking a different view on something everyone fears and kind of turning it into something you shouldn't fear because messing up and getting into trouble is inevitable and everyone is rejoicing in the stupidity of it all. The reprise of "Mama Who Bore Me" seems to have a similar tone, but instead of being focused on the cruelty of the adults around them, it is focusing on the unnecessary protections from the world that adults think teenagers need. It is also a direct segue out of a scene where Wendla's mother (Lisa Savegnago) has tried her best to get out of having "the talk" with Wendla. The first version of the song sounds very loving and slow, but then the same lyrics get redone as a more frustrated, faster song about being sheltered from things you should be able to know.

The song "Those You've Known" is about how the people you've lost in your life are not really lost. I think the thing that got me is that most of the other songs are about anger and adolescence, and in this song you see them not being teenagers. You see them making adult, reasonable decisions and thinking about things in mature ways. They are still vulnerable, and the thing that really got me in the song was the waver in Melchior's voice when he is singing the song. Often in musicals, people are sad but that just makes them belt out their emotions instead of singing like a person who is actually in pain would sing. I think that Melchior seeing his friends who didn't get to fully grow up shows him that he needs to grow up and that just because things are hard he shouldn't quit. Because he has an opportunity that his friends didn't have, to grow up, he needs to utilize it.

People who would like this show are people who like musicals about sexuality and adolescence, joyful mistakes, and learning how to grow up. It is beautifully complex, has heart-wrenching songs, and the characters are portrayed wonderfully. I really liked it.

Photos: Nick McKenzie

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review of The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Shipment. It was by Young Jean Lee, and it was directed by Wardell Julius Clark. It was a compilation of different short monologues, dances, and scenes about race and representations of black experiences. The show tries to make the audience feel uncomfortable to make the point of the play more effective, and it flips the script to say how wrong people are to pretend that we live in a post-racial society. I think this is a really powerful show. It takes a while to process, which I think adds to the experience. It was a really great show. It is a lot to handle, and I think the playwright wants it to be that way. But the discomfort is important for everyone to feel. And once you've thought about it for a while, you can move past the discomfort and nonproductive guilt and think about all the true and thought-provoking things in the show and how you can notice more effectively the crap that is happening around you and respond to it in a way that helps the situation but without taking over.

There was this dance (choreographed by Breon Arzell) at the beginning of the show with Sheldon Brown and Hunter Bryant. They started doing this dance that seemed almost like marionettes and like they didn't want to do what they were doing. That was sad because what they were doing seemed enjoyable except that they seemed very forced. Then when the scene ended, they took off their cheesy grins and just became very serious and walked off very businesslike, like what they had just done was humiliating to them. I think they were trying to show a modern minstrel act where the enthusiasm is all a ruse and the audience is silently convicted for laughing at it at first. This is kind of an introduction into how the show is going to try to get across its points. Young Jean Lee also used discomfort to get across her points in Straight White Men, and it was really effective there too.

There was also a stand up comedian (Marcus D. Moore) and I thought I had a general idea what it was going to be like. But he proceeded to use stereotypes about every person in the theater in some way, even himself. It was very explicitly sexual and graphic. It was hard to hear, especially sitting with a bunch of people when he is saying terrible things about everyone. I couldn't decide if Lee wanted us to feel alone or not alone in this mockery. I thought I would feel alone and alienated, but since the comedian was stereotyping everyone, I ended up feeling less alone. And then the end of his speech he ended up talking about his wife and kids, and it made you feel bad about dismissing him as an jerk. I think it is supposed to make you confused about how to think about this character.

They also had a scene that sort of reminded me of an old video game because of the robotic tone in their voice and their back and forth movements. They seemed to have only about two movements for each character. The plot is the plot of a stereotypical cautionary-tale movie about a black kid (Eric Gerard) who wants to be a famous rap star, so his friend (Brown) convinces him to sell drugs. He ends up in jail, joins a radical group, and then he becomes famous. And then he feels awful and he confesses to God and his grandma (Kiayla Ryann) comes down from heaven and tells him a story about cranes. It is showing how all these stereotypes get replayed and replayed. And sometimes it seems like that is the primary story people tell about black people. This scene leads into three of the actors (Brown, Gerard, and Ryann) staring at you for a minute and then breaking into song (music direction by Sydney Charles). I thought it was a really powerful switch from them playing these really clunky stereotypes to just being real people looking at us.

