AVIGNON OFF: La Musica Deuxième by Margurite Dura

            The complexities of a divorced couple’s relationship are an often tapped well. Margurite Dura’s La Musica Deuxième, first published in 1985 twenty years after writing La Musica.  Perhaps consider putting in the context of a quiet French Albee play.  While there is the undeniable feeling of “Haven’t we been here before,” Guillemette Laurent’s deconstructive staging makes such a return merited. 

Starting at a table with the text in hand Catherine Salée and Yoann Blanc establish the setting of this meeting in a provincial hotel.   Over the course of the hour 15-minute performance they drudge up the past, share future plans and confess their fears, their hate, and their love for one another.   Laurent’s staging sleekly establishes the world.  She transitions the audience from reading, to realist play, and to theatrical deconstruction.  Her subtle use of lighting design grounds the action.  It also helps to frame the hidden complexities of this couple’s circumstances.

Catherine Salée and Yoann Blanc deliver this couple in a stilted quality.  They perform at once live and literary figures.  The result is an intimacy through a warped magnifying glass. Christine Grégoire and Nicolas Mouzet-Tagawa’s set and costume design present the sleep but drab cold control of affluent society.  Julie Petit-Etienne’s lighting left ample room for Laurent’s tangible sense of construction while simultaneously creating a world in which the characters on stage can exist.

La Musica Deuxième is in performance at the Théâtre des Doms at 10:30.

AVIGNON OFF: PIGMENTS by NICOLAS TAFFIN

It shouldn’t work.  The plot is a mash of soap opera twists and romantic comedy naïveté.   Yet, all the same, Mathilde Moulinat and Nicolas Taffin make Pigments, now on stage in Avignon Off’s Condition Des Soies, a charming and intimate exploration of redemption.

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 1.05.30 PM.png

On the anniversary of their relationship artist Chloé welcomes her fiancé Nicolas into her apartment.  Nicolas is a neurologist who is enamored but not exactly fluent in Chloé’s artistic passion.   He steadfastly refuses to pose nude for her.  Later in the apartment, as Cholé is getting dressed, Nicolas unwittingly reads a text to Chloé.  “How long?” he asks.  “Three months.” She responds.  Their relationship is over.  Then Cholé gets in an accident and has amnesia.  The rest of the play follows neurologist Nicolas’s attempt to bring Chloé back to her memory.  He, of course, doesn’t approach the truth of their pre-accident relationship until they are deep in memory therapy.

The play has plot holes that tractor trailers might find generous.  It is clear we’re in the age of social media (she has a pink cellphone) so how does she have no apparent social footprints to follow and reconnect with what must have been an active community?  It also seems unimaginable to me that such intense memory loss wouldn’t have an intensive mandated therapy system.  With her past four years erased daily actions could be added to the tasks of Hercules.  “How did you know the code to get in?” Chloé demands of Nicolas.  “How did you?” might have been a fair response.  Though, the play smartly never placates our rationale.  It neither expands to the theoretical universe of memory nor undermines its own sincerity with ironic absurdity.  Instead the emotions and actions of these lovers are couched in the play’s rich intimacy.  

In moments of quiet we see the gears turning in the heads of the characters.  In moments of passion, we are witness to the joy, the hurt and the fear that fuels their expression.  Playwright Nicolas Taffin’s script is full of quips and barbs that both delight us and endear us to the characters and their chemistry. It takes bravery to take the circumstances of Pigments seriously.  Thankfully he and Moulinat, in collaboration with director Elodie Wallace, have such courage.  Music by Diane Poitrenaud sets the mood in joy and hope.  Diane Coquard’s set manages the limitations of the Avignon Off beautifully.  It gives the actors a reality to fill and the director theatricality to exploit.  Pigments is an innocent take on romance.  It’s the kind of love story we would have enjoyed to watch in adolescence and one that can supply joy today.

PIGMENTS is at the theatre Condition des Soies at 17:20

Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Moral Argument

by Wesley Doucette

            Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 has been mostly discussed in three ways: 1) Its audacious staging; 2) Its rise from a shoebox theatre to the most nominated show of its Broadway season; and 3) The casting controversy which ultimately did it in. I am going to weigh in on exactly none of that.  Instead, I want to analyze what I think makes the production such a profound work of art: its morality.  Most who left The Great Comet left it with the sense that its achievements were mainly aesthetic and structural.  This is, if not a mistake, then a missed opportunity. While I admit at first glance this play seems like a hollow exploration on melodramatic archetypes, with further investigation The Great Comet is one of the most profound explorations of guilt and forgiveness I’ve seen on a Broadway stage.  Its moralizing is just well cloaked beneath its audacious aesthetic.

            Most musicals, after Rogers and Hammerstein, rarely float to the self-aware upper classes but rather engage with a resentful lower. They tend to take place in a world where those on the lower class fight to survive.  Poor people are allowed to engage with any manner of activity without losing their audience’s sympathy.  In Les Miserables the Thénardiers are given a moral carte blanche due to their social standing whereas Jean Valjean, now wealthy, is a living saint.  In Hamilton immoralities such as infidelities and restlessness come not from being a powerful aristocrat but from being “Young Scrappy and Hungry.”  Such moral excusing reaches its lowest lows in Rent where the struggling artists voluntarily opt for this moral hammock. They believe this renders themselves immune to criticism, and so they defer from reaching out to social structures around them such as work and family. The wealthy, when given a name, are either saints or not meant to be cared for.  Sondheim is the rare writer who gets away with high class moral ambiguity.  He, smartly, doesn’t generally examine the nature of privilege in his work. His bread and butter is more individuals with internal conflicts, than social struggles.  The odd man out in his catalogue is Sweeney Todd, another Thénardier who falls off the moral ladder in a way that is excused by the audience due to how low he is on the social ladder.  These theatre spaces present a world of structured morality graded on a curve. The rich have no reason to be anything but happy and the poor can do as they please.  Not so in The Great Comet where the aristocracy, who talk to us like we’re intimates, are selfish, capricious, remorseless, and human.  The only real moral precursors to this musical in terms of social perspective are Kander and Ebb’s Chicago and Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.  In Chicago, Threepenny, and The Great Comet the world doesn’t reward kindness and rarely punishes cruelty regardless of social class.  The society in The Great Comet is, uncharacteristically for a Broadway Musical, unapologetically frivolous and wealthy.  Though the question can be posed, as we look around at ourselves in the audience/stage, who are we to judge?

            There are two emissaries from Moscow society in The Great Comet.  The first is the devout old school Marya and the other the semi-sociopathic siblings Hèlene and Anatole.  I say semi because Hèlene, especially as performed by Amber Gray, gets the short shrift contextually.  Not to deviate too much from the conversation at hand but she too is trapped in a loveless marriage and she isn’t exactly apathetic to the life of Pierre during “The Duel” despite what he accuses.  Anatole, on the other hand is the pure product of a society which places morality as little more than a system of rules and regulations.  His life is founded on a rejection of personal morality and he treats social morality as a sport.  He perhaps recognizes the democratizing playing field offered by such an internal compassion. Our Alice/Dorothy archetype to this world is Natasha, and reactions to her have surprised me.  Many of my most stridently feminist friends have taken a Maria route in discussing Natasha’s actions: “Horrid girl. Hussy.”  By their criticism she’s just another Broadway waif whose whole existence seems to be man centered and she’s too easily thrown off balance by sparkly objects.  While I too am critical of the lack of weighty female roles on Broadway, such criticism here feels superficial.  For one, the play overtly lets us know that if you don’t like Natasha, you’re not alone.  Natasha isn’t universally likable in the world of the play.  While Maria claims her as “her favorite” both Bolkonskys hate her from the word “go.”  Also, should we not defend the right for people, including women, to make stupid decisions?  Does every female character have to be a Job archetype or Malala to warrant the respect of compassion?  If so, your bar is much too high and are thereby offering yourself an unfair acquittal to offer forgiveness to near anyone in your day to day life.  This is a compassion you will one day undoubtedly have to ask from someone near to you.  In short, if you find yourself dismissive of Natasha’s plight at the end of the play, how much better are you than the Moscow society which brought this girl to the point of suicide? 

            The morality of this play shares the narrative structure of Hamilton.  In both pieces the story is centered around one character (Natasha here, Alexander in Hamilton) while the philosophical journey belongs to another (Pierre here, Eliza in Hamilton.)  While here these two characters don’t cross paths until the end, during the play they happen upon the similar realizations.  They discover that they live in a society which, when push comes to shove, will not value their lives.  “So I shall be killed. What is it to you” from Pierre and “What is it to me? I shall die.” from Natasha.  Moscow brings us to a society where the only thing that deserves pursuit is one’s personal pleasure, or pedestal.  Pierre hasn’t mastered the former and Natasha fails at the latter. Pierre is more incapable of such an escapism than he is critical of it.  He longs to be like Anatole and the others who can exist without internal examination.  He is emotionally bogged by an intellectual hunger and searches through books to find answers in the world.  He only shelves his books and his drinking in the final act of the play when he is brought in to diffuse the elopement scandal via Maria.  He achieves this diffusion through three conversations. 

            The first conversation he has is with Anatole.  It doesn’t go well. He begins by calmly, but crudely interrogating Anatole.  Anatole dismisses him due to this perceived vulgarity.  Never mind what he himself had attempted today, social niceties must be respected.  Not women.  Niceties.  Pierre, reasonably, threatens to bash Anatole’s head in with a blunt object.  Anatole, reasonably, is terrified by this.  Pierre relents and coldly commands Anatole to leave Moscow.  Anatole will do so on the condition that Pierre apologizes for his manners.  The interchange feels in the moment like a plot cul de sac once Pierre apologizes and Anatole leaves.   Yet consider that in this moment Pierre apologizes to a man who has attempted to elope with a young girl who was fiancéd to Pierre’s best friend for no reason other than his word choice. At this apology Anatole smiles.  It is in the first of the three smiles Pierre witnesses at the end of the play.  This smile is seen as “base” by Pierre.  It’s a smirk of a smile that proves this sociopath has achieved what he set out to do and will continue in his life unchanged.  In the way Pierre seems incapable of enjoying life Anatole is equally incapable of basic sympathy. “I don’t know that and I don’t want to.”  This conversation places in front of us the perverted kind of forgiveness demanded by arbitrary hierarchy.  When personal moral standards aren’t prioritized, anything is justifiable within a system and a cart blanche from society is a carte blanche from the conscious. In The Great Comet the rich are just as culpable of using a moral hammock. 

            The next conversation Pierre has is with André, his close friend and Natasha’s now ex-fiancé.  André has had a bad go of it.  He is the only character who has truly endured the war.  Others had been in the war but they seem to have been able to leave unchanged.  André however, comes in as the play’s sole emissary from reality.  His entrance is greeted with a hangover like glaring white light.  Pierre asks, unbidden by anyone, for André to forgive Natasha.  He even references André’s own moral system, stated sometime before the actions of the play, wherein a “fallen” woman should be forgiven.  André proclaims that he has found that he can not do so.  The underlying hypocrisy is acknowledged by André but he simply doesn’t have such grace.  On its face this is incredibly reasonable but for the second time here we see cruelty in a smile.  He wears this smile “Coldly. Maliciously.” once Pierre tells André how badly Natasha is faring.  Such consequences for Natasha in the eyes of André aren’t proof of the necessity of his forgiveness but rather a kind of justice.  While again I’ll admit that on the cast album this is the song I’m most likely to skip, one can not eschew its importance not just narratively but also thematically.  How often are we shown that forgiveness is something easy and obvious? Were this another musical we would watch André repair his relationship with Natasha or we’d watch Natasha grow into a person who doesn’t need anyone because of her fortitude and newfound independence.  Instead André’s spite forbids him to help this girl and this lack of forgiveness further isolates and weakens Natasha.

            The final conversation is between, for the first time in the musical, Pierre and Natasha. I know many people who call this scene anticlimactic.  Musically we hit bedrock with the orchestration disappearing leaving us with nothing more than two people in conversation.  Natasha makes no overt grand discovery on life opening the chance to belt to the rafters. Pierre doesn’t do a stirring reprise of “Dust and Ashes.”  They have a brief conversation followed by some light stargazing on Pierre’s part.  If a reunion, or a death, or a kiss could be found on your dramatic wish list, you perhaps left the theatre disappointed.  What can be found in such an otherwise underwhelming moment that causes Malloy and Tolstoy to place so much dramatic faith in it?  For me the beauty lies in its representation of true forgiveness and the depth of these easily dismissed characters.  I think the wellspring of depth in Natasha’s character resides in the words “No I know it’s over.  I know it never can be.  But still I’m tormented by the wrongs I’ve done him.  Please tell him to forgive, forgive, forgive me for... everything.” For the first time Pierre talks to someone who realizes that they’ve done something wrong.  What’s more, he talks to someone who asks for forgiveness not from high society but from the person that they hurt by virtue of the fact that they hurt them.  On top of that, when prompted to throw Anatole under the bus she chastises Pierre “Don’t call him bad.” She defends Anatole’s honor even after she has learned he has a wife.  This also isn’t the naive residue of infatuation, as she admits to Pierre that her love has faded at least to the point of uncertainty. “…but I don’t know.  I don’t know at all.”  One should consider the rarity of a person like that. I know many people who find Natasha not worthy of such positive critical engagement but if we examine the beauty of this moment we should all want to emulate her.  Pierre sees her weep.  Important to note that Pierre, for all time we spend with him, never has an interaction with someone who weeps.  He sees her weep and Pierre, knowing such isolation too well, offers her redemption.  In this moment, while Natasha leaves the room and glances at Pierre, she looks at Pierre and offers him the third smile. 

            It this third “grateful last glance” that teaches Pierre something profound.  He learns that this forgiveness is the love he has been looking for in life.  It is her smile that makes mankind seem “So pitiful. So poor.”  The depth of this moment is underlined in its personification by way of The Great Comet.  A comet that, while presumed to bring misfortune by Moscow Society, is gazed at joyfully by Pierre.  He finds in it his proof that good exists and his life might have meaning.  If he witnessed the comet before his interaction with Natasha I imagine he would have felt nothing.  Yet the purity of their simple, profound conversation unleashed a shift from cold-classism to optimistic romanticism. The Great Comet was more than just the new shake up of aesthetic.  It teaches us how to hold ourselves to humanist moral standards in an era which frames compassion as a defect.  I expect we’re going to need more such plays very soon.

Broadway au Carré

by Wesley Doucette

            Comédie Nation is a small theatre on an outer arrondissement of Paris.  Its usual seating, numbering somewhere north of 50 and south of 100, was augmented this past November with a few folding chairs as well as a small smattering of spectators seated in the aisle floor.  The audience features an arrange of expats, anglophilic French, and musical theatre enthusiasts.  On the stage is My Life is a Musical, Adam Overett’s musical comedy brought to Paris by way of the company Broadway au Carré.  Performed entirely in English with inter-scene French narration, the play is farcical in nature, a fact amplified by the cast’s compacting on the postage stamp stage. It is the rare breath of new in the French musical theatre scene.

            Musical theatre in Paris has two established stages: Théâtre du Châtelet and the Théâtre Mogador.  The only cross over success perceived by US audiences in recent years is Châtelet’s lavish An American in Paris.  The theatre, apparently under the impression that they’ve happened upon their muse, will be presenting another Gene Kelly classic, Singing in the Rain, at the Grand Palais this year. Outside of cinema classics brought to stage, the company has also created operatic presentations of Broadway masterpieces such as Candide and high gloss stagings of Sondheim.

            French perceptions of musical theatre are similar to a lot of the American public’s.  It’s seen as frivolous escapism.  The work is populist fluff who’s highest virtue is its ability to divert its audience to an alternate, happier, reality for two to three hours.  The Châtelet doesn’t set out to argue against this accusation of “frivolity.”  Its rehabilitation of the art form for the European public is found in the culinary.  I admit I am one of many who were happy to see Fun Home, an intimate bio-musical dealing with childhood, homosexuality, and suicide, win the day over An American in Paris, who’s thematic ambitions were muddled to the point of malice.  However, even I had to concede that the Gershwin orchestrations, Wheeldon’s Tony winning choreography, and the dazzling costume design had nearly no equal on the Broadway stage.  The musical made for excellent culinary spectacle.  The assertion that American musical theatre is worth analysis on a thematic or structural level isn’t, as of yet, the intention of the Châtelet programming.  Musical Theatre is instead an aesthetic extension of golden aged cinema, in the same manner that we might stage late 19th century Opera as a representation of Belle Époque aesthetic.  The programming at Châtelet is that of a highly funded regional theatre.  Sondheim, Bernstein, and Hammerstein are all available.  I offer this not as a complaint but as a recognition of the service they’re offering in the exportation of American culture abroad.  It’s an America that has been heavily vetted and which doesn’t require too much adaptation to extend itself to the foreign culture.

            Then there is the Théâtre Mogador.  Rather than the Châtelet’s opera house programming schedule, Mogador produces one major commercial hit a year.  This year it’s Grease.  This is, as far as I can perceive, a commercial theatre that is therefore risk averse.  An understandable malady, and one that New York theatre should have an excess of empathy for.  Next year the theatre is performing Chicago.  One might have knee-jerk misgivings as the New York production has run out of steam years ago.  However, the musical remains in my view one of the all time American theatre masterworks and I have hope that this will serve as a marvelous introduction to the epic musical theatre of Kander and Ebb to the French public.  However again, as with all pieces of theatre referenced thus far in Châtelet and Mogador, a great deal of the success of the piece relies heavily on cinematic adaptation.  How much of the staging relies on the cinematic rendition?  It is still too soon to say.  However, for musical theatre to find a space of legitimacy in the French theatre society, daring staging is a necessity.  Staging is often, if not always, prioritized over the text.  This doesn’t just mean the grace of Wheeldon’s choreography but daring interpretations which we’ve seen in America by directors like Doyle, Chavkin, and Taymor. 

            Outside these two theatres the staging of musical theatre has been nearly universally commercial.  The choices by producers are generally nostalgia based: Dirty Dancing, The Bodyguard, and The Addams Family stand out as examples.  These are all to be, or have been, staged in Paris over this year.  Pieces like these, while funded better than regional theatre are received, as far as I can tell, with the same glum satisfaction of low expectations.  Save the Sondheim renditions at the Châtelet, the artistic bar for musical theatre abroad is set uniformly quite low.  This is admitting that execution of these works is generally quite high. I’d compare most to high quality cruise ship productions, a comparison here not intended as derogatory but rather as descriptive.

            Capitalism in art makes an easy target of itself.  We’ve been told that Europeans, with their relatively high government funding for all art including live performance, is a safe haven from the demands of commercialism.  Yet the companies that are freed from craven capitalism have maintained their aversion to American theatre in general, especially musical theatre.  This is not an aversion that is found in rapport to other cultures: German, Italian, or even English if we’re counting Shakespeare, find homes on numerous French stages.  This cultural distaste comes in part from an egregious over-saturation of American Media around the world.  American cinema, music, and television are incredibly omnipresent in non-English speaking nations.  The question then perhaps arises that why should we, as Americans, not be satisfied by this?  Because the commercial media represents a very broad and shallow portrayal of American aesthetic and culture. Theatre, unlike cinema and music, can’t be mass produced and is generally produced in an ae-commercial fashion.  It has to be locked in time space and therefor is made with a unique audience in mind.  There is little complexity in the media that gets delivered to Europe because moral complexity might alienate an international audience.  The side effect of this is that Europeans believe American culture to be shallow and anti-intellectual by extension.  That’s not to say there is no validity to that critique.  There is no major media which counters this argument.  Directors in Europe are not staging the works of Baker, Wilson, O’Neill, Nottage, and Vogel in the same way they are staging the works of the European geniuses.  These writers are American, a culture which is synonymous more with Rhianna, Disney, and Netflix.  I love all three and will defend them, but European directors reasonably believe they don’t need to propogate their culture further than they’ve achieved on their own. 

            This brings us back to the small theatre in the Nation area.  The lead character, as portrayed by artistic director Lisandro Nesis, makes the reveal that his life is, indeed, a musical in an all too literal way.  The premise is ludicrous but the staging is inventive and the actors more than game enough to sell the piece.  The creative team drinks to a job well done after their all too short run.  One can only imagine what their funded ambitions might look like if their shoestring is conceived with such sincerity.  Broadway Au Carré is one of the rare musical development spaces outside The United States and United Kingdom.  The artists volunteer their time for the love of the art.  They offer a perspective on musical theatre that is often missing in European circles. This work is not beneath them, nor is is their the usual contempt for the audience.  The theatre offered by Broadway au Carré is done uniformly with the sincerity in the belief in their product.  The production lacks the funding and by extension the gloss of the Châtelet and Mogador, but it holds a sense of invention that the others lack.  We need craft shops like this for English speaking theatre abroad. 

            We also need European theatre companies who have sufficient funding to consider the playwright based theatre structure of American culture.  Ivo Van Hove’s A View From The Bridge should be just the beginning of an exploration.  Until Europeans learn to say Sondheim in the same breath as Chekhov or Kander and Ebb in the same conversation as Brecht without irony American culture will continue to be considered remedial.  The advances of American theatre over the past 20th century have gone relatively unmined by European nonprofit theatre companies with their star directors.  I look forward to them making the belated discovery.

 

Episode 7 - Snow White

Wesley: Hi I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And I’m Robyne.

Wesley: And this is, Obstructed View.

Robyne: And today we will be discussing Company XIV’s Snow White at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Wesley: Company XIV’s Snow White follows the traditional German tale, rather than the Disney version of the Snow White story. If you don’t know the original tale, it is in which a vain queen consults her mirror “Who is the fairest in the land?” The mirror responds, “Snow White.” Who she then orders to have killed. Snow White flees to the woods where the queen gives chase after her, intending to kill her. Snow white finally dies by eating a poisoned apple but is revived by a handsome prince. At the prince’s wedding ceremony with Snow White, which the queen attends, the queen is punished to death by being forced to wear red-hot iron metal shoes.

Robyne: Our design team for Snow White was Zane Pihlstrom for set and costumes, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew for lighting and projection design, and makeup design by Sarah Cimino. The only addition that has been made to the in house set Company XIV has been using this season was the addition of a small pop up puppet theatre.

Wesley: The way that they interacted with the set, it didn’t have the sense of going up and down, up and down, all over the place that Cinderella did, where it really utilized every corner at all times. But there was such a full bodied vision for all these different stage elements. They really saw a much larger picture than I think they did in the two previous pieces, where it was really all about this three ring circus where you look at this one then you look at this place and this place, this was a much more open dance space. And you really got a good sense of that during the pre-show, in which the actors were just walking around on the stage going about their business. I loved the pre-show for this one because everyone seemed so calm, and ready to tell the story, and you were able to access all aspects of the space without treating it like an “I Spy” game.

Robyne: There was so much air. There was so much space. You could breathe in this production, and in this design, and in the treatment of the space, that I found to be the real hinderance in Nutcracker Rouge, it was just so fast paced and frantic, and this was just so much more relaxed in its pre-show, and its staging, and all of that franticness was gone.

Wesley: Yeah, this was a much more constructed, and much more patiently delivered piece.

Robyne: And that was really paralleled in the lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. It was a lot more along the lines of Cinderella, but where Cinderella was that warm amber color of champagne feeling, this was much more of a bright neon, techno-colored mixed drink. Like a cosmopolitan or an Appletini.

Wesley: Yeah … uh-

Robyne: Lighting wise-

Wesley: okay

Robyne: ...you know it’s true

Wesley: So, Cinderella had this hollywood golden age feel to it. Nutcracker Rouge was a ... jewel toned Pollock painting. But this, this had that beautiful haze to it. Almost as though you were looking at an overcast day inside this jewel toned box. It was so beautiful how all these different colors mixed together, and how they really took advantage of what I think was the season. I think that this was very much a play that belonged in the heart of winter, in February. I think they really understood the mood of this audience walking into this play. I didn’t want me to be confused and think I was in summer, but they made a beautiful atmosphere with this lighting, and there were even moments where the lighting was hitting the chandelier that was so new, it was such a new idea with lighting and its interaction with set.

Robyne: And it felt present. You mentioned that Cinderella felt like the Hollywood golden age, but something about this lighting design really helped this production feel young, and capture Snow White’s youthfulness.

Wesley: And, we’ll get into this further later in the podcast, but while the other two productions felt like Company XIV first and their story second. I really saw this as a continuation of the Snow White mythos. I saw this as a continuation of the world of Snow White. I think they had a lot of respect for the source material.

Robyne: It felt so true to form, and it was completely narrative in that sense. Something I really loved in the lighting design was that in the creation of Snow White’s glass casket which was this really beautiful scene, very slowly placed, of them unraveling cling wrap, essentially, a giant roll of cling wrap over the previously used false proscenium framework, in which she is laid on a box

5:00

and it is slowly, by four people, just rolled and rolled and rolled. The lighting inside of that scene work painted it this very light, almost neon, blue that was gorgeous, it worked so very well. And there is something about that tint of blue that is glasswork and that felt like that Disney style and that-

Wesley: And furthermore in that moment there was something that I saw, that I didn’t witness in the other two pieces, which was a part of melancholy. This moment of meditative melancholy with its combination of this totally out of the blue Dance Theatre Pina Bausch moment with them taking the cling wrap around and around the proscenium, which I loved, and also just committing to the mood first.

Robyne: That is one of the two moments of stillness in this production, that really just stuck out, and I don’t recall seeing in Cinderella, because even in moments of calm and quiet, for instance the Fairy Godmother’s entrance, there is still a very slow, decadent movement to that. Whereas, in this Snow White is dead and not moving, frozen, and Snow White lost in the snow storm was a beautiful, calm, very still moment.

Wesley: It was expansive and cinematic in a way that I had not seen from this company before. It was a sense of wonder, and it made evident this sense of a German expressionist film, I had not seen in their previous work.

Robyne: Hands down, maybe my favorite moment  in theatre that I’ve seen this past year. That snowstorm scene. Completely transportive. And I’ve nothing else to say. It was fantastic.

Wesley: And furthermore in the other two pieces by them, the quiet moments felt like spaces between the things you’re supposed to see. They felt like the “...” between scenes, rather than feeling like stand alone scenes that are supposed to be taken in on their own account. And in this, those quiet moment felt like moments that are supposed to weigh as much as the stunt, as the singing, as anything else.

Robyne: And it really helped us follow Snow White’s travels. It brought us into her mind and we were allowed to breathe with her, and be afraid with her, as opposed to being shown all these ridiculous things as we were in the Nutcracker... or, almost, forced to feel in Cinderella. Along those lines restraint, something I really appreciated about this production, in comparison to the other two, was a much healthier display of the leather BDSM, which they are so fond of- which was in this instance so more properly used in the simple use of ball gags with the queen’s mirror bearers. The opening scene has the queen enter and really gorgeously displays her vanity and her cold cruelness, as opposed to the wicked stepmother in Cinderella’s very hot cruelness. With sharp whips. And while the wicked queen came out with a whip at some point it always felt like a very blue flame.

Wesley: The costuming in this piece, while I agree their use of the BDSM was much better in this, I would like to start to see some more variation in the costuming that they use.

Robyne: I completely agree. I love the use of near nudity. I loved the Prince’s outfit in this, it was newer than I’d seen in the other productions. But it’s still mostly corsets and nude forms, and that is absolutely fine if that is your basis. But a little more flavoring would be really appreciated.

Wesley: And I remember saying, I’d like to see something on that stage that doesn’t look like it would hurt to the touch. A lot of it just seemed uncomfortable at this point in time with this level of character, and this level of world building, I’d like to see some sense of comfort in this world that they’re making.

Robyne: I would love some version of Cinderella where we see her in something much simpler, like a cotton blouse. And really have an everyman be taken into this exquisite world.

Wesley: A thing they added in Snow White, which we hadn’t seen in Company XIV before, was the use of projections. Projections are brought in every time the queen asks the mirror “Who is the fairest of us all?”

Robyne: And I really loved that concept. I loved that the mirror was really reflecting her face, and so we saw in various forms, one time beautifully projected onto her back, the mirror which would be her face responding to her question.

10:00

It happened a little too often and they went a little too long, but it was great. It worked very well and they were using it to supplement some missing part of the production, like set, and the use of projection I loved.

Wesley: I agree, I think the use of projection was phenomenal, especially, as you said, when it was on her back. A lot of variation and innovation with how it’s projected. I’ll give them that this is how it works in the original piece, that these were the questions asked, and these were the responses from that source material. However, I just think it took too long to get into, and too long to get out of each of those moments in terms of streamlining the question and answer periods between her and the mirror.

Robyne: Agreed.

Wesley: And lastly we have sound design by the director Austin McCormick.

Robyne: There’s a lot I liked about the sound design in this production. There’s a lot I loved about it. I’m a little tired of operatic singing at this point, I felt a little too much of it in this production. But the mashing up of “Toxic” with a tango flamenco dance number was, was visionary. That song, the choreography, in line with it, that music just worked perfectly for me.

Wesley: I, in terms of choice of music and what’s being used, I really liked their commitment to the baroque style and classical music in this. I felt that the other two got caught in a PostModern Jukebox that was starting to bore me. But when I was ready to roll my eyes at them reconstructing Toxic, it became one of my, if not my favorite moment of the show.

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: It was so much fun, it was not trying to be anything that it wasn’t. The costumes worked, the moment worked, and it was committed to a moment of story.

Robyne: That was a climax.

Wesley: Yeah, it absolutely was. I liked the use of baroque, I liked the use of classical music throughout.

Robyne: Solid sound design.

Wesley: Yeah, yeah, solid choices made in music and sound.

Robyne: Let’s move on to cast.

Wesley: So in our cast we have as Die Königin or The Queen, Laura Careless. As Schneewittchen or Snow White Hilly Bodin. As the Showgirls Marcy Richardson, Lea Helle, and Marisol Cabrera. As the Könglicher Hofstaat or The Queen’s Men Davon Rainey, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, and Nicholas Katen and as Der Prinz or the Prince Courtney Giannone.

Robyne: Disclaimer: As previously mentioned in Cinderella, I know Hilly Bodin well and it was fantastic to see her in such a leading role so early in her career.

Wesley: So something that they do in this cast that I really appreciate is that they reduced it. As much as I enjoyed seeing everyone on stage all the time in the other two pieces, more in Nutcracker Rouge than in Cinderella in this case, I liked the sense of everyone having an equal hand in telling this very simple story.

Robyne: It was intimate where the others were not and the size of the cast and the amount of stage they took up helped the production breathe.

Wesley: The production helped everybody have a very calm personality from having a very simple concept for themselves when they walked on stage. They’re allowed to be their own selves. The showgirls were allowed to be so calm and so goofy and fun. And the Queen’s men were so at ease. They were all so calm on stage being themselves in the moment.

Robyne: And as fun as the stepsister’s one-upmanship game was in Cinderella the space and air really allowed for the characters to come through without the characters needing to fight to be heard or seen. And just having the juxtaposition of Laura Careless’s often terrifying queen and Hilly Bodin’s pure and naive Snow White, just coming into her own and discovering her power and discovering her sexuality was really beautiful. And having those two very distinct personas on stage, was fascinating to watch.

Wesley: Yeah, this play really, I keep saying play because more than anything else this felt like a piece of drama, I was astonished with Laura Careless as The Queen. Having seen her simper through Nutcracker Rouge, to see her have essentially a monologue in dance form in the beginning was incredible.

15:00

Robyne: And her transition out of the circus scene, which replaced the farmer’s life witch scene, in which she hands the apple off, and seeing her victory in killing Snow White and reckoning with that for just long enough, some people might say too long, but it- she was so grounded and lost in that to moment, to have her immediately shift into this terrifying nineteen fifties esque cartoonish dance number.

Wesley: It was- it was actually- it was a real star turn for her to take a role like that and to find all the fun you can get out of it. And she is, she was able to fascinate me with dance on the same level that other performers were able to fascinate me with singing opera upside down on a stripper pole.

Robyne: And her introduction was just phenomenal. The way that her character was made completely evident by that first moment was fantastic.

Wesley: Right and this really felt like a collaboration between her and Austin McCormick, in a real development of that monologue through dance. Her introduction with her queen’s men with their light up ball gags, I thought was going to be a bit much, because it was in all their advertising materials, and I thought it was going to be a bit garish and like we really jumped the shark. But she really grounded it in the world of this is a woman in charge. And then in “Mirror mirror on the wall,” her first discovery that she is not the fairest, it was done with such intensity, and such refinement, it perfectly catapulted us into the plot that followed and into the mind of a woman that would try to kill a young girl multiple times to make sure she’s the fairest.

Robyne: Yeah, there was near Shakespearean loss of power by a monarch, that was handled so beautifully.

Wesley: And it feels more than just bland vanity. You do get a sense that this is something this woman derives all of life’s power from. This isn’t just “Oh there’s a mole over here,” this is her work.

Robyne: And to have that contrasted by Hilly Bodin’s Snow White, was beautiful, then having the trifecta of the prince arriving and being this super suave creature with that Cyr Wheel, and that Cyr wheel work, I’ve seen a Cyr wheel used so often in the downtown, off off, avant-garde scene to poor effect, but this is incredible. This made me feel like the 1950’s movies where the lead jock comes in and he’s just so cool and everyone wants to be his friend and Courtney just had that, had whatever that thing is, that charisma, that machismo that just attracted every audience member’s focus.

Wesley: And I think one of the good comparisons between Laura Careless and Hilly Bodin in this performance is that Hilly’s performance, it came more naturally, in terms of how it was presented. The choreography of the queen, the way she treats people, all comes with an air of practice, and Hilly’s performance, it felt like it came to her with ease. Like she didn’t even have to try to be the “fairest in the land,” it’s just something that she was born with. And that’s not to say she doesn’t do a great job of putting in performance, putting in ballet, but a contrast there between The Queen, who has fought and has refined and refined and refined and Hilly, who’s able to just breathe into her own beauty, made for a great dynamic.

Robyne: There was just so much smoothness, and litheness, and grace in Hilly, where The Queen was such sharp edges, it was incredible to have those two things together.

Wesley: Right, and also looking at costuming, so at the end of the piece, when you have The Prince and Snow White, their costuming is sort of like a tapestry. Still burlesque, still showing some skin, but it’s a tapestry work. And it gives a sense to a kind of a warmth to them, and comfort, as compared to the almost drag elements of The Queen.

20:00

Robyne: Laura Careless’ final dress is this really gorgeous sequined evening gown that reminds me of BeBe Neuwirth or Eartha Kitt, in this kind of smokey ‘all fingernails pulling you towards her and you know you’re being manipulated but you want it anyway’. Yes?

Wesley: Right, and her three torments that she pulls on Snow White, the first being the corset that’s pulled too tightly, the second being the poisoned comb, and the third the poisoned apple, which now is this bauble that’s put in the circus brought from person to person to person, they were done with inventiveness as well.

Robyne: The beat structure of this production was absolutely wonderful, it fixed the issues I had with Nutcracker... in the narrative structure. The moments were very clean and clearly defined, from the queen’s entrance, to Snow White’s entrance, to The Queen ordering the woodsman to get the heart of Snow White, to that gorgeous orb of ice with the beating heart at the center the queen attacked with a knife and shot ice everywhere, which was probably unsafe for the first row, into the puppet show, without having to probably offensively solve for having seven little men, Austin McCormick has staged this puppet show for the meeting of The Dwarves every time, into the torments, the first being the corset, the second being the comb and the third being the apple which was given to her through this circus, which worked far better than the circus moments in either of the first two productions. And there was- I keep on saying there was so much space and air to breathe, during that circus performance everyone had a moment to shine without everyone being given a moment to shine, for the audience to recognize their skill and their talent. They were simply all happening, it was paced so well that the audience was given that moment.

Wesley: And there was always a focus, it was never just there for stunt work. It was there to center around the apple that Snow White was doomed to bite into.

Robyne: And we went immediately from there to the funeral scene with the seran wrap glass coffin into the-

Wesley: The Cyr wheel

Robyne: -into the cyr wheel, into The Queen’s punishment by death by dancing in the smoking hot coal red shoes as she danced to death.

Wesley: The ending was-

Robyne: was a little weak.

Wesley: While her dancing was excellent, just in the way of framing the moral it’s trying to state something got a little bit muddled in having Snow White curious as to who is the fairest in the land. Or, for some reason, that being offered again. Rather than showing two clear viewpoints on vanity: Snow White who’s happy with her natural beauty and The Queen, who’s obsessed with her constructed beauty, and that being her doom while Snow White is able to be in love. It was all muddled, and it didn’t end with the sense of finality that could really have helped this be a piece of some poignancy.

Robyne: And I’m all for corruption feed into the next generation as a moral for these kinds of stories, but there was something about not ending with the light not solely focused on the queen as she danced her death with the projection of the mirror- once Snow White was introduced to that ending instead of having her live “Happy Ever After,” it was just muddled, it got a little confusing.

Wesley: Because he did do similar things in Cinderella, and Nutcracker Rouge, where they wake up from the dream, or whatever happens, and they kind of are supposed to leave mentally this bad tang in your mouth of not everything is well. There isn’t a “Happy Every After.”

Robyne: It’s this tint of realism he tries to bring on to that, it, it just never lands well.

Wesley: No, it worked decently in Cinderella, however here it just felt muddled as to what is this statement supposed to be. That didn’t deride in any way shape or form the power of the performance, off of its hinges. The performance still resonated very very well. But just, for a last moment, I would have preferred a bit more clarity with a piece that was just so incredibly well structured.

Robyne: Agreed, so Wesley I guess the last question is, is it worth the 65 dollar full price ticket?

25:00

Wesley: It’s weird ‘cause, while this is my favorite of their pieces, it isn’t as easy to recommend at that ticket cost as Cinderella, or Nutcracker Rouge, because those featured stunts that were so much easier to define. However, yes I think it’s absolutely worth the cost of admission to see this. Robyne-?    