The last scene of the show feels a lot like a short play. It is about five friends who are having a party and find out it is their friend Desmond's (Brown) birthday. And at first it just seems like a normal party, but as it goes on, you find out not everyone is as emotionally stable as you thought. It is really distressing to see all of these people fall apart, but it was also interesting to watch because the actors were so amazing. There is also a big reveal at the end that I'm not going to give away. It was hard to wrap my head around, but it made me think back on the scene and how it changed it. The fact that all these things would be changed with the new information made me really think that just by changing one thing about a character it can completely change the way we see the morality and behavior of that character.

People who would like this show are people who like flipping the script, chilling transitions, and productive discomfort. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think it is a really important and thought-provoking show, and I want a lot of people to have this experience.

Photos: Austin Oie

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Scraps

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Scraps. It was written by Anthony Whitaker and directed by Jamal Howard. It is an imaginative sequel to The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It is about a living rag doll named Scraps (Brittney Brown) who lived in Oz and did the same thing every day until she got swept away by a kite when she was hanging out with her friend the Tin Man (Vic Kuligoski). And when she dropped down she fell into the house of her creators, Dr. Pipt (Jeffrey Hoge) and his wife Margolotte (Kelsey Shipley), only to find that Dr. Pipt was gone and Margolotte decided that she wanted to turn into a statue again. So Scraps seeks the help of Queen Ozma (JD Caudill), Dorothy (Charlie Irving), and Jack Pumpkinhead (Kelly Combs), and while she is there she meets a Prince (Kuligoski) who is amused by her and wants to take her back to his land. On her visit she meets the Prince's sister, Princess Langwidere (Combs), who lets her try on some of her spare heads, and Scraps feels so beautiful she decides to take it and go on an adventure as this new beautiful person. It is about self-discovery, what it means to be beautiful, and adventure. I think this is an intriguing show with a good moral and it was fun to see the connections to the other Oz stories.

Scraps is a very complex character, which I was not necessarily expecting. At the beginning of the show, it seems like she has one level. But as the show progresses and you see what she struggling with inside; you see that she has been pretending to be content with the way she looks and the way people treat her for a very long time. It was really moving to see her struggle with something I struggle with a lot and many other people do as well. A story that is familiar from childhood but is turned into a piece for adults is a really good format to get such an important point about standing up for yourself across. I feel like it is easier to learn in contexts that are familiar.

I really loved Dorothy and Ozma's relationship. They were so adorable together and I loved how open and loving they were with each other and how they didn't need a label for their relationship. That is weird for Oz, because Oz is a land of labels. Literally everyone's name is exactly what they seem to be: the Wicked Witch, the Cowardly Lion, the Emerald City. But the labels are not always right: the Cowardly Lion isn't really Cowardly and the Emerald City (in the book) is not really emerald. (But the Wicked Witch is pretty wicked.) All that matters is Dorothy and Ozma's connection with each other, and that is not really anyone else's business. Dorothy doesn't like the spotlight and is a very private person. Ozma says about themselves that they are neither a boy or a girl and live in between, which is again not putting a label on yourself. In the original story Ozma being a boy was just magic and done to hide Princess Ozma, but here it is exploring the ideas of being gender non-binary and how this character that most of us know from the stories was dealing with issues people deal with in the real world.

I thought this show had some cool production elements. I really like the costume (by Zachary Ryan Allen) for Scraps. It looked like a character costume you might see at an amusement park, but you could still see the actors's face, which I think was really important for this role because she is a very expressive character. It was made out of a bunch of patches and she had string for hair. The Tin Man was an interesting meld between a costume and a puppet. Each of the limbs of the Tin Man were strapped to limbs of the actor, so when the actor walked, the Tin Man would walk. I also think they did an amazing job for a show with a small budget. They had a set (designed by Whitaker) that was really good at conveying where they were for each scene but wasn't super extravagant. I think this show benefitted from the simplicity of the set because there are so many different story lines and characters, so those need to be the focus.

People who would like this show are people who like charismatic rag dolls, an effective moral, and unlabeled Oz. I think people should go see this show. It is an interesting and fun experience. I liked it!

Photos: Paul Clark