Robyne: Yes! It is. Spend the money. Go see the show. It’s fantastic! As always, you can find us and join in on the conversation at obstructed-view.com, or on facebook, or twitter. I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and remember -

Wesley: Everything’s perfect at the ballet.

                    

Episode 6 - Hir

 

Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And I’m Robyne.

Wesley: And this is Obstructed View.

Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing Hir at Playwright’s Horizons, written by Taylor Mac, and directed by Niegel Smith.

Wesley: Hir follows Isaac, a dishonorably discharged soldier coming home from the war, to discover that his father had suffered a debilitating stroke, and that his mother, Paige, took over the household turning everything he knew upside down.

Robyne: The design team for Hir was, scenic design, David Zinn, costume design by Gabriel Berry, lighting design by Mike Inwood, and sound design by Fitz Patton.

Wesley: The play setting is in contemporary lower middle class America and the design team really reached for a sort of hyper realistic presentation of this world.

Robyne: The attention to detail in this design was exquisite. The designers all worked together to create this very detailed hyper realistic world. The sound design was sparse. I can only really recall two cues: It was the sound of crickets in act II, and the sound of a car driving away in act I, and that was all that was needed. The silence that filled the room when silence was called for was great. Everything else was practical sound.

Wesley: What Fitz Patton’s sound design was able to do for me in those rare moments they used sound design, it gave this great sense of this expansive world outside this home we know. It was a vague, not so much foreboding, as it was expansive world of the unknown outside this home. She goes out in the car and you’re left to your imagination what this city looks like. It kind of makes this “everywhere America” kind of feel to it.

Robyne: And in conjunction with Mike Inwood’s lighting design, which was discrete and subtle, this world became so defined. The restraint on the part of the designers really created this wonderfully realistic world.

Wesley: Something that I initially disliked, which grew to be one of my favorite parts of the piece was this photo-realism, and the subtlety and the refinement with which these designers, including lighting designer Mike Inwood’s work, where it was so small in detail, and in presentation that these people were then grounded as people in a real setting, in a real social structure, and with real personalities and histories.

Robyne: From the moment that the curtain went up David Zinn’s set and Gabriel Berry’s costume designs just- you immediately knew who these people were and where we were, within two seconds. Even the slightly absurd opening of this production, you got a very clear sense: who was in control, what the living situation was, what the financial situation was of this family. And, it was gorgeous, it was claustrophobic almost, how trapped the designers made us feel in that moment, in the chaos of the set dressings on this wonderfully detailed set by David Zinn.

Wesley: Yeah, so David Zinn’s set, when the curtain opened, it really had this feeling of one of those “Eye Spy” books I had when I was little. Everything was everywhere. Nothing but color. Nothing but handmade mess happening, and the costume design by Gabriel Berry, they were both matched, the same level, which is not abstract mess, but concrete. These were people with a financial background, with an ability to create this sort of mess they have in front of them. This wasn’t generic mess. This wasn’t even high abstract mess. This was a concrete, people creating the world around them. And, as much as I thought those initial moments with Isaac coming into the home were manic and- I thought I was in trouble with the show- it really gave a good background to what this show was going to be about. Isaacs difficulty of getting into this world and his ultimate departure from it.

Robyne: The set dressings beautifully illustrated the chaos that was going on at home, beautifully demonstrated the intentional chaos that Paige had decided to exert on her home. Wesley: And there were a couple reveals in act II in the space, once the place gets cleaned up, once you start to see that this home is just a place where these people are able to project themselves, and their personalities, and their desires onto it. Even if it is, the father punching holes in the wall. And these sorts of moments became so grounded with this world being photorealistic.

Robyne: Overall I thought that the design for this piece was exquisite.

5:00

It was a lot of high detail work, and designers getting out of the way, to allow a piece of this nature to happen.

Wesley: Right, as I said before there was something about it that I didn’t care for in act I, mostly because the writing style, and the nature of this world we were in felt more archetypal, it felt more abstract. But come act II, with the grounding of all these characters and their histories, and their lives, it became one of the most important things to make this production a success for me.

Robyne: Taylor Mac’s writing in this piece is, in my opinion, a little hit and miss. There are many instances of things being brought up, and immediately dropped. There are moments where reveals happen to no end. It was simply more information that was piled on and contrary, I feel, to the design which was very concrete and hyperrealistic and, as I said, claustrophobic, in a sense, the actual writing and concept of the play felt even slightly farcical, in an unintentional sense. The play occurs over fourteen hours, and we see the first and the last of those two hours. I feel there were a lot of logical fallacies in the reality they had created.

Wesley: Absolutely, so we are loaded with a lot of history in this family the second they start, but none of those are revealed very organically. There was a great deal of information we as audience members needed to get really quickly in this piece to understand the complexity of this family and what they’re going through. Often it came off with this sort of improvisational air to me. I think one of the reasons so much of the information is given so ham fistedly in the beginning is that there’s so much to get. We, like Isaac, are dropped in the middle of this insane world. So, Isaac had been dishonorably discharged for using drugs, and was sent back home. Not only had his father, Arnold, suffered this stroke, but his mother, Paige, is drugging him (Arnold) with estrogen pills in order to keep him docile and not only that but his sibling, Max, previously his sister is going through transition and is now going by the pronouns Hir and Ze. Which is something brand new to Isaac and which is where the piece gets its title from. His mother Paige is excited about all of these changes, and all this power she has in the household. Isaac does his best to regain some control in the family, and a great deal of this information is developed in this improvisational air of “here’s this new piece of information, we’ll play with it for thirty seconds, until the next piece of information”, just keeping it on rotation like that, rather than keeping it organically developing a conversation.

Robyne: For a world where there seems to be so much consequence for your actions, there seems to be very little consequence for your dialogue, in this world. And I found that very troublesome. The play felt like a divide between wanting to be this hyperrealistic kitchen drama where you see all these people as people, as separate individuals, interesting, quirky human beings. And on the other side, it felt like it wanted to be a very important philosophical conversation. Now to Taylor Mac’s credit the piece did not feel preachy in the least. There was a brief lesson on pronouns, that when looking around the audience I felt was really necessary, but was not exhaustive, and had a beautiful coda where Isaac, not knowing what to do with Max, simply stared and Max said “Hug me, just hug me.” And there was this gorgeous moment where they embraced and Isaac said something about how Max smelled different and Max said, “I know isn’t it cool?” And that was wonderful, and there was a number of these moments in the dialogue, most of them Paige’s, where you see the nonsensical, farcical airs she puts on break in these gorgeous moments of honesty. For instance, when Isaac goes to remove Arnold’s mumu, and clownish drag makeup, and Paige immediately snaps “We will not rewrite his history with pity.” Gorgeous. The underlying structure of the story is fascinating and gorgeous and the conflicts these characters go through are fascinating and it’s so fast. A lot of the reveals are so fast. The amount of time this play is supposed to happen is so fast. If this was a miniseries on HBO, if this was a new “Angels in America” for this generation. If this wasn’t a play, but the structure was longer and we were given more time for these reveals and to get to know these characters. A play is the wrong format for this story I think.

10:00

The conversations around gender and trans community would be vastly different than how they are handled in this play in which we only had two hours and it would relieve a lot of the time constraint stress and it wouldn’t seem so farcical.

Wesley: That moment you discussed earlier, when she says “we will not rewrite his history with pity,” that was the first moment in this play when I thought to myself, “here is a drama.” Everything up ‘til that point, I thought I was in trouble. I thought it was mania. But when that moment hit it became clear that these characters are to be understood as being people. I think that a lot of the transitions that happen during it, do happen too quickly for the time allotted. They feel shoehorned into this time span of the fourteen hours. Between act I, and act II Isaac refuses to give Arnold Arnold’s smoothie and the results of that are just so extreme.

Robyne: He was immediately from this docile invalid, who for all intents and purposes is pity able, because what this woman is doing to him is inexcusable abuse, to a much more functional man, after being off of these drugs twelve hours later, and you can see in him the abuser he was. You can see in him the fun, rebellious kind of energy he used to have. And that is nonsensical over that amount of time. Another issue I had with this piece was Paige’s treatment towards Max versus Paige’s treatment towards Isaac. Paige is willing to go to the ends of the earth for Max, and wants to create this new world for her and Max to live in together. Whereas she has already written of Isaac. She is totally unwilling to put in any effort to save or even care for her son who comes home from the war broken with PTSD. Simply because he was born a man and has been adopted into the patriarchy which just feels wrong for this character.

Wesley: I disagree, I feel that Paige’s treatment of the two of them, Max versus Isaac, makes a great deal of sense. Max is in communication with Paige. They’re working together to make this world inside their house. They’re working together to create a new society. Isaac comes in with his version of reality and with his earlier indoctrination by his father, a man who he still, although he has misgivings, he can esteem to the point of humanization. Which is something that Max and Paige have lost both the will and ability to do. And while I agree Paige’s treatment of Isaac’s PTSD, it comes off as horrifying at times, I think that Isaac needs to show a similar respect for Paige’s PTSD, which he is almost never doing. Her PTSD of living with an abusive man who raped her. Who did terrible things to her. It makes sense that she would want this lack of compassion for her to no longer exist in her home.

Robyne: I agree, both of these points of view are valid to me. Isaac returning back home and seeing the chaos this home has created, attempts to impose a little order, a little cleanliness. There are dishes everywhere. There’s no food. There’s clothes thrown about willy-nilly. There’s no cleanliness. And his argument is ‘You can’t live like this.’ And coming right from the military, that’s a very strict world he comes from and the shock of coming home to this must have been extreme. Paige’s point of view on the other hand is that they no longer worry about order and cleanliness and they’re free to be the people they want to be, but that goes so far as to extend into their finances, where they no longer keep checkbooks, and if you’re coming from the world of being an adult that is not tenable. That is not a reality you can live in. And the fantasy that she creates is so extreme that that’s how she thinks it should be.

Wesley: Something that you’ll notice throughout the production is Max’s moving back and forth between Paige and Isaac, in terms of allegiance. Whenever Isaac demands for the bed to be done in a military style, Max is all for it. Yet, when Paige says it’s time to don wigs and dresses, Max is all excited for that too.

15:00

Hir ability to go back and forth between hyper masculine and hyper “matriarchy” perspective, and I’m putting that in air quotes, it shows the nature of this conflict happening in America between old patriarchal style and this sort of “new age” aesthetic.

Robyne: And again the time in which Max switches. The time in which Max goes from one side to the next, in the dialogue is justified, my issue is Max switches so quickly. The changes are excused and reasoned for in the dialogue but, the switching of sides occurs in a matter of seconds due to a single instance of pulling out some wigs, and while that’s fun, it’s, again, just nonsensical, and it makes this world farcical, especially when it’s juxtaposed against a hyperrealistic set.

Wesley: And it turns the conflict from being a family drama to an archetypal drama, this back and forth. It was one of the reasons I wanted an abstract set in the first act is -these didn't feel like they were supposed to be People first, they were supposed to be archetypes first. We have the fallen patriarchy we have the new found matriarchy, we have the person being pulled between the two sides, and we have the son of the patriarchy trying to reinstall it. We have these archetypes fighting for control, rather than a household trying to remain in peace. And in Act II, something that happened especially towards the ends was these masks of these archetypes were revealed to be just that, masks. That, this person who is supposed to portray the “patriarchy” might have more compassion and forgiveness than this person that is supposed to display the matriachy. That this person who was previously in power and lost it might not deserve this treatment. Every moment that I loved in this play was when people would just stop and understand each other as individuals, and recognize that the battles that they’re waging in terms of these archetypes, in terms of order vs chaos, are the veneer they put on, it’s their drag, in order to fight for just their piece in this household.  

Robyne: I think that goes a lot towards what Taylor Mac is trying to do with this piece, it just gets clunky at the end, in my opinion. The signals seem to get mixed. I, again, have a huge issue with Paige’s treatment of Isaac and Paige’s treatment for Max. I can’t speak for being in an abusive spousal relationship, in my mind, Paige’s actions towards Arnold are completely justified, whether they are right or wrong I can’t say, she is abusing him, however it is revenge, and it is justified, whether it is morally correct it is neither here nor there. Her treatment of Max is justified, and Max’s treatment of Paige is justified, in this world, in this dialogue. Paige’s treatment of Isaac, in my opinion, is not justified, in the realism, in the kitchen drama that this piece strives to be. I Understand her, but it is not- there is not enough evidence, there;s not enough reason for her to treat Isaac as shittily as she does. And the moment of violence that happens from Isaac is completely justified, because that is what happens when you ignore someone’s PTSD. And then she removes him from the house. And for someone who is so warm and caring and compassionate to one child, to not be that for the other child, is just so illogical.

Wesley: I, I totaly disagree with that. I think that her treatment of Isaac as this person who is an infection on the household, this person that is trying to restore a balance that had caused her almost nothing but pain. While I don’t agree with her to kick him, I would like to think that if I were in her situation, I would be able to extend myself further to his situation, but it just gets at what I think all great political theatre gets at which is I understand and I disagree are not mutually exclusive concepts.

20:00

And her kicking him out, she did it with a lot of cruelty. But I think it just went further to show her damage. This is a broken person too. We’re not suppose to agree with her, I think, when she kicks him out. I think we’re supposed to be wanting him to stay. But I’m not sure if it’s best for Isaac, as much as it is I’m not sure if it’s the right thing for her to do. She does it with a great deal of cruelty, she gives this horrifying monologue towards the treatment of soldiers when they come back from the wars. And I think a lot of made me okay with it was in Max’s decision to stay, Max’s decision to take care of hir father. I think that in this, in this choice to be compassionate against the person who caused hir such harm, something was learned from Isaac. And the idea that the learning of compassion could come from the person in the patriarchal society, and the cruelty could come from somebody with the veneer of the matriarchal, is the exact kind of discussion I like to hear from these sorts of archetypal presentations.

Robyne: I agree, i think those are beautiful moments, and in Act I Isaac is the audience surrogate, the audience’s avatar into this world, where as in Act II the story shifts to being all about Max and Max’s experience and the audience sees the world through Max. I just feel that there are so many ghosts of darlings from previous drafts in this, like the drug use, like the puppet show, that it needs a good cleaning, and could do with a much longer run time, whether that is an extra half hour in the dialogue or - … it does not feel like a two act play, there is too much in it. And these conversations are wonderful, and these lessons are wonderful, it’s just too much and it loses itself in the absurdity.

Wesley: Well I agree, that moments of this piece, such as, this puppet show that happens in Act II where we discover more of the father’s cruelty, and the drugs and the, and the sort of Abbott and Costello Routine with turning off and on the air conditioner, they were Vaudeville, they were not realism acting, they were not suppose to give us this sense that these are people. And I agree, they derailed the piece whenever they came in. They might have been decent ideas, and they, a lot of them, were fun, but they did very little to show us the full force of what is happening within this family. And as much as I love abstract theatre, I think this piece works best when it was at its most Chekov, when it was at its most American Kitchen Sink Drama. I like the ornaments on the wall, the handmade feel of everything, the idea that paige and Max created this world, not archetypal “Matriachy”, not archetypal “New Generation”, but Paige and Max created these things, which we got from the design, and which we got any moment there was silence and people looking each other in the eye. But at those points of absolute theatricality, it became dissipated into the playwright’s dreation.

Robyne: What made this production extraordinary was the voyeurism we were allowed into these people's’ lives, and that got lost when the play needed to happen. Any issues I may have with characters, I did not have with the characterization. All four of those actors were phenomenal.

Wesley: It was some of the best acting I’ve seen on a New York Stage.

Robyne: Kristine Nielsen was a Triumph.

Wesley: Yep

Robyne: She was an absolute titan in that role. While again I may not agree with the character’s decision, her portrayal of that woman, her portrayal of that pain and the fight for that facade and the ability to switch into that fantasy she had created for herself, while being totally grounded in that background was exquisite.

Wesley: I think that this is what it must have felt like to see the role of Amanda performed for the first time in Glass Menagerie.

25:00

She was an absolute force of nature, her joy, her eccentricities, and yet at the same time, the second she went down, to being crumbled, to being angry, it was done with such determination, and such certainty, it’s hard to describe this performance, it’s beautiful. It’s so beautifully rendered, and this Paige is treated with such humanity, but with such an objective sense of the  morality of this woman, that it really was one of the things that made this performance for me.

Robyne: Agreed.

Wesley: Something that could have easily gone very sour very fast was the portrayal of the father Arnold by Daniel Oreskes. But once again, he was incredible, he was incredible. The way he was able to perform somebody with so few lines and so little dramatic internal anguish on the same level as the nuance in Max and Isaac, but to hold his own and not turn it into this Jar Jar binks atrocity or Minstrelsy was phenomenal.

Robyne: The restraint and detail work that went into his characterization was phenomenal. The issues I have with character are in writing, in his being an invalid and within just a few hours blossoming into a much more functional human being, and while those were slight illogical fallacies for me, Daniel Oreskes was fully committed to every moment of that. Whether he was much more functional and aware or whether he was being yelled at fifty times to close the door. And his understanding, it never felt farcical and it never felt false. And that’s incredible to do.

Wesley: Yeah, it - there was something about it that could have very easily been disrespectful, it could have been played for laughs, and with Paige fighting for laughter so often, it was nice to see this character grounded in his loss of mental cognition.

Robyne: Cameron Scoggins Isaac was great, was a far more physical role than I was expecting. A lot of the physical comedy came from him and it felt a little puppet like from the director and playwright. But the honesty, the naivety, the love he has, the fight for what he thinks is right is all prevalent throughout the production.

Wesley: His determination throughout the piece and his consistency in what he’s looking for created such a great contrast to characters such as Max and he performed it with such a heart and with such an understanding that this person, who a lot of us could easily dismiss as an archetype of a soldier comes home from the wars, he did it with such nuance and understood that in this insane situation that Isaac is dropped in, a real conflict is created within the character themselves, and a real grounded sense of need to find-  to fight for organization, to fight for this household. I never got the feeling that he hated anybody in this house, but at the end when he punched her, when he punched Paige, that seemed to fit as much in the character as him hugging Max, and that speaks very much to Cameron Scoggins skill.

And then lastly we have Max performed by Tom Phalen. I’m so glad that his character wasn’t treated by either the playwright or the actor as our voice of reason, as our audience, “Let’s stand in with this character”. This was treated as a teenager, this was created as a kid.

Robyne: And beautifully so, the dialogue and the performance were both exquisitely adolescent, there was a lot of righteous indignation and narcissistic self certainty tied together with a complete lack of self-confidence and a self awareness of hir standing in the world. There were a number of times where Max talked about how all ze wanted was to go live with the radical fairies in this farm and how ze didn’t know what the future held for hir, but that that was what ze wanted. And that is so adolescent and gorgeous and it was, it was some wonderful full-bodied textures to this character.

Wesley: Yes, and the understanding that while the battle was between mostly Isaac and Paige, knowing that ze was the battlefield.

30:00

More than the house more than the air conditioning, the battle was over Max and the future of Max. And to see that there was no clear victor at the end, Max stays with Paige but commits to the compassion of Isaac, was so beautifully rendered, never seemed wise beyond hir years, but still had a wisdom to learn. Incredibly rendered.  Incredibly - all these performances gave an idea of a family going through a paradigm shift at their core.

Robyne: Agreed. So Wesley, is Hir worth the $65 non-member ticket price?  

Wesley: I would say absolutely so. If you know this doesn’t sound like your thing, then fine, probably don’t attend, but I do agree when you say this could be the start off a kitchen sink Angels in America. It’s beautifully performed it’s beautifully written and it tells an incredible story of this era.

Robyne: Agreed. This is a great piece of theater. Catch it in the next rendition, ‘cause it will surely be back.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: As always you can find us and join in on the conversation at obstructed-view.com or on Facebook or Twitter. I’m Robyne.

Wesley: And I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And remember.

Wesley: Please, don’t nod.

 

Episode 5 - Nutcracker Rouge

  Steven Trumon Gray and Laura Careless

Steven Trumon Gray and Laura Careless

Robyne: Hi, I’m Robyne,

Wesley: and I’m Wesley,

Robyne: and this is, Obstructed View.

Wesley: Today we will be discussing Company XIV’s production of Nutcracker Rouge.  It is a loose adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s classical ballet, The Nutcracker.

Robyne: We will link to a plot synopsis of The Nutcracker in our show notes.

Wesley: So let’s begin with design.

With set and costume design we have Zane Pihlstrom.  With lighting design we have Jeanette Oi-Suko Yew.  And with makeup design we have Sarah Cimino.

Robyne: As with Cinderella the design elements of this show were beautiful.  The production reused the set from Cinderella. So the false proscenium that is set at an angle halfway upstage was used as a curtain system for the show.  There was a traveling carousel piece, that has a mounted pole dancers pole on top of it, that is used in the production.  As well as various dressing table backstage, that are seen through the curtain at certain points of the production, and various onstage lighting elements including a chandelier. 

Wesley: There is very little variation in set construction from Cinderella to this production, which is to be expected.  The main set pieces remain the same.  I found though to be a bit underused in comparison to Cinderella where it felt like an essential player in the performance.

Robyne: Agreed

Wesley: One of the things that you will notice in this production, as compared to Cinderella, or my previous experience with Nutcracker Rouge, is that there was a lot more illusion happening in terms of use of curtain blocking scenic shifts, and blocking your access to backstage action.  Maybe it’s just a difference from where we were seated, but I found there to be a lot more reveals happening of the special effects, rather than the effects just walking onto stage. 

Robyne:  It felt like the curtain separated us from the world they were creating, as opposed to Cinderella, where the world was outside of this proscenium that they had created on stage.  There was a lot less of an interaction with it, with the dancers, in that ethereal sense.  To be fair, this piece was much more frantic and fast paced so it was a lot less of a lounge feel for that.

Wesley: The points at which aspects of lighting and set were allowed to take center stage were great.  Certain aspects have been enlarged for this production, given the Minetta Lane Theatre allows for that, but it was so fast paced.  Whereas in Cinderella I could find certain aspects of it and really let them sit with me for a moment.  I could become just as enthralled with the way the light touches a chandelier as I could with a person’s body.  Here, if I wanted those moments of stillness, those moments of quiet, I had to scrape for them. 

Robyne: Right.

Wesley: They were there! They were there in design.  But we weren’t given much access to them as audience members.

Robyne: The costume design was the only aspect of this production that I enjoyed more than I did in Cinderella.  It was absolutely exquisite and completely in my mind justifies the lack of additions to the set because that is not where their energy and financial resources went clearly.  The costumes were gorgeous.  The dresses, the various candy pieces were all beautiful.

Wesley: I totally agree.  I think this was better than the previous Nutcracker Rouge I saw. Better than Cinderella.  The costumes were divine. They found that edge between baroque operatic, and drag, and they ran across it and it was beautiful.  The narrator, her various looks, I don’t know how she got into dress after dress after dress but she did and it looked like it was done with such ease.

Robyne: The only benefit I give them to the speed of the production and the franticness is how impressive Mrs. Drosselmayer’s costume changes were.  Because at a number of times her stripping down in the burlesque style to bareness and coming back fully dressed in a completely new gown was astounding. 

Wesley: And the masks.  The mask work I think they were pieces of artwork.  They were absolute, unqualified, pieces of art.

Robyne: And while I don’t necessarily agree with moment, which we will discuss later, of being in the woods with the wolf, the creation of the wolf masks with glowing eyes was really cool.  It was just a really cool moment of theatre magic. 

  Laura Careless (on floor) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge

Laura Careless (on floor) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge

Wesley: I just would have really liked more time to really ogle.  That’s all.

5:00

Robyne: Agreed.  One of the things we’re going to talk about a lot is the amount of time we as the audience were given to indulge.  Something I absolutely loved about Cinderella was how much it felt like I was drinking champagne throughout the production.  It was leisurely, it was gorgeous, it bubbled, it gave you this warm sense and you were allowed to lose yourself in this production.  A fault I found in Nutcracker Rouge, was how frantic and frenetic all of the energy on stage was.  The story telling was completely different in this piece than it was in Cinderella. 

Wesley: The lighting played such an important part of Cinderella.

Robyne: -Yes

Wesley: In Cinderella so much of the magic they were creating wasn’t through smoke and mirrors as much as it was the tangibility of the light of where you see it.  It wasn’t so much about hiding the thing, it’s about what it’s showing what it’s revealing and the way it dances off the people.  Here, nothing was able to sit long enough for the lighting to have the effect it deserves. 

Robyne: Agreed, the art of lighting design is re-sculpting the space on stage and I loved how in Cinderella how they created stillness and small spaces and confinement through lighting alone and that was completely lost in this production. 

Wesley: I don’t think it’s that we know what we’re looking for now.  It’s not just this element of surprise we got from Cinderella, (where) we had random bursts of neon, and oh light would come from a weird angle and hit a chandelier.  When I saw the light hit a chandelier in this performance I had a very similar experience. It wasn’t just that it’s new, it’s that this world should be new and still invite these things to create a new texture.  I wasn’t brought into this world to really experience them.  In Cinderella, in the previous Nutcracker Rouge I saw, there was always enough room on the stage for both myself and the light to take up space.  There just wasn’t any of that in this. 

Robyne: Except, I would argue, the one moment where the performers were all backlit.  I can’t remember what number it was exactly.

 Wesley: There is one moment when the lighting design is very much allowed to take a tangible force in the design elements.  And that was a great moment, because it was done with subtlety. 

Robyne: Really the piece was just so frantic that Austin never gave the designers enough time to be recognized.  When the carousel was brought out in this number it was very impressive, but it was not the breathtaking moment it was in Cinderella, because it happens so fast and so soon.  It felt a lot more stunty this time.  And without that space to breath, without that light touch, it was overwhelming. 

Wesley: And not only that, let’s look at when they brought that in.  Because that was prologue right?

Robyne: I believe so-

Wesley: Yeah, so they had the two marionettes, which is a part of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, but they were done before we were introduced to anything in this world.  These were parts of a prologue, and this cold open, it does more to baffle than intrigue I think.  And that’s a consistent aspect to this production.  Is its adaptation was was more convoluted than it was delicate. 

Robyne: The real issue I found with this production was that Austin Mccormick’s concept really got in the way of his storytelling.  Rather than approaching The Nutcracker through a narrative, they approached The Nutcracker through a vaudeville/cabaret by means of burlesque/baroque ballet.

Wesley: Which, to be fair, a lot of the original Nutcracker does commit to.  But the issue here is also that he didn’t adapt it in a way that showed a unification of thought.  His adaptation of The Nutcracker I found to be very convoluted. 

Robyne: There was a moment where I turned to Wesley and said “I really need to refamiliarize myself with The Nutcracker because clearly I don’t remember the story.” There was shoehorned into The Nutcracker a version of The Little Red Riding Hood.

Wesley: And not only that but we begin with this cold open with two marionettes and Clara just walks in from the house which was lovely, it was a lovely moment because we had the Tchaikovsky ballet music happening behind it.  She is handed the nutcracker doll that we all know and then she gets lost in the woods.  And...

10:00

Robyne: And that number on its own is beautiful.  I personally loved the use of Vivaldi’s Winter underscoring the march of the animals.  The confusion in the woods.  This almost 1950’s Disney Snow White version of a girl in the woods lost and seeing eyes everywhere through this use of wolf masks.  I absolutely loved all of that it just did not sit in this productionbecause it was not a part of The Nutcracker

Wesley: It might have just been tainted for me as an audience member because I was sitting there searching for The Nutcracker.  I just thought that the use of Vivaldi’s Winter was obvious.  I had seen this previously in a different space that was much too small for this ensemble piece, so it was nice to see these performers get enough room, but I was just too confused as to why what was happening in front of me was happening to actually appreciate it on an aesthetic level.  Of course the masks, and the wigs, and the headdresses were all fantastic, but I was just too baffled as to why is Clara was running through the woods with a nutcracker doll and why is Mdm. Drossellmayer watching her do this?

Robyne: Yeah

Wesley: And then she goes to the world of sweets.  Which is when we finally get to The Nutcracker we all know.  The story of her basically going from Alice in Wonderland style one vignette to one vignette to one vignette, until she wakes up.

 Robyne: The issue here was that became the sole focus of the production.  This production lacked any Rat King that I saw and the nutcracker hero, the Nutcracker Cavalier, doesn’t show up until the very last dance number. 

Wesley: Were they to not have used Tchaikovsky’s score, include the word "Nutcracker" in its title, or not show that doll at the very beginning, nobody would have probably known that it was The Nutcracker. 

Robyne: If this production would have been taken out of the framework of “The Nutcracker,” it would have been great.  But because I went in with the understanding that I will be seeing Austin McCormick’s version of The Nutcracker, and I did not see what I consider to be the story of The Nutcracker, it lost me.

Wesley: It was a bit of what I was saying about our previous review of Dracula, there has to be something about this that you like.  Something about this story that engages you.  Now something we didn’t get from this Nutcracker Rouge that I had gotten from the previous Nutcracker Rouge, was throughout the performance Marie Claire was getting more and more enticed by this world of sweets until by the end she had taken off all her of clothes and is ready to be with the Nutcracker Cavalier in their final pas de deux.  The problem here is she remains mostly clothed throughout the piece with probably only once or twice taking off a garment of clothing and she doesn’t really give us a sense of her willingness, or unwillingness, or her joy in being in this world because we don’t see her.  Because we’re so focused on the incredible performances happening on the stage.  

Robyne: In previous conversations you have explained the Nutcracker Rouge you saw last year as Marie Claire’s coming of age as shown through the art of burlesque.  The unwrapping of her stuffy values and the joy she finds in her sexuality and sensuality and beauty.  Whereas this felt so much more like Gulliver’s Travels, discussing how strange the natives of this land were but very much so that idea of foreignness and alienation. 

  Shelly Watson and Laura Careless

Shelly Watson and Laura Careless

Wesley: I don’t think that she ever really enjoys the place that she’s visiting.  Or when she does it’s despite herself.  There’s not a sense of a gradual progression that I got from the previous Nutcracker Rouge which was also aided by the fact that the presence of the Cavalier was more tangible, in this previous iteration I saw.  Or at least in my mind it was.  Whereas in this production we kind of got a half hearted mention towards it in the first act and then at very end he comes in and dances with her.  And I was thinking to myself “Who are you?” “What are you doing” “How did we reach this point?” and “What do you mean to her?” and then she wakes up with the nutcracker doll.  Now this is a very obvious statement, a very great allegory for sexual awakening that could be put through this vaudeville of burlesque in the sweets but it was done so manically and its foundation wasn’t strong enough to really give it a sense of sustainability. 

Robyne: It just felt more like a Shelly Watson cabaret with burlesque background dancers that was flavored with Nutcracker. Rather than a fully formed world and a single idea of a production.

15:00

Wesley: The thing about Cinderella was that it had all of the look and aesthetic of frivolity but it was founded on something so beautiful that it had that sort of substantiality to it. 

Robyne: And this feels like a giant step backwards.  This feels like everything I promised Cinderella wasn’t.  That this is.  It does have that “fun as aesthetic,” as you like to say.  And the key moment for me that completely turned me off from this production, I will parallel with the godmother coming to Cinderella, where you see this beautiful transformation and you see her feeling whole.  You see her feeling beautiful.  She is dressed and she has this power.  Whereas in this production, while it was partnered with my favorite moment of this production, which was Marcy Richardson on a hoop singing Chandelier in French with the mirrorpulled upstage and framed so that light is reflecting off of it and it gives the world a very otherworldly beauty.  Marie Claire is undressing behind it in what feels like shame, and comes out in this skimpier version of what she was wearing that was gold, and it feels like the opposite of what champagne is supposed to do.  And the approach that Mdm. Drosselmayer has in it just comes off as very rapey.  It just feels like an older family friend offering alcohol to the young just starting to come into her own pubescent daughter of a friend in a very smarmy very uncomfortable feel.  It just lacks that heart that Cinderella had.  That lacked that fun exploration.

Wesley: I totally agree.  I think she was very much not in control.  And her undressing was very much something that wasn’t the goal, it felt like it was a side effect to the things that were happening. 

Robyne: It didn’t feel like you could see her fingerprints on the world as she went through it.  As you can in something like Alice in Wonderland.  You can see the world reflecting her presence, just as it reflects in her.  This was much more sort of a feeling of contamination. 

Wesley: As you were saying earlier, a lot of performers seem to look at her with some disdain in the performance.  I know that might have been a part of the schtick, but she wasn’t really welcomed by anyone into the world of the sweets besides Mdm. drosselmeyer.  Everyone else kind of looked down on her.  Shunned her.  Or she was just supposed to look at in awe.  Rather than actually let her play around with them.  And all of this just goes back to pacing.  We weren’t able to sit in this world at all.  It was a whirlwind.

Robyne: The production only had one intermission.   Which seems silly to say, but something about the structure of Cinderella worked very well.  It breathed.  There were entr’actes.  There was room to play, and have fun, and indulge.  And this just felt frantic.  This felt like a poorly managed drag show in its pacing. 

Wesley: And that goes right to the execution of a lot of the dance.  I’m going to say that if I had seen this performed with a different company I wouldn’t be giving benefit of the doubt, cause a lot of the performances were not synchronized in the places they were supposed to be synchronized and a lot of it felt very haphazard in delivery.

Robyne: We were spoiled for expectation because of Cinderella.  The refinement and the restraint that Austin McCormick showed.  This production just felt so rushed and unprepared

Wesley: And what makes it all the odder for me is that I have seen this done before. I’ve seen this production before.  I’ve seen it in a different space, and it worked beautifully.  I keep on thinking of reasons something might have been lost in translation between the two spaces.  But at the end of the day, this was not of the same quality that I’ve come to expect from Company XIV and the work of Austin McCormick.

Robyne: My fear is that because of the new space, and because of the new space’s location it feels as Austin’s aiming the productions more towards a very specific type of audience.  Which is fine, but it feels as if he is going down the channel that Bravo did when Bravo stopped showing Cirque du Soleil and stopped showing opera and went full reality television and campy and trashy in my opinion.  Which is just to say how gorgeous Cinderella was, and this piece fell short.  But that’s not to say that the choreography was in any way shape or form bad.  It was all beautiful still.

  Lea Helle, Marcy Richardson (on hoop) and Laura Careless

Lea Helle, Marcy Richardson (on hoop) and Laura Careless

20:00

Wesley: Absolutely, so many of the acts were drop dead gorgeous.  So many of the performers, beautiful incredibly talented people.  The choreography, especially in, I believe they were Candied Violets, I remember they took my breath away.  The ensemble work, especially with the candied violets, which was just a baroque ensemble piece with masks was so beautiful and so lovingly created and it took my breath away much more than any antic or any stunt work did.

Robyne: There were times as an audience member you could feel the entire audience turn in anger towards a single person who had started to applaud because we were not done sitting in awe of what we had just seen.  And that is so intensely powerful. And to be a part of that. And to witness such artistry is incredible.  To feel that an artist deserves silence to indulge in what they are doing, as opposed to stand and applaud, is an achievement in itself.

Wesley: And it’s very rare, especially for a New York audience that’s paying top dollar and they want to make very verbal what they’ve paid for.  And when you’re able to actually just indulge, those rare moments in this production where we’re actually able to indulge rather than just stuff our faces, was fantastic.  But rather than a jewelry box, rather than a little chocolate box full of nice sweets, this felt gluttonous.  This felt nauseating by the end.  Too many flavors.  Too many notes.  And all at the expense of what could have been a very simple, and very beautiful heart. 

Robyne: Absolutely, and before we go on any more we have to introduce the cast: Hilly Bodin as the ballerina doll, as cherry, and as part of the corps de ballet, Lea Helle as cherry and corps de ballet, Jacob Karr as the marionette doll, cake, and corps, Nicholas Katen and Ross Katen as the turkish delights, candy cane, and corps, Malik Shebazz Kitchen and Mark Osmundson, both corps members, Devon Rainey as chocolate, candy cane and corps, Marcy Richardson as the poll doll, and champagne, Nichole von Arks as Cherry and corps, Stephen Trumon Grey as the Nutcracker Cavalier, Laura Careless as Marie Claire, and Shelly Watson as Mdm. Drosselmeyer. All incredible.

Wesley: Undoubtedly some of the best performers in the city.

Robyne: I threw away a comment earlier that it felt like a Shelly Watson cabaret.  I would love to see a Shelly Watson cabaret.

Wesley: Yeah, that wasn’t derogatory in any way.  That is totally fine most of the time.

Robyne: She feels like a missing sister between Molly Pope, and Bridgette Everett.

Wesley: Absolutely, her talents, her vocal prowess, matched so beautifully with her ability to go one on one with the audience members.  Which was something that I thought was very much missing from Cinderella, was that sort of audience interaction which she really made very important in this piece and I could have used more of it honestly. 

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: Also, her costumes, her quick changes, her commenting on what was happening, were rare moments of self awareness as to what was going on in the performance, that were very much needed by us as audience members.

Robyne: I just didn’t understand who she was in this world other than the narrator, until after we left, and I read the playbill and saw that she was replacing the magician. 

Wesley: Right, and in the previous production of Nutcracker Rouge I saw the Drosselmeyers were actually a couple.  There were two of them performing as Madame and Monsieur Drosselmeyer.  In this production it was very clear that she was the only Drosselmeyer of importance, and that too, seeped too into the manipulativeness of Marie Claire. 

Robyne: Agreed.

Wesley: Though once again, that was not her.  For what she had to work with, this is one of the highlights of the evening. 

Robyne: Her voice is exquisite.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: Her persona was incredible, was fun, sexy, ridiculous.  She was somebody I wanted to run back stage and get a drink with. 

Wesley: Absolutely.

25:00

Robyne: Stephen Trumon Grey, is a phenomenal dancer.  I am actually upset that I only saw him perform in the final number.  When he was the prince in Cinderella he was a joy to watch on stage.  Every moment.

Wesley: While he is a great dancer, in this performance I was left utterly cold by him.

Robyne: Agreed, that final number between Laura Careless and Stephen Trumon Gray, between Marie Claire and the Nutcracker, felt like- felt as if it did not belong in this cabaret world.  It felt like a piece that was from an earlier rendition of this production that had a lot more heart and it, while being impressive, lacked beauty because it was so frantic and rough. 

Wesley: So in this previous production of Nutcracker Rouge I saw this whole piece kind of ramped up to that.  You know.  It wasn’t just the cherry on top, it was the whole piece was arching towards her finally getting with the prince.  Here, we already had the whole sundae and we have an empty bowl in front of us and they just plop this cherry in the middle.  And it really didn’t- it didn’t fill us any more.  And that was compared to the- frantic, yes- but warmth of the rest of the piece.  It was out of this world, and I got no sense of personality from either of them.

Robyne: She was suddenly there with a stranger on stage.  It wasn’t clear that he was the Nutcracker at all unless you know the story of The Nutcracker.  It wasn’t the culmination of this coming of age experience for her, it kind of felt like being college in your first semester and hooking up with the first person who shows interest in you after a three year relationship in high school.  It just felt empty. 

Wesley: And, while he is a very attractive man, there was the sense that that was all there was to this.  Whereas the prince in Cinderella has a personality.  You get the sense that there is chemistry between them.  I only got the sense of physical want rather than real sensual chemistry between these two performers.  Which isn’t the fault of these two performers, it’s the structure of the piece.

  Steven Trumon Gray and Laura Careless

Steven Trumon Gray and Laura Careless

Robyne: Right.

Wesley: Now Marie Claire, as performed by Laura Careless, this is a stereotype character.  A damsel.  An ingenue.  And it is a very fun character to play with but only in so far as she is able to develop.  When you have this wandering swooning girl from beginning until she appears seminude at the end, it’s more baffling than anything.

Robyne: Yeah and the-

Wesley: And it just becomes redundant.  You know, there are only times you can see her not alternate before we finally get tired of her. 

Robyne: I found that a lot of the short comings of Marie Claire came in how she was treated by the rest of the world.  It wasn’t that her naiveté and interest and fascination in this world was welcomed and they showed her how they exist how their culture works.  It was so much more looked on as she was a silly little girl.  That there was a lot of as you said disdain in the sweets towards her.  So it was perplexing as to why she was suddenly undressing in champagne and mostly nude in the final number.  It, again, lent itself towards a cold, very uncomfortable, forced alcohol, sex with a stranger situation. 

Wesley: And the thing is a lot of what make great fantasy so effective is how much it makes its audience think to themselves “what I would give to go there.”   And how easy is it to make us want to go to a land of sweets.  A land of champagne, and cookies, full of beautiful people doing beautiful things.  But when they are just mean to her sometimes, or rude, or prudish to her, it doesn’t become enticing anymore.

Robyne: And we weren’t ever given a moment of longing after she had those interactions.  The next one just started and we weren’t allowed to see her mourn the ending of the encounter and desire for more.  We as the audience were never given that, we were simply given the next thing. 

Wesley: And she never really seemed in charge of where we were going.  In The Nutcracker you really get the sense that each person comes out and does their thing for her, much like a court.  Here, we’re not sure if she is walking through part of this Garden of Versailles where she’s meeting all these things like Dante’s Inferno, like you were saying, or if we’re maintaining this ball/court structure. 

  Brett Umlauf (on left wearing black boots) and Laura Careless (on right) with cast members of Nutcracker Rouge.

Brett Umlauf (on left wearing black boots) and Laura Careless (on right) with cast members of Nutcracker Rouge.

30:00

Robyne: It did not feel as though we were one of the lucky children that stumbled into Narnia and found Aslan, and were shown all the wonders of this land.  It felt like we had met the White Witch and she was shoving Turkish delights down our throat

Wesley: Right-right.

Robyne: And Turkish delights are delicious, but sometimes you need to breathe.  Again, Brett Umlauf and Marcy Richardson did not disappoint. 

Wesley: They killed it.

Robyne: They were incredible and their pieces, their pieces themselves, did not necessarily fit into the world that was created.  It felt that a venue was necessary for those two powerhouses to demonstrate, and so it was, and it was incredible and it didn’t make sense. 

Wesley: And furthermore, one of the things that made the performances by Brett Umlauf and Marcy Richardson so impressive and so enthralling in Cinderella, is the structure of one-upmanship.  The reason that they’re getting more extravagant, more crazy is that they are trying to better the other.  And it’s not just how great the performances are, which they are, it’s that we have this enticing characterization pulling us towards it.  That actually did so much.  Which we didn’t realize maybe, but that did so much to help the level of enjoyment in these experiences.

Robyne: The idea that there is a woman on a pole on top of a piece of a deconstructed carousel pole-dancing and singing opera is incredible.  The fact that she has done that to upstage her sister to win the prince- is- just ups the ante that much more, and allows the performers to really indulge in their characters, and give us an amazing performance.  Because then you have all of that characterization.

Wesley: Now to be fair that’s not so much the fault of Austin McCormick here as much as it is just the structure of The Nutcracker.  Which is flawed there by any stretch of the imagination. 

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: The Nutcracker- it’s basic use is to teach people how to watch ballet.  I think Nutcracker Rouge is a way to teach people how to watch burlesque. These things can go right back and forth with each other.  But, there should have been some sensuality, there should have been some framework in Marie Claire that allowed us to go even further into this world, and further into the experience of watching her, rather than just pure stunt and aesthetic creation.  Which they’re great at. 

Robyne: Absolutely.  Going off that it’s much easier to play a character with wants and desires than it is to play Chocolate, or Cherry.  Those then- those pieces then lent themselves much better to a choreographer being able to have a lot of fun on stage.  Which he did, at the expense of the narrative.

Devon Rainey’s Chocolate performance as a flamenco pasodoble piece with a lot of hard shoe work (which I personally love hard shoe work.) It had personality, it was a lot of fun, it was sexualized without being seductive, which was a lot of what I found in this piece.  The “Turkish Delight” piece was fun.  The “Cherry” piece was fun.  I for the life of me have no idea where the “Cake” number came from.  It rang false in this world for me.  It was fun but it wasn’t as tasty as the rest of the piece was.  “Candy Canes” were fun, there was a lot of fun.  There was a lot of beautiful performances.  There was a lot of great dance.  It just didn’t all fit together. 

Wesley: I just felt so disconnected from so much of the performances and the joy I saw on stage felt synthetic. 

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Because it wasn’t grounded in a statement.  It was grounded in fun.  It was grounded in synthetic entertainment.  And, as I told you before, I’ve never seen any piece whose sole goal was fun, that achieved that goal, because there has to be something more that we’re grasping at.  And while the mask, the big bull mask in “Chocolate” was fantastic.  And the exuberance of “Cake” was great fun.  But there was no substance to so much of it.  And so many of the music choices just lacked any structure.  Going from one “Sugar-Plum Fairy Suite” to the next “Sugar-Plum Fairy Suite,” with no-

  Davon Rainey and Laura Careless

Davon Rainey and Laura Careless

Robyne: To a techno version of the “Sugar-Plum Fairy-

35:00

Wesley: Yeah! It was all of these different confusing choices that never really meshed.  One of the things that happened in the previous Nutcracker Rouge, as well as Cinderella, is you saw aesthetics of many worlds come together into a cohesive whole.  I never questioned why someone might be singing a contemporary pop song in an operatic fashion.  I never questioned why this person was dressed in Louis XIV garment, and that person in flapper garment, but here, every once in a while I thought to myself, “wait, why are they doing that?” “Why do they look like that?”  “That doesn’t-what is this doing here?” Instead of feeling sutured into this world, it felt thrown on. 

Robyne: It did not feel as though we were able to sample all of these delights.  It felt like we were shoving candy into our mouths after Halloween.  It just felt like endless gluttony, and we felt stuffed at the end, and bloated, and disgusting.

Wesley: It wasn’t flavor, it was saturation. 

Robyne: A lot of this harshness comes from our expectations being so high.

Wesley: I would have to say I have never been more disappointed. Simply because of where I knew this could be. I haven’t just seen Company XIV better, I’ve seen Nutcracker Rouge be better, and that’s all. I look forward- I am so looking forward to seeing Snow White.  

Robyne: Oh absolutely.

Wesley: I- There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of these issues have to do with “this is their blockbuster.  People are going to be coming to see this.  A lot of them this is their first burlesque work.  A lot of people are coming in not sure what to expect, not wanting The Nutcracker, but maybe not wanting Cirque du Soleil.

Robyne: But part of it I think might be the fear that people returning want something new from the Nutcracker Rouge, when, if anything, if there is something to be learned from The Nutcracker itself, it is that people will come every year to see the same exact production because of what it means to them. And I would see Cinderella next year. And I would see Cinderella every year, because it’s astounding. 

Wesley: Absolutely, I agree, I think this might have been their game of one upsmanship with themselves.  And I think they might have gone a little bit self conscious here trying to up the ante in their new space,

Robyne: - and trying to appease the audience base that they have built in this neighborhood. 

Wesley: Rather than attempting to really get to the core of what they have been about in previous productions.

Robyne: So I guess Wesley, the question is, is Nutcracker Rouge worth the $75-$100 ticket?

Wesley: I believe if you are looking to just see something zany, something of high quality in terms of construction with a nice bow on it, this could still be worth the cost of that admission.  But- but, if you are looking for the best of Company XIV, and the best work in New York City, it’s best to pass and just wait for Snow White.  

Robyne: I agree, if you are looking to see incredible performers perform some great dance, and have a lot of fun, totally worth the price of admission.  If you are looking to bring your mother on her first trip to New York to see the best dance in the city, this piece is not Cinderella.  The Nutcracker Rouge runs until January 17th at the Minetta Lane Theatre.  Tickets can be purchased at companyxiv.com.  As always you can find us at obstructed-view.com on facebook at facebook.com/obstructedviewpodcast, on twitter @obstructed_view, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview or email us at theobstructedviewpodcast@gmail.com .

Wesley: I’m Wesley

Robyne: and I’m Robyne

Wesley: And remember

Robyne: Curiosity is gluttony - To see is to devour.

*Photography by Mark Shelby Perry.

Episode 4 - Dracula

Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and this is Obstructed View. 

Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing Dracula by Three Day Hangover. Dracula was presented at the McAlpine hall at West Park Church.

Wesley: This performance was done immersively with a bar that was integrated into the performance.

Robyne: If you don’t know the story of Dracula, we’ve linked a synopsis in the show notes. This piece by Steven Dietz and Lori Wolter Hudson is a liberal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Let’s jump right into design.

Wesley: So we have scenic and lighting design by Christopher and Justin Swader, sound design by Toby Jaguar Algya, and costume design by Caitlin Cisek

Robyne: I really liked the costumes. I loved how they found ways in all of the design elements under what I assume to be a very low budget, to really honor the story and the period from which this story comes. I found the proffesor’s costume to be very well contemporized. I found both Mina and Lucy’s costumes to be fitting of their characters. And all of the men seem to be fairly well dressed. I only didn’t necessarily care for Renfield’s costume, but it worked within the story and the design. 

Wesley: I thought the costuming worked well for what they were achieeing here. My only point of issue was Dracula, I thought his was a bit more on the grotesque side, a bit too flamboyant, a bit too 1970s. And when you’re contemporizing almost all these characters, he came off a bit dated and that was something that I couldn’t just grasp why.

Robyne: I found that in the greater style of the piece that it fit, that he was a little dated. It didn’t bother me too much but I totally understand what you’re saying. I did think that the teeth work was wonderful, those prosthetic teeth up close looked great. 

Wesley: Yeah, teeth were great. I enjoyed the make up work.

Robyne: I also like what they did set wise with dressing the room as they did. I understand that they couldn’t build a full set but there were a lot of things I liked about it. As you said when we first walked in to the room, I really liked how there was only one portrait on the wall. I really liked how bare most of it was, it really helped with the foot traffic in the immersion.

Wesley: I, on initial impact, I appreciated the space greatly. It was large, it was cavernous, I liked the scarcity of what they used. There was a bit of difficulty of deciding where we can and cannot sit, I noticed a few people stumbling around trying to find a place to find a seat. But there was nothing really that distracting. I appreciate how they had to work with the sparcity of the space, transporting us from one world to another during the performance, though I wish there was a bit more integration into the actual foundation of the space itself. I never felt as though I was brought into a world with the hall around me, I felt as though I was always dealing with specific set properties being brought out in front of me. That with how statically they had the audience stand for great swaths of the performance where seats could easily do.

Robyne: The immersiveness lost it’s fun when the scenes started to run over five minutes; I found myself standing for large periods of time. And the worst part of this production for me was the other audience members. Given that this was an immersive, Bar Theater piece, I was fully prepared for a lot of the interactions I was going to have, but there seemed to be a lot of clueless audience members who kept backing into one another, there were a lot of spilled drinks, there were a lot of elbows, and a good deal of that was unnecessary.  While there was a lot of guidance given by either the cast out of character or by other members of the production team herding us along in this small room, there still was a lack of clarity in what was habitable space and, I agree, we were standing for far too long without moving. We should have been able to sit at certain points.

Wesley: I’ve been in immersive situations where you finally form a bond of community with the audience around you experiencing the piece. For example, when I saw Speakeasy Dollhouse at the Player’s Club or, probably one of my favorite of these, A Serious Banquet, by This is Not a Theater Company, I felt as though I made friends that evening, experiencing this theatrical production, being immersed in this world with them. Here everyone else seemed a little bit intrusive. And given how big the hall was, I really felt lost with them.

Robyne: In this style you have a spectrum and on the one end you have something like A Serious Banquet which is a party that everyone is invited to, and on the other end you have Sleep No More, which is completely isolationist.

5:00

This fell somewhere in between without any real intention of how this piece is suppose to interact with the audience and how the audience is suppose to interact with each other. It felt as if no attention was paid as to what we were suppose to feel.

Wesley: Granted, I don’t feel as thought the immersivity was suppose to be a gimmick, but it didn’t feel integral.

Robyne: There were fun moments with the sound design and a lot of the practical, from-the-audience sounds. There was this howling bit they kept having us do that had a great deal of diminishing returns at the end. There was an expectation I felt that the audience was supposed to be much drunker than we were.

Wesley: The interaction with us felt like a necessary evil on their part as if they had to follow through with the immersivitiy and so the scenic design of this world never really managed to put it into a framework in which the immersivity was a necessity to the story telling. 

Robyne: I did not feel that the immersiveness was used to transport us into this world and to make this interactive, to feel like we were involved in the world. I didn’t really know why we were being immersed in this. This may have just as easily been done in a proscenium and it may have worked far better.

Wesley: Lighting design by Christopher and Just Swader as well, I had no real issue with.

Robyne: The, again, clearly were limited on what they could do both financially and in the space. It worked fairly well. There’s a moment of audience interaction, that we’ll discuss later, using the lighting that was probably the highlight of the show. Overall, lighting was fine.

Wesley: Yeah. They had a couple nice effects: the red that backlight Dracula when he entered, it had a nice 1980s Pop-film kind of vibe to it.  We recognize this was a very limited budget production, and for what they were probably able to work with on that level this was excellently achieved.

Robyne: Dracula is presented in this downtown, nerd, bar theater style that holds a certain amount of irreverence for the material, usually a great deal of irreverence for the material, and is filled with anachronisms. I have seen a great deal of this sort of theater and it is usually blunt and less funny than it thinks it is, and unfortunately I found that prevalent throughout Dracula.

Wesley: There was a lot of joy in the performers getting a chance to perform but I felt no love for the characters, no love for the material –

Robyne: There is a great deal of finesse required to pull off a show of this nature very well. A lot of the references felt very heavy handed, a lot of the modernization of the script felt blunt. There’s a number of times where they pull out their phones and the dialogue doesn’t sound like humans of today’s world discussing the use of technology. There was just some very rough moments of, I could almost feel the collaborators asking, “Well, how does this sound? This works.” With no smoothing out of the language.

Wesley: The pop-culture references, they were so unnecessary. The anachronisms never gelled well. They felt like a style that was meant to feel novel but I have seen it so many times before that it just felt stale, and rather than making this show feel more timely,  it just felt more dated.

Robyne: There were a number of them that worked but they were just unfortunately buried beneath seven more that didn’t.

Wesley: There were also many times that they would reference the bar, and drinking, and being drunk, which, it was funny before you’re legally able to drink. Like they’re the sort of thing that people would say in a college movie. Here, it as so self congratulatory and invaise. 

Robyne: It is a necessary part of the production, it is an intential design element and that can be a great deal of fun, but there is a fun, in-character way to discuss this and there is a forceful reminder that the ticket cost is low and you should be drinking and it’s part of the production. Which is totally fine but there is a way to convey that without swearing at your audience, which can be fun but in this instance absolutelywas not.

Wesley: There was one instance I enjoyed and the was January Lavoy playing Yeungling. Her coming out as this sort of meta, product-placement character –

Robyne: That anachronism, that contemporization, that kind of meta-theatrical element is what this entire style is built upon.  And January was not only wonderful in that role, and I would almost say tongue-in-cheek, very self-aware, character,

10:00

but the renaming of Van Helsing, and having her constantly bringing that element of the drinking into it, having the audience partake in the drinking as part of the story telling, was wonderful. Having her offer beers as weapons was a great addition, was more of what I was hoping to see in this production. But the bruskness of having your characters remind the audience that the bar is open during intermission, the constant, “Time to take a shot!” felt like a younger, recent post graduate, theater company.

Wesley: It felt like an app they were able to get for a cheap price but in order to be able to do anything with it you need to buy all the upgrades in it. It felt like we were being held hostage to this bar.  Rather than it being a joyful part of this world we’re in, it felt like a necessary evil to appreciate this thing that I was entirely unable to appreciate on any level of sobriety.  That’s not to say that the performers were drowned by the piece.

Robyne: January Lavoy’s Professor was wonderful, was just the embodiment of how great this style can work. I also really enjoyed Nemuna Ceesay’s Mina, it felt like a wonderful modernization of this character, holding kick-ass American feminist ideals while also still honoring the source material. I thought Miranda Noelle Wilson Lucy and Jonathan Finnegan’s Seward were both great and I loved their relationship. A lot of the modernization and meta aspects of their relationship, the constant back and forth about what level their relationship was, whether they were lovers or friends, I thought worked very well most of the time. Justin Yorio’s Harker felt slightly out of place, he was much more serious than the rest of the cast, as Harker is but it just, it just didn’t sit quite right in the irreverent, meta-style. Paul Kite’s Renfield, while I don’t like the character he portrayed, that rapid lunatic, in the stereotypical pop-culture sense, I felt he portrayed that role very well.

Wesley: The rule of diminishing returns with almost every aspects of this production for me grated especially Paul Kite as Renfield. I could always appreciate his commitment and his capabilities but by the end, what was once charming became intolerable. Jokes were hammered and hammered and hammered and almost none of them became funny again.

Robyne: Again I felt the audience was expected to be much drunker and louder than we were. It wasn’t clear whether the production was suppose to take place in a loud, noisy, drunken bar, ad the actors were supposed to be fighting over the audience to be heard. That wasn’t the case, we were paying very close attention. So the often repetitive text became blows, over and over. We only needed to hear that the floor was lava once for Renfield, which is a shame because the man was literally standing up on a piano and that is a great image, seeing that, and the idea of his childishness played in that way, was really great for me. And then it just got repeated and it was so unnecessary. All the repition was so unnecessary.

Wesley: As I said when we left, I was never the audience for this production. The drama was meant to be an aspect of their performance but not an essential part of its success. I didn’t find anything besides the drama to take my attention and because of that I felt so apathetic to their performance. Their commitment to these characters, their commitment to their performances was fantastic. Whether it was the improvisational extremes from Paul Kite or if it’s the more reserved Justin Yorio, I could appreciate that they each brought an aspect of their craft to their performance. But in terms of the actual telling of the story, there was little I could grasp on to. And there was so little novelty in humor or in storytelling for me to have a good night with.

Robyne: I felt that this production really suffered from something I see a lot which is the lack of a strong, critical producer. Somebody who has a greater sense of the show in mind who can also level some of their experience and economy towards the work itself, the language, the humor, the staging.

15:00

Every moment a well utilized, talented producer who the company trusts, can really bring that out, or a co-director, or an assistant director, just somebody to offer a contrary voice to not allow so much of this to run off the tracks.

Wesley: A lot of this story was unnecessary, a lot of this dialogue could have been easily noticed to not gain a response in terms of humor and gotten rid of and would have given us more time to be immersed in the space they were creating.

Robyne: There was also only one level of humor, they only offered us low-brow and a great deal of low-brow humor. There wasn’t a mixed bag, there wasn’t high-brow humor coming from Dracula and low brow humor coming from Renfield, which I felt was a shame because that would have been a wonderful balance.

Wesley: There was no character delivered with a real wit to them. They were all given to us as either satirical images of their characterization or satire of storytelling. They were never in themselves clever characters.

Robyne: or simply characters given witty dialogue.

Wesley: Granted, I cannot say I’ve seen a Three Day Hangover performance before, though I will say here I don’t feel as though I saw any aspect of Dracula that night and I was hoping I would. I was hoping I would get a sense of the portrait of Bram Stoker involved in this.  I feel as though that portrait would have been rolling its eyes and at best smirking.

Robyne: There were moments in this production that could have lended themselves wonderfully to very meta performance structure, where the one portrait of Bram Stroker is involved. There were moments where they could have broken the style and really gone for actual horror. When you are standing in that room full of people in the dark and you feel people moving around you, there are all the elements you need for some true horror. But we never got that, it was always the same one note, and it went on relentlessly and for too long.

Wesley: You read Dracula a while back and I asked you when it was done, “Does Dracula have a sincere sense of mystery and sexuality to it?” and you said you think it does.

Robyne: Right. So something I really loved about the first act of this production was there seemed to be a very clever adaption of the sexual commentary from Dracula, which, in its time, in its place, was a very risqué novel to come out. The description if the encounters, the very sexual nature of Dracula’s existence, his appearance, was initially well handled and seemed to just vanish into this myriad anachronistic reverential material.

Wesley: When they did attempt sexuality it came off like the lovers in Midsummer. It didn’t come off as people with actual sex drives. They might have been going for the cloistered sense of the Victorian but I found nothing about their existence to be grounded in actual sexuality. Every aspect of it felt like characterization. Which just brings me back to why do Dracula? Why do this piece if you’re not going to commit to any aspect of the source material? The story itself isn’t enough, there needs to be some aspect of Dracula you find enticing to put on stage. And it wasn’t the mystery, it wasn’t the sexuality, it wasn’t the politics, and it wasn’t any aspect of the death. It was on a Scary Movie level, “Hey, here’s a thing. Let’s make fun of it.”

Robyne: It almost felt as if it was a Mystery Science Theater or a Rifftrax version of a new Hollywood adaption of Dracula. I felt as if I was sitting around watching that episode with kids from high school who I didn’t really like.

Wesley: The audience was not the best.

Robyne: As an audience member I didn’t know exactly what I was being invited to, which is a huge aspect of these immersive bordering on interactive pieces. There was a lot of fun that we were invited for. When Dracula first comes out, when Michael Borelli first comes out as Dracula, and he has a marker and he “bites” peoples necks, that was fun, and went on just long enough. And Borelli had that playful, very self aware, I almost want to say folksy Dracula, that “TRANSYLVANIA” thing going, which felt completely inaccurate but funny because of its inaccuracy and worked within the world. But was not on the same level as January Lavoy’s Professor pulling out Yeunglings and shooting them off, that is a different level of fun. 

20:00

Wesley: And an aspect of this performance was their self-referentialness, which I always found more fun if this was improv. A lot of the jokes they’re making, a lot of the things that were happening came off as though this would be great in the spontaneity of improv. But knowing that this was scripted, practiced, and rehearsed in that space, I’m not sure for how long but for any amount of time, it came off as gimmicky and patronizing to me.

Robyne: yeah, it was, again, all one note. And that’s fine for a style but you have to be aware that you’re going to alienate a great number of your audience. And unfortunately I was a both a person who loves this style but also a person who was put off by this piece. There was an absolutely wonderful moment in this production.

Wesley: Yes there was.

Robyne: Which, spoilers, once Lucy has been turned by Dracula and the rest of the company is there to end her second life, they kill the lights and they ask us to turn on the flashlights on our phones to act as the sun. Then there is a second moment of Seward and Lucy singing Total Eclipse of the Heart, which was this wonderful, bizarre, anachronistic, hyper-meta theater style choice that absolute perfection.

Wesley: It was hilarious because it was still good craftsmanship. It said something about the characters it said something about their situation, it said something about the world we were in, and it was smart too. The idea that they would be singing Total Eclipse of the Heart, to a vampire was hilarious. And I adored Miranda Noelle Wilson in that role. If this show ended in that scene this review would be going very differently right now because that scene was hilarious and heartfelt and beautiful and it came off with love of the source material.

Robyne: And the moment right before that, was a great choice, where she comes through the doors, covered in blood all over her white dress, singing Come Little Children, the song from Hocus Pocus that Sarah Jessica Parker sings coming to steal the children, and it almost felt like this was going to be a commentary on darkness and vampires and those moments were wonderful in that sense. But the ending just kind of happened.

Wesley: Not only did it just happen, it just happened for a very long time. The coda after the actual climax of Lucy’s death took forev-

Robyne: Dragged. It dragged. And I really wish we had not seen the death of Dracula. This very easily could have been forty minutes shorter. You cut at the end of that and you finish not knowing where Dracula is. You don’t tell the whole sotry and you leave – If you are ending with that monologue about ‘once darkness is introduced, despite the fact you know it isn’t real, it will always haunt you’, because society is obsessed with vampires, that would have been a wonderful place to leave off, with that monster still out there. But it jus- it was so long.

Wesley: And then were dealing with, honestly, less interesting, more grounded characters that don’t compel us in the same way that these two did simply because these two, their characters, more match the style for which they are portraying. A lot of the style I don’t like because it’s what I call ‘Fun as Aesthetic’, we’re showing you fun instead of actually having fun ourselves or making sure you have fun, we’re forcing this sense of fun upon you without actually committing to creating it in the world. But there, in that death of Lucy, it was all there for us.

Robyne: We were involved, it was a great reference, it was a great concept, the acting was wonderful in that moment, the whole, everything came together, every element of this production was there.

Wesley: And it almost makes me more angry because is shows you what the rest of this production could have been.

Robyne: Right. And at that point, after that, you’re dealing with an audience that’s been standing, not walking around and moving but standing, for two hours, that’s sobering up and those things all combine to drag out.

Wesley: All those things combine to make this ending that much less engaging.

Robyne: So then I guess the question is, Wesley, is Dracula worth the $15 ticket?

Wesley: No. Because it’s not just the $15 ticket but the amount of drinks you’d have to get from the bar to make this experience successful.

Robyne: I would argue that this is a very specific style and if that is your cup of tea, then it is absolutely worth the $15 ticket. It is fun, irreverent, nerd, bar theater, and as long as you are not going in for a reverent retelling of Dracula you can have a lot of fun at this production.

Robyne: As always, you can find us at Obstructed-View.com, on facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on twitter @Obstructed_View, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview, or email us at TheObstructedViewPodcast@gmail.com.

Wesley: I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And Robyne

Wesley: And remember,

Robyne: Blood will have blood.  

Episode 3 - Cinderella

[We apologize for the sound quality of the episode. We had some mic issues which caused some problems in editing.] 

Robyne: Hi, I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and this is Obstructed View. 

Wesley: Today we’ll be discussing the Company XIV production of Cinderella at the Minetta Lane Theatre under the direction of Austin McCormick.  

Robyne: Today we’re going to start talking about the concept of the production and Austin McCormick’s style.

Wesley: Company XIV is a burlesque circus that has taken over the Minetta Lane Theater and was previously performing across from the Public Theater in Astor Place. Their work survives on incredible design, fascinating choreography, and a high level of technical skill put towards unselfconscious frivolity. 

Robyne: A lot of what we saw in this production, and Wesley might be able to speak for the company’s design as a whole, was a self defined new Baroque Ballet. It was a very bare-bones, I would say deconstructed, Rococo, Louis XIV what Wesley would describe as melange. For this production our design team was: Choreography, direction, and sound design by Austin McCormick, set and costume design by Zane Pihlstrom, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette, make-up design by Sarah Cimino, and stage management by Nataliya Vasilyeva.

Wesley: I really cannot stress enough how incredibly fully realized the design of this production was.

Robyne: Something I really loved about this production was how cohesive all of the designs were. The world felt complete because every element was there supporting the others and it was beautiful.

Wesley: Absolutely, the lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette was sublime. The way certain lights hit chandeliers in the space, the way they filled that world using smoke and lights and mirrors everywhere.

Robyne: The use of an old-school, large spot light that sat just off stage but visible to the audience to light one of the performances was divine.  

Wesley: So one of the things I really love about Company XIV’s design, and I noticed this last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it really goes to the heart of what makes them work very well, is that they take the best of every era and seamlessly blend them into a cohesive whole. You see design elements that speak to old time Hollywood Golden Age, you see design elements that speak to Weimar and Belle Epoque and Louis XIV and all these fascinating eras, but they never feel intrusive to the world they’re making for us. What makes it work so tremendously well is how the finesse in creation of each of these comes from immense study and immediacy in performance, and that goes I think a lot for Austin McCormick and his trust in his designers, and the designers in their finesse and creativity.

Robyne: And I love how they can take this high style and mix it with contemporary anachronisms. So in this production we got a lot of covers of songs in different languages in different styles that were scintillating.

Wesley: When the sisters enter, for example, they sing the song Sisters from White Christmas, but in German and as conjoined twins – like it’s, it sounds absurd but the joy of it and the oddity of it and the sensuality of it is incredible.

Robyne: There is an aspect of beautiful grotesqueness running through out this production. It gives me the sense that this is how Austin McCormick views humanity, as this divine, glorious, disgusting ‘Thing’, and that is so in-line with my taste. I absolutely love the stylistic world that they created.

Wesley: It’s something that I noticed last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it’s something that I noticed here – the design work from every angle did not give you a moment to question the abilities of anybody involved in this performance.

Robyne: And every element of the design supported the production as a whole. There was nothing that felt out of place and there was nothing that did not feel necessary. I don’t know what could have been removed and left the piece intact.

Wesley: Which is incredible given that this is Baroque style. Because Baroque is, of course, many different layers, many different elements coming in and out. This performance isn’t reductive in design. There are many things happening at any given time, but I wouldn’t wish any of it away.

Robyne: No, it was the illusion of bareness. There is the idea that you as the audience can see all of the contraptions and mechanisms.

5:00

Robyne: The use of creating, in the set, in Zane Pihlstrom’s set you can see the frame, a literal giant frame that is used as a proscenium that is offset and angled to the audeience and about halfway into the stage.  And it’s gorgeous. You can see all of the contraptions happening on the sides, you can see the performers drawing the curtains. And it works so wonderfully together as a concept.  This is clearly a design team that loves and trusts each other and everyone is on the same page.

Wesley: One of my favorite elements in terms of set design, which is then, of course, in cohesion with all the other design elements, was upstage there was a chandelier that was on the ground, and it wasn’t hanging by anything, and every once in a while the lights in the chandelier were lit and it caused this nice, gentle backlight onto the performers. And t’s little things like that, instead of having lights put a chandelier on the ground; the amount of commitment to the images in the designers’ heads. And also I think this all goes to the concept of Cinderella as a story about smoke and mirrors, as a story about finding a way to present yourself differently to the Prince, and find a way to escape. And it all read incredibly, beautifully well. 

Robyne: And the overall sense of brokenness, the overall sense of this gentle decay that permeated the entire piece. The costumes I loved for the most part, it was perfectly in line with the style. You really got to see the absolute beauty of the performers moving; which, Austin McCormick’s choreography, in every style, was gorgeous.

Wesley: Yeah, his choreographic work, even on a clinical, academic level, beyond the sensuality of the burlesque, which is so integral to the way he works, is fascinating and is beautiful and could probably hold it’s own if the performers were wearing street clothes. But with the added bonus, with the gravy of it being burlesque, it came so much more alive. And the transcendence of such choreographic work was added to instead of reduced from.

Robyne: And it’s important to state that if you are sensitive to seeing mostly nude bodies this might not be the piece for you, but I guarantee you that you will lose the sense that you are looking at sexually clothed bodies and just be lost in the beauty of their movement.

Wesley: It’s very much like you said, the Rococo paintings. It really comes with that delicacy as if you were walking through the sculpture gardens of Versailles.  Like they’re … They are sculptural in the way they are formed. And that doesn’t just go to their physical capabilities, that goes to the way they are presented, the way they are framed by this design team.

Robyne: The performers become part of the art; the movement is all Art. It is non-sexual. It is sexual, but it is not sexualized. It is not for Dionysian pleasure, it is not erotic, it is –

Wesley: There’s nothing prudish about it.

Robyne: There is a joy in their humanity.

Wesley: If you don’t think you will enjoy this performance because you think that they are either be using their sexuality in this burlesque framework as a gimmick, or you are made uncomfortable by seeing the nude form on stage, I think that they will be able to transport you to a level that you will be able to appreciate it on a mere culinary level, at the very least.

            I know I keep on harking on the chandelier but there is a moment I remember watching and I looked up and there was a spot light above me hitting a chandelier going away from the stage. That is the kind of meticulousness in vision that Austin McCormick has and in his collaboration these designers to recognize that these are the things that transport us; these are the things that put a flavor in our mouths when we sit in that theater.

Robyne: That level of detail shows that Austin McCormick loves what he does and he loves the art of storytelling and he has found his medium. This production is magic. It will transport you. It is absolutely gorgeous. It is highly stylized, and you might not enjoy the style but you cannot argue the execution.

Wesley: One of the things I enjoy about Austin McCormick’s work is that I have no doubt that he is one of THE Visionaries right now of downtown theater. And the thing about visionaries is that very often they become constraining on their collaborators. I felt each person on this stage is getting to do exactly what they wanted to do when they woke up this morning. 

10:00

Everybody there brought something to the piece only they could bring.  He is not only a visionary, but I’m also getting the sense that he is a collaborator in the construction of his work.

12081171_453223238221861_1318746513_n.jpg

Robyne: But that is not to say that the production is perfect. I did have some major issues with a few elements in this show. There was a BDSM theme that came through in some of the costume designs, for instance the horse. The creation of the horse, which in production, in performance, was gorgeous, but the elements of BDSM that strayed from the Step-Mother, which totally worked and made sense with her, lost me at certain points, and I did not understand why we needed tat pain and suffering for beauty.

Wesley: The BDSM horse didn’t mesh with the sexuality that was being presented to us by the rest of that scene. The rest of that scene was very delicate, very floral, and it was very gilded with a gentle sexuality; and to have the horse brought in, and if it were a plot shift to have that kind of sexuality introduced, would be one thing. But instead, that kind of sensuality is accepted as the same to all the others in that particular scene, which was a little jarring in comparison to the seamlessness of the rest of the design. 

Robyne: Completely, and I only worry that that decision will alienate a number of audience members and it will be used as evidence of perversion, when I found the rest of the production to be gorgeous and human and beautiful.

Wesley: And that’s not to say that BDSM couldn’t have been involved in this performance, I mean -

Robyne: No, I think it’s used exquisitely with –

Wesley: The Step-Mother.

Robyne: The Step-Mother

Wesley: Yes.

Robyne: I think when it made sense characteristically it worked very well. The cruelty shown threw very well. I just don’t think it was necessary in this moment.

Wesley: I do like the idea that BDSM could be portrayed in a way that is something besides “This is a Broken Person” cause most of the time in performance BDSM is a sign of a person being harmful or sinful and I would like to see it put into a gentler context. But here it just didn’t mesh on the same level that other design aspects meshed.

Robyne: And when we say BDSM we don’t mean there was actual –

Wesley: YEAH.

Robyne: - flogging happening on stage. But the use of leather, the use of a leather Horse Mask, really lent itself towards that style. And as in 50 Shades of Grey when you do not accurately portray BDSM as the often loving, mutual respectful, however varying from the sexual norm, relationship that it typically is, it becomes this grotesque thing, and that is very unfair to represent.

Wesley: This is a small bump that we are talking about, honestly.

Robyne: Maybe two minutes of the entire production.

Wesley: That I didn’t so much have a problem with as much as I became conscious that I was watching something sexual happen in front of me.

Robyne: It took me out of being transported into this world. 

Wesley: Exactly.

Robyne: For the most part though, the costumes I absolutely loved. I adored The Prince’s costume.

Wesley: Hee.

Robyne: I love how – the costumes are, on the men, little more than dance belts.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: Which is typical of a dance production in which you are highlighting the absolute gorgeousness of the human body. On the women, they are equally as revealing without sexualizing the nudity of their forms; while also giving homage to the eras from which you are borrowing the dances.

Wesley: Mhmm. You see a lot of corsets, you see a lot of the skeletons for hoop skirts and other sort of Monarchal wear.

Robyne: But striped down to simply the hoop, striped down to simply the bare bones. Which, it’s that idea of being bare, that idea of only what is there to lend to the imagination – that you can see that this is what would be underneath 

Wesley: And they did wear shoes that were pertaining to the Louis XIV style, which I enjoyed greatly because that was a huge culture part of the culture back then, the shoes.

Robyne: And the shoes were all gorgeous. There was the entire shoe number where The Prince was searching for Cinderella and they brought out pair after pair after pair of absolutely gorgeous, exquisite shoes, that no one wore, that just sat upon the stage to be looked upon as Art themselves in a way that was not flamboyant or exuberant or self-indulgent of the costumer but felt so perfectly in this world.*

            *[Since recording this scene has been moved into Act I and is used as the dressing of Cinderella by the Fairy.]

Wesley: This production allows you to indulge, indulge in what you are seeing, indulge in the craftsmanship and in the culinary appreciation of good artistry. And the design team was right there with everything Austin McCormick did.

Robyne: Absolutely. The makeup and the hair work were gorgeous.

15:00

          The androgyny of the performers during different dance numbers when they would often play opposite their own gender, not as a commentary on gender but as a necessity for the storytelling of now “Now we are in a Ball” situation, was wonderful. And the makeup lent itself so beautifully to that style. 

Wesley: And nothing about the sexuality of anybody on stage, nothing about the gender meldings, nothing about that felt unnatural at any point in time. Every flavor offered made sense. You were allowed to appreciate everything on it’s own terms.

Robyne: And the hair was historical and accurate and impressive.

Wesley: There was a wig that comes out in Act III that rivals anything I have seen in Marie Antoinette. There was a boat on it.

Robyne: Yup. It was gorgeous.

Wesley: It was gorgeous.

Robyne: And to delineate between scenes, they had the placards walked across the stage and the, the graphic design there was great. Kyle Ballentine’s detail to the font and the frame of the placards felt like a 1920s inspired Marie Antoinette party. And that is phenomenal, to be able to witness those melding of styles and not feel the alienation.

Wesley: Nor self-congratulatory. I so rarely felt as though somebody was patting themselves on the back for what they just achieved. There was just unbridled joy in show-and-tell here. Often when people make choices stylistically like that, when they make such bold decisions, it comes with the expectation that we will all bow down at their work but here we are allowed to appreciate just what we are witnessing.

Robyne: And to be blunt, when you make such extreme style choices, especially in the burlesque art of being bare, there is often a desperation and a self-indulgence that reeks off of the production and the performances, and I got very little, if any, of that.

Wesley: There were a few moments that I might have felt a glimmer of indulgence on the part of the artists, but by then everything was so well deserved that I almost got joy out of seeing them get washed away with their own work.

Robyne: Absolutely. And that is not to say that there are not moments of self-indulgence in this production that are a part of the storytelling. 

Wesley: Right.

Robyne: And when you see that narcissism juxtaposed with the beauty on stage, it is comical, it is masterfully performed comedy. Which, not to harp simply on the design team, the ensemble of this production was incredibly talented. It was very well balanced and I did not feel as if there was a weak link amongst them.

Wesley: Every one of them is incredible in their own right.  Many of them showing abilities, that perhaps may only be performed on a stage like this. 

Robyne: And the creation of a piece that has so many different dance styles within it is really the only way to showcase all of this talent. I did not feel as if I was being put upon. I did not feel as if any of these dance numbers did not fit. They all worked wonderfully within this production.

Wesley: The performance was done in three acts: first act was Cinderella going to the ball, second act, Cinderella at the ball, third act The Prince finding Cinderella afterwards. In between these acts were entr’actes during which they performed Vaudeville numbers mostly. And a lot of this story was developed using placards and using light levels of dialogue.

Robyne: The Entre Act numbers were wonderful and allowed the Ensemble members to perform solo numbers that were fun and massively impressive.

Wesley: These numbers didn’t often sit in the story nor need they, however, they always did sit well still with the style.

Robyne: The ensemble consists of Hilly Bodin, Lea Helle, Jakob Karr, Nicholas Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, Katrina Cunningham as the Fairy, Davon Rainey as The Step-Mother, Marcy Richardson and Brett Umlauf as The Step-Sisters, Allison Ulrich as Cinderella, and Steven Trumon Gray as The Prince.

Wesley: As you said, I could not point out a weak link among them. Devon Rainey performing The Step-Mother as a BDSM, Drag Queen worked very well in this world.

20:00

Robyne: The use of a multi-ethnic cast was not bothering. Often you hear companies argue for production with “Colorblind Casting” that are just painful to watch and the coarseness of the handling of race is often so painful to bare. And that completely fell away into this production, into the characters they were portraying. 

Wesley: I feel as though there was nothing that Devon Rainey wanted to do that night than to perform this character. And he suited it very well. And the sisters, Brett Umlauf and Marcy Richardson, not only are obscenely talented peopled, but -

Robyne: Disgustingly talented.

Wesley: Like Cirque Du Soleil levels of talent. But they are also such joys to watch have fun on stage. They clowned, they laughed, they did silly things, and it’s things like this that make me think that talent of this caliber should be allowed to have fun like this all the time. Because when they are this good and this much fun they create such joy in The Step-Sisters. They’re almost impossible to hate as characters because of that, because of all the manic fun they’re having. Allison Ulrich as Cinderella – 

Robyne: Was charming.

Wesley: She didn’t have any real stunt, I would say, to perform. She was very much exhibited on a pedestal when it comes to the talents. Her works were much more going for a transcendent form, more balletic, more delicate.

Robyne: Pure, and naïve, and it gave a gorgeous sense of the purity of this character. The earnestness with which she sought the love of her stepfamily, who only showed her abuse, often portrayed as this sort of BDSM abuse without love, cruel, and, in this day and age, hopefully unthinkable, of how a family should work. And the pureness of her love for them was not insulting, because of her performance. It worked so well.

Wesley: And it matched the Cinderella story. It very much matched the story of this girl that was able to transcend the hardships she is going through. And the points of story telling such as the Step-Sisters and the Step-Mother talking about the ball using text bubbles and using placards and using shadow, were such great ways to reinvigorate a story that, especially in the last couple years, we have heard over and over and over again.

Robyne: Especially in the same year that a major motion picture is released that tells the exact story in high style, gorgeous costuming, gorgeous setting.

Wesley: It wasn’t just the motion picture, there has been – the San Francisco Ballet, the motion picture, Juilliard did a production of it, there was the Broadway production of it; this is a story that for some reason has really come back on a level of force that I haven’t really seen of late in fairy tale. I think this might be my favorite version of, no, let me rephrase that. This is my favorite version that I have seen. This is the most reinvigorating of it that I have seen.

Robyne: I did have issue with Katrina Cunningham’s Fairy. Often she felt dismissive and abusive of Cinderella, very uncaring, in that very sexualized manner that the Step-Mother was. And I don’t know if there was a parallel supposed to be happening there or if there was something to be said about beauty or magic or love, but it just did not ring true to me. Her performances were gorgeous. She had a silk headdress filled with balloons that floated above her that was extraordinary, and, again, divine. That sense of ethereal beauty was rampant, but it didn’t feel right in this world.

Wesley: It didn’t come off as a sense of kindness that I‘ve come to expect of The Fairy Godmother. This didn’t feel as much the woman coming down, and despite how high and mighty she is feels for this girl. This almost feels like fairies in the Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Robyne: It felt completely like fairies. It felt like she was an actual fa– not that fairies are real. It felt that she was a more traditional fairy, that was simply having fun, which I like, but I did not like here.

Wesley: Right. Here her vocal prowess, her stage presence, all these undeniable. In terms of characterization, I would have preferred a more gentle warmth in her conduct with Cinderella.

Robyne: Agreed.

Wesley: Ugh, The Prince.

25:00

Robyne: Steven Trumon Gray’s The Prince, despite being a gorgeous human being, was a gorgeous performer. The fun sexual jokes made at The Prince’s expense, the use of The Step-Mother’s sexuality to sway The Prince into choosing one of her daughters, was great and I felt worked but was a little off-putting, every now and then there was just a little too much of it. But his talent, number one, was incredible, both vocally and in every dance in which he performed was a joy to watch.

Wesley: He enters in a bathtub singing in Russian, I think, and that’s where you start to wonder in this production, ‘What next? What next will you be able to surprise me with?” Because by now, I thought I was prepared for anything, I was not expecting a man in a bathtub to sing Russian. And for me to just give in to it.

Robyne: This performance felt indulgent in the way that Champagne is. It felt warm and amber and like a blanket hugging your body.

Wesley: Right.

Robyne: And I don’t know how else to say that. It –

Wesley: No, it’s true.

Robyne: -was so comfortable and warm and fun and happy, and every performer lent to that.

Wesley: And this is something that not many fairy tale adaptations, maybe more now, tend to do, which is put weight on the male love interest and to make this a person who is enticing in terms of a personality. They normally put all their force into the heroine without actually giving any tangible resonance as to why is she after this person. We know why Cinderella is after him.

Robyne: Yeah. I cannot speak highly enough of the ensemble. Hilly Bodin, lea Helle, Jakob Karr, Nicholas Katen, Mailk Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen – the ensemble numbers were incredible. The Can Can, the traditional court dance, the transformation into animals, the, what I will call "Back-up Singer" positions, when The Fairy Godmother was singing – all of their moments of movement and detail and mime and their work in literally the background behind the framed proscenium as they moved behind the curtain to go into performance, had this luxurious, cat like movement to it where they were both apart of the show and watching the show AND watching the audience and that kind of magical, meta-theatrical performance is so fine and so easily mishandled that when it is handled so well comes off with incredible impressiveness.

Wesley: The ensemble are what made the transportation absolute. Their immediacy with us, their ability to be at one with the audience and with the action on stage, and how they weren’t just set dressing, they weren’t just pretty objects on stage, but vital personalities, every one of them. Not all of them had names but I felt as though I knew something about all of their characters in this world, which is incredible for a silent ensemble to achieve. 

Robyne: And the attention to detail in the minor characters which they played, for instance the dance teachers for The Step-Sisters, was great and added a level to this production that wouldn’t have been there if that fun competitiveness wasn’t in every aspect of those two dancers’ faces whenever they took looks at each other.

Wesley: There is a confidence to their performances that allowed them to have fun in what they are achieving. So something that I’ve told people who go to see something like Cirque Du Soleil or something like a fine ballet is stop thinking ‘Wow, look at what they’re able to achieve,’ and start thinking, ‘Wow, look at what people can do.’ And I felt that at so many times during this production, that I was seeing actual achievements of the human race. I felt as though I was seeing the body at it’s best, in a sort of Vitruvian Man, idealistic sort of way.  

Robyne: The stunt work completely faded into choreography.

Wesley: Right.

Robyne: And it was not stunt for stunt sake. It was not a modern dance company presenting stunt as choreography, it was a choreographer utilizing stunt to tell the story in his choreography, that was gorgeous, all within his style.

Wesley: It reminds me of when I was reading about the Commedia dell'arte ballet. The reason we have dancers en pointe nowadays is because Commedia dell'arte performers would go on their tippy toes and it was a stunt that was astonishing and yet people were like, “This is a stunt. It’s amazing.” But it wasn’t considered High Art. It wasn’t until La Sylphide where Marie Taglioni performed en pointe (La Sylphide video) the whole time when people said this was fine, high art. I am seeing that here.

30:00

            I am seeing that transformation of things like aerial hoops, things like flips, no longer being just stunt but going towards that high art realm.

Robyne: I have so often seen aerial hoop work simply done as a demonstration of skill but this was aerial hoop work done so well, which, I do have to point out, and this might be spoilers, the use of the hoop work as the final number between Cinderella and The Prince, didn’t work for me. The Pas de Deux was so gorgeous, was incredible, was the absolute highlight of this production, and while I understand that it was necessary to have that as ball number, those two numbers should have been switched.  There have been few things I have ever seen in my life that have been as gorgeous as that Pas de Deux

Wesley: The Pas de Deux that ends Act II or is part of Act II, where The Prince and Cinderella meet is – it was sublime on a grounded level. I agree, I would have liked them to have reversed the two. I would have liked them to meet using the aerial hoops going above the party and on the end of the performance we get Monarchical Ballet at its absolute best. Those dancers, the way they performed in that world, when – the way they interacted with each other’s bodies with both feet on the ground, it’s hard for me to call it a highlight because there’s so many – 

Robyne: All of the dances (laughs)–

Wesley: EVERYTHING was just so incredible. And the hoop work was good too, the worst part about it was they did something better earlier.

12093802_1633844636866423_1043392117_n.jpg

Robyne: There was no bad choreography.

Wesley: No.

Robyne: There was no mediocre choreography. There was no good choreography. It was all great, but some of it was so otherworldly in its quality and beauty. That is the image we should have been left with, was THAT final number and then, AND THEN the show ends and everybody is on their feet because, it was so moving that I, I was almost brought to tears.

Wesley: Because Company XIV also is based off of Louis XIV, that’s where they get their name from, and I think that would have also lent itself to the company’s mission, the company’s foundation, to end on that note. 

Robyne: To not only end on that note but to have the aerial work above the party, what better way to have physically staged the party so that everyone was looking up at them? If you don’t have a balcony put them in the air and the image of the craned neck of everyone dancing in this painful position to see would give such a physical adaptation of envy and jealousy and lust, that if felt like a very obvious choice.

Wesley: Right. But that’s just to say that this thing sparked our imagination a bit. There was also, in Act III you have the challenge of The Step-Sisters for The Prince. And, once again, both were great, but there was one of them in particular, and I hate to say that because it’s not that –

Robyne: Brett Umlauf’s –

Wesley: Brett Umlauf’s vocal prowess, her capabilities as a singer, was sublime. That is unqualified statement. 

Robyne: The operatic number there was great, however, when that number is second to, and is intended to upstage, Marcy Richardson, on a pole dancing pole mounted to a deconstructed carousel, held down by the male performers, while she was pole dancing and singing French opera – there was almost nothing more impressive in this show than that. 

Wesley: And it wasn’t her talent itself, it was the fact that they added something to it; the fact that she was upside down, singing French opera. It wasn’t that the talent was better, it’s just that when you add something more, to that extent, it feels like the logical choice, THAT was the one-upmanship.

Robyne: Right.

Wesley: That was her going, “Ha Ha, you think you’ve won. But I’m gonna do it upside down, on a pole, in a split.”

Robyne: Agreed

Wesley: I will repeat that. Upside down, on a pole, in a split, singing opera.

Robyne: WELL. Singing opera Well. Hitting notes that … I could never … It was incredible.

Wesley: I don’t know the last time I’ve seen something that astonishing.

Robyne: And again, we are describing this and it sounds like stunt, and it is, but in this world, in this one-upsmanship, in this magical world where Cinderella is given wings by her stepsisters and put in a cage, in THIS world, it made perfect sense, and–

Wesley: -you welcome it. You absolutely welcome every breath that they took and that cage work –

35:00

Robyne: Austin McCormick’s sound design was wonderful. The singing of Royals in French, the Fairy Godmother’s song which I, it slips my mind at the moment, (James Young, Dark Star) they were all wonderful choices. But there was … there is an art to the creation of practical sounds on stage and one of the noises I absolutely love is the sound of bird wings on metal cage. I don’t know why. But that is such a textural sensory, and giving us that sound in this, the literal trapping of a Dove in a cage, representing Cinderella and having the Godmother save her, was extraordinary.

Wesley: So one aspect of this performance that I did miss, cause I saw them in their previous space across from the Public Theater doing Nutcracker Rouge, and one of the aspects of Nutcracker Rouge and that space that I preferred was you had a sense that the entire experience from walking in the door was under the artists’ control. And when you walk through the bar to this back hallway, you really got a sense of being transported from beginning to end. I’m sure they’re still finding their footing in the Minetta Lane Theatre; however, there were points inside of the space itself that it felt like the Minetta Lane Theatre hosting this show rather than that sort-of Sleep No More, this is Their Space.  

Robyne: Where the door is a portal to a new world.

Wesley: Exactly.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: I was looking for that Natasha, Pierre (and the Great Comet of 1812), and also, what I got from them last time, which was, from beginning to end, inside their world, you are under their command and you are invited into their home. Rather, here, at times, I’m sure, this is their first performance in this space, this is the premiere of Cinderella, so there will be some adjusting to this space; however it is much larger and I’m sure that there are certain aspects of it that they don’t have the ability to give to it the same level of detail that they do to the stage.

Also, an integral part of Nutcracker Rouge was audience interaction and given the size of the space, given that they could no longer just walk off the stage and be among the people, but have to walk down a set of stairs off the rose lip. The audience interaction, there was immediacy, but the direct interaction was a very rare aspect to this performance. And simply given the talent, given the amount of personality most of these performers had, I would have appreciated more direct contact with the audience.

Robyne: And it could have been something as simple as The Step-Mother handing out flowers for the audience to toss at her daughters after they finished performing. That kind of almost gimmicky interaction would have worked so wonderfully in this production and would have just, JUST made that transportation, just brought us into this world that little bit more and would have been wonderful. 

            My biggest issue, over all, would have to be the ending. 

Wesley: Yes.

***SPOILERS***

Robyne: And Spoilers here *I completely understand, intellectually, the desire to alter the ending of Cinderella to have The Dream end. I felt that it was supported by the concept; I felt the design work supported that kind of broken, bare bones, dismay. Desolation was abound throughout the design. I just simply felt betrayed at the end of the show. It was handled well, it was blunt, I just think it could have been further articulated so it wasn’t so rough on the audience. And we should have been given more of a primer that this dream COULD not been real. It just felt so sudden and almost painful and I’m sure that was part of the intent but I didn’t enjoy that pain. *

Wesley: Furthermore, unlike Nutcracker Rouge, where throughout the performance you watch Clara go inside of this dream world of the Nutcracker, into this graden of earthly delights, as she discovers sensuality and sexuality, until the end when she does this beautiful Pas de Deux, this had no through-line of burlesque developing into this world. If we’d entered and we were in the real world and then the world of burlesque brings her into this dream of Cinderella, that could be one way of seeing it; but when it’s just the burlesque the whole way through and at the end there’s this very depressing coda regarding her being sent back to her abusive mother – that’s the other difference, Nutcracker ends with her waking from the dream but she’s going back t a fine life, when Cinderella wakes up, she’s going back to her abusive mother and dead father. 

40:00

Robyne: Well, I don’t even know if she went back to them, I’m, it just felt like reality broke. As all of the other performers switched out of their characters and started striping the stage, she was left alone and abandoned. And I got the sense that this is what he was going for, was that this was all just a dream in her head that she had had that night after, I think in the original story she picks out lentils. She does this thing and she falls asleep and then in this version I guess the Fairy Godmother comes to her in her dream and she wakes up from that dream and is back in that world. But it felt even worse than that; it felt like she woke up in a war-torn country alone. And I did not understand.

Wesley: It was difficult to enjoy their intent.

Robyne: Yes. Which was made so much more acute by how gorgeous and detailed and warm and loving the rest of the world was. That champagne feel and then to be left with –

Wesley: -this hangover.

Robyne: Not even that hangover, the sour, tart, acidic bile of that stark reality.

Wesley: And that’s not to say this ruined the evening, that’s not to say we couldn’t –

Robyne: By no means did we walk out of this theater completely bemoaning that ending, it was a thirty second tip on the rest of this production that –

Wesley: I just didn’t feel that I needed.

Robyne: Nor did I.

***END SPOILERS***

Wesley: I personally would love to see them come out with a CD once they’ve finished their next two performances using the music of these performances. The music is always beautiful. They use some classical, such as Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel, they do revamps of new pieces like Royals in French; I would love to see that happen. And I look forward to seeing them really taking over the Minetta Lane Theatre and making it entirely their own.

Robyne: I am so looking forward to Nutcracker Rouge and Snow White.

Wesley: I say this without any … I check my hyperbole, Austin McCormick is one of the best visionaries I can think of in the downtown theater scene. I can’t think of anybody who has truly created a singular vision and taken over a space to create it, and with such level of detail and craftsmanship. There is a dedication and a love to this world he is making, that I don’t know exists elsewhere. This is a unique theatrical experience perhaps in the country, but definitely in New York, and I would love to see this become a permanent staple of New York.

Robyne: So would I.

Wesley: So I guess the final question is: Is it worth the $40-$100 priced ticket?

Robyne: Absolutely. More so than many Broadway shows I’ve seen recently. The quality of performance, the quality of talent, the amount of time you get in this world, is so worth the ticket price. I full heartedly recommend seeing this show.

Wesley: The tickets could cost twice as much and I’d be saying these words, “Pay and go se it.” This is dance at it’s finest and this is theater craftsmanship better than most that you will see.

Robyne: Cinderella runs until November 15th at The Minetta Lane Theatre. You can find tickets at TicketMaster.com or CompanyXIV.com. As always, you can join in on the conversation at Obstructed-view.com on Facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on Twitter, Soundcloud, or Tumblr, or email us at TheObstructedViewPodcast@Gmail.com. This is Robyne.

Wesley: And Wesley.

Robyne: And Remember.

Wesley: Never be a Wallflower.

11849368_166834350325338_470397945_n.jpg

[All images taken from Company XIV's Instagram feed]

Episode 2 - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and this is Obstructed View. 

Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by the Pearl Theatre Company and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Wesley:  For those of you who don't know the play, we've added a link to the plot summary as well as a performance. This particular production by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, used only five performers to tell the whole story. Those Performers are Mark Bedard, Sean McNall, Jason O'Connell, Joey Parson, and Nance Williamson

Robyne: We're gonna start off today discussing design. Our scenic designer was John McDermott, our costume designer was Jessica Wegener Shay, our lighting design was by Eric Southern, and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel. Wesley why don't you start us off?

Wesley: The design work was very bare and sparse in terms of the scenic design. You got to see the back wall of the theater, and the stage was bare of any scenic element.

Robyne: I found the scenic design to not quite be minimalist but barren.

Wesley: The scenic design really tried to fight for the empty space sort of feel and the groundwork, the stage was covered with a bunch of pebbles-

Robyne: or sand.

Wesley: and there was neon tape, multicolored neon tape placed around the set. And hanging from the rafters in the upstage area, was a blue amorphous curtain like thing -

Robyne: Yeah, it took me a while, but I really fell for the scenic design with the exception of that hanging back material, which I didn’t really see a purpose in, other than as a place for them to light. I really liked the bareness of the stage with the concept they were going for, at the same time I didn’t like the concept they went for.

Wesley: Fair. I mean for me, the bareness of the stage made sense. I liked actually almost the entirety of the design on principal when I walked into the theater.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: When I sat down I was excited for the performance we were about to see. I don’t think that the set elements necessarily meshed with the performers and the work they were doing on the same level. I think they were both well done but I didn’t see a unification of the two aesthetics.

Robyne: Yeah, I really felt that there was no cohesion between the designs. I got the sense that the lighting, costume, and scenic, were all at least aiming for the same world, but not all in the same realm, if that makes sense, at least product wise. Design-wise, they may have all been on the same page. But the sound design, it was very barren, not in the same sense that the stage was, it was very lacking. There was not a lot of it. A lot of the sound was created by the performers. Which I get, but the choices that were made in the intermission, pre-music, and post show were all very non-cohesive.

Wesley: And I do think a lot of that is based off of what I was reading the pearl theatre’s dramaturge about midsummer, which was that this is a dream world where times collide. It’s sort of like from The Frogs “The setting, Ancient Athens, the time, The Present Day.” That sort of dream sense you have when you walk into your house, and for some reason, you know it’s France.  And I think they’re trying to get that sort of disjointed feel, however, I think that the design work really spoke for the directorial concept, but it didn’t really add much to the conversation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Robyne: Yeah, I just didn’t feel that the Dream aesthetic meshed. I didn’t feel as if I was in a dream. Somewhere between the - I’m really sorry Jessica, I hated those costumes, the jumpsuits with the neon strips, seemed really out of place and only there to be utilized by the lighting designer’s use of the neon lights, the black lights, which were fine every once and again but that’s how they communicated that magic was being done and that felt really kitschy and unstylized, to me, it felt sophomoric really, in it’s “NOW we’re doing magic” feel to it.

Wesley: So, I think that this production takes after the Peter Brook 1970’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream that came to New York City. If you don’t know the Peter Brook production, it was a legendary production in which he put all the actor’s inside of this white box set and using as minimal use of design techniques as possible, told the whole story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And a lot of directors since then have taken on Peter Brook’s sort of minimalist aesthetic and deconstructed story telling to create this “Theatre is Magic” kind of feel. The problem is I don’t feel as though the aesthetic, especially in the neon, with the jumpsuits, with the costumes, were brought to the present day. They felt very 1980s, very 1970s, and sort of what post apocalyptic was suppose to feel like in 1983.

5:00

Robyne: It really felt to me like a hip-hop 80s artist experiment with neons and black lights. And I harp on that in the lighting design because there were moments in that lighting design that were absolutely gorgeous. For the most part, the lighting was fantastic, there were two or three really distinct moments, in the getting lost in the woods scene, -

Wesley: Loved it, yeah.

Robyne: - that were gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. And then it just felt like, I almost want to blame the director, Eric Tucker, for these moments of ‘and then I need this to happen,’ and so we had a flash of that neon magic, that was so unnecessary, and could have been conveyed in such a better manner.

Wesley: The moments of lighting design that were really articulate about the world these characters are going through were incredible; especially this one scene, as you said, where they’re lost in the woods and everything goes dark, and we just get side lighting and every once in a while they pop up and you see their face then they disappear. It was beautiful. Once again, much like the scenic design, I thought the lighting design was, on it’s own merit, incredible. I enjoyed the neon, I enjoyed those moments of magic. I think a lot of power was given to those magically moments. Most people do Midsummer just for the mechanicals nowadays because they are hilarious and it’s really easy to get involved with them. It was nice of them to makes us care about the plight of Titania, the plight of Oberon, and to put that as sort of ethereal nature into their lighting design. However, there were a couple of choices that felt purely aesthetic for me and that didn’t articulate this world as well as others – the couple bars of neon on the back wall that didn’t transport me the way that when everything went dark as they’re lost in the woods, as you were talking about, that was a transportive moment.

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: Even when Puck took the lights away, that was a moment of theater magic, for lack of a better term.

Robyne: Absolutely, and then you had things like the natural sound of them running over that sandy pebble pit that really, in the darkness, gave you that sense of loss and confusion that was amazing.

Wesley: There were just points that really felt as though they were painting, rather than producing a production of Midsummer.

Robyne: There was a lot of concept put ONTO this production rather than concept drawn FROM this production.

Wesley: The only point that never really meshed for me was the, and I’m once again sorry Jessica, but those costumes just baffled me as to how they fit in this world with these performers. Unless these costumes were suppose to be a commentary on 1980s underground theater troupes, which they kind of got to at the end with the mechanicals play and this sort of self-referential jab. But with how streamlined and how finished and how developed everything else was, to be Midsummer, those remained lagging in unfulfilled concept.

Robyne: As we mentioned before, I loved all of the performers.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: And it really felt like there were two different worlds. I said to Wesley as soon as we stepped out that this production definitely proves that you can do Midsummer with five people; I just don’t know why you would, if you can get a full cast. That being said, there were some phenomenal performances.

Wesley: So using this cast of five, their breakdown was – Sean McNall playing Theseus, Peter Quince, and Demetrius, Jason O’Connell playing Puck, Bottom, and Aegeus, Nance Williamson playing Hippolyta, Helena, a fairy, Robin Starveling, and half of Snug the Joiner, Joey Parsons playing Hermia, Titania, and Tom Snout, and Mark Bedard playing Lysander, Oberon, Francis Flute, and Snug the Joiner.

Robyne: My main issue with the performances I believe comes from the direction, that there was a lot of gross generalization and stereotypical, archetypal performance for minor characters to distinguish them in the on-stage transitions that happen that could have been much more easily conveyed through costumes. 

Wesley: Often what happens with double casting much less quadruple or even more casting is that you get broad generalizations in characterization. You don’t really get as much nuance and personality from each of these characters because they’re doing quick changes in front of you and that you need to be able to identify that these are new people every time. It’s fun story telling very often; there are a few times it doesn’t come fully to fruition.

            I would say everyone in the cast has at least one character they were able to knock out of the park.

Robyne: Absolutely. Sean McNall’s Theseus was great.

Wesley: Yeah. I really think that Jason O’Connell’s Bottom, especially during Bottom’s Dream was beautiful.

10:00

Robyne: That is one of the best, if not THE best, performances of Bottom’s Dream I have ever seen. 

Wesley: Yeah, it really grounded that character, which was needed by that point in time.

            Nance Williamson, she was a lot of fun in a lot of things. I’m trying to think of what I preferred her in, but I think just her variety really spoke for her. Going from Hippolyta to Helena to Robin Starveling, though I really like her emotional grounding of Helena, personally. 

Robyne: And the age difference really brought an interesting texture to that casting of the four lovers.

Wesley: Yeah, so, the whole cast was of various ages, of various backgrounds, they don’t -

Robyne: it was an interestingly diverse cast, in a way that I had not expected it to be. Upon the actors initial entrance I felt that it was a very white cast, but in just a very few moments, that disappeared for me. Their variety and diversity came from other aspects of their personages.

Wesley: So also, you have Mark Bedard, who I really enjoyed as Oberon when he was playing with Puck, it really was a good counterbalance there. He was great as Francis Flute and Thisbe, with his little voice, I mean, that was a lot of fun for me. 

Robyne: I really liked him as Thisbe; I did not care for him as Francis Flute.

Wesley: Joey Parsons playing Hermia, Titania, and Tom Snout – I can’t even point out which one was supposed to be the best because they were all so great.

Robyne: This was Joey Parson’s show.

Wesley: Yeah

Robyne: She stole it.

Wesley: To be fair, she really meshed well with the mechanicals, she meshed well in the fairy world, not a scene stealer by any account; but her Titania was fantastic. It was so well formed.

Robyne: Joey really brought out the best in her fellow cast, which is fantastic to see.

Wesley: And it’s amazing that I was able to believe her as both the fan girl turned lover in Tom Snout, but at the same time this frightening and incredible magisterial Queen of the fairy world.

Robyne: She gave Titania a real depth in not only conveying this thousands-year-old Queen of these immortal beings that have magic, but she at a moment broke when Bottom made a joke, and she giggled at him, and that is almost something you never see. You never see that real softness, it’s usually just a lust for Bottom, rather than the Love-in-Idleness that it’s suppose to be; and Joey really brought that out in this production.    

Wesley:  I believed that she loved him. I believe that she fell for Bottom, not just in a sexual aspect but because she was enamored with him.

Robyne: Yeah. That being said, the Puck-Bottom pairing was hard to swallow at times. Puck is a very high-energy character; if not played more mischievous.  He kind of comes off as just an ass. Bottom can also be played as a very egotistical ass, which he was in this production as well.  But when you have the same actor playing Puck and Bottom, it can really bring out the worst in both those characters. Finding those uniquenesses between the two can be very difficult.

Wesley: Puck in particular, because while Bottom learns something and goes through Bottom’s Dream, and we get this moment of grounding with him that then transports us into the mechanicals play; sure there’s a couple of moments with Puck where he swallows his pride next to Oberon, but I wouldn’t say there’s any real point of learning with the character. He remained the mischievous fairy that he was in the beginning.

Robyne: and while that can be fine in most productions, I didn’t get a real clear sense that Oberon was in charge of Puck, I didn’t see the fear in Puck of Oberon.

Wesley: For me, it was just, they were asking for this particular performance to be too much when they put both Bottom and Puck on him. Those are very high energy, high comedy characters, especially seeing as Jason O’Connell was performing them much like the Genie in Aladdin. Very much the Robin Williams-y, going from impression to impression to impression, which isn’t wrong, it makes sense for Puck, it absolutely makes sense for Puck to be able to do these things. 

Robyne: Especially with this anachronistic concept to it.

Wesley: And to have Bottom play Pyramus like The Godfather.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Those are fun things to add in. When those things get meshed together they really can overwhelm the humor and overwhelm the subtlety.

One thing that I really did enjoy that sadly began to dissipate near the end of the production was that, when we first entered the fairy world, with Nance Williamson playing the fairy opposite Puck, I got a sense that these were creatures to be feared, and I rarely see that. Fairies are now very often just these pretty figures that go around the stage as an excuse for costumers to show off, and it was nice to see the fairies as something to be feared as part of this pagan world that the forest represents.

15:00

Robyne: The Fay are, from European tradition, these terrifying creatures that live in the woods and play tricks on people, and steal children to eat them, and have their way with humans in the forests. I kind of got the sense for that in the initial interactions between Oberon and Titania that got really lost towards the end of the production.

Wesley: One thing I really want to give them here though is, this is the first production of Midsummer Night’s Dream that I have ever seen in which I cared about the outcome of the Indian child. 

Robyne: Yes.

Wesley: I always forget about the Indian child by the end of the play.

Robyne: Titania and Oberon have a very Martha-and-George relationship where new items tend to become weapons. But Joey Parson’s Titania really brought that emotional value of what that child meant to her and I loved that, that is something that gets completely forgotten about in most productions.

Wesley: And also, Oberon’s apathy – “I’m bored, I want another member of my posse.” But this sort of surprise at the stakes Titania has regarding what this child means to her, it feels new for both of these characters.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And that was a fun entrance into the world of the fairy kingdom. And I think that that is added to by the fact that we get this disjointed staging where we go from all these different levels of worlds and stakes. That’s one thing that I think the director did very well, I think it was done very much in collaboration with this cast, but the disjointed set up, from going from the lovers to the royalty, to the fairy kingdom, to the mechanicals, you really got a sense of all the different layers in this world combining into one.

Robyne: One of my issues with this production in particular was the first act felt as if it was a tribulation that was necessary to get to the fun of act two, which consisted of the lovers lost in the woods, the righting of Bottom and Titania, and the happy ending of the rude mechanicals and the nobles – which was the funniest I have ever seen that scene done. The gross juxtaposition of the actors judging their other characters performances was wonderful. That really made the show.  

Wesley: Well, also for Midsummer the first act has always been a necessary evil. If you read it, that first act, you like fly through it. There is no fat in that first act, it’s setting everything up to get you into the woods.

Robyne: This just felt particularly trying.

Wesley: Oh, no, it was very laborious and a lot of that had to do with the concept eeking its way into the actors’ position. The first part of the play I was thinking to myself, ‘what is this concept that I’m suppose to be grasping here?’

Robyne: Yes.

Wesley: Rather than really enjoying the play of the actors and what they were doing. Which, I think, that is what made the first part so laborious.

Robyne: Well even that first scene was incredibly trying, where they started and stopped multiple times, with various actors portraying various characters in so many different referential styles. There was a 2001: A Spacy Odyssey entrance, in which they were all apes, and there was a southern accented entrance and we got that it was all referential, but it just set us on a very bad path for the rest of the production

Wesley: Right and also for the fact that it was never brought up again really. There was a couple of points at intermission and at the end of the play, but there was never any other time in the meat of the piece where that kind of disjointed, cubist, multiple-referential framework was utilized. Now we got a lot of different forms, we got a lot of anachronisms, which are fine, but never on that level, so it really changed expectations for what was the reality of the piece we were going to see.

Robyne: Right it started me off believing I was going to see a cocaine fueled, nightmarish, post-modern, Generation X, production and that’s not at all what we saw.

Wesley: No. Now I do want to get back to the mechanicals and what you were saying about their scene. The mechanicals scene was hilarious, and a lot of that came from, and I do agree this is the best I’ve sen this dynamic used, between the nobles watching the work and the mechanicals performing the work. There were a lot of things that made the mechanicals a lot of fun, in particular their sort of self-referential, self-mocking sense of, “This is the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival coming to perform for the nobles. And it’s like change, change, change, each of them doing a real grotesque form of doing what they’d spent the whole playing doing, to tell this story.

            Throughout the whole play though, there was an added sort of sub-plot between Bottom and Joey Parson’s Tom Snout, who plays wall, where they slowly come to love each other or they become enraptured with each other.

20:00

Robyne: Where, where she becomes enraptured with him and he kind of just goes for it after he’s had the realization that he is lonely.

Wesley: He is lonely but also she looks a lot like Titania.

Robyne: Oh. Yeah.

Wesley: So they added that in. And it’s difficult to add something like that in to a Shakespeare play and help it feel natural and make you feel excited about it. And I felt so excited for them when they started making out on the stage. And I was really enjoying that moment, a lot because I’d learned to love those two actors in those characters.

Robyne: Right, my biggest issue, and maybe it’s there as a juxtaposition was the really ridiculous gay sex jokes that were out in with the whole Wall thing, talking and kissing through the wall, which was a guys crotch, it was so unnecessary.

Wesley: And it didn’t match the levels that the rest of their staging met.  

Robyne: There were a number of times where we mixed high-brow with low-brow in this production and it made the low-brow sound so hollow because it wasn’t done well.

Wesley: Yeah, there were a lot of gay jokes. There were a lot of poor interactions with the audience. There were a lot of anachronisms that -

Robyne: There was that whole sex scene between Titania and Bottom that was not necessary.

Wesley: It really felt desperate.

Robyne: And Grotesque.

Wesley: And it didn’t match what I think Titania felt for Bottom in what we saw in the scenes before.

Robyne: yeah, and I’m all for a good Bacchanal but that, again, just rang hollow. 

Wesley: It seemed like performers trying to make people excited about Shakespeare by appealing to the lowest common denominator, which happens a lot in New York right now. It happens a lot in America right now.

Robyne: I got the impression that we were suppose to excuse them for being rude mechanicals, but they didn’t earn that because of their treatment of the language and because of their level of skill was too high. They were not rude mechanicals in the least; they were some wonderful performers.

Wesley: If this was suppose to have been possessing them to tell this story, as I think might have been the intention by that sort of epilogue

Robyne: Right. There was a time warp epilogue at the end of the piece. After all the nobles retire to bed at midnight, the play rewinds for a second just to jump to the rude mechanicals rehearsing in the forest and Puck poseses them to deliver his final monologue, “if we be friends…” 

Wesley: “Robin will restore amends.” And then we all applaud and they look stunned at us as if they didn’t know they were performing for an audience this whole time. The difficulty with this is the difficulty with nearly any meta-performance which is, you start to then piece apart, “wait,  if this was Puck the whole time, why was Puck using this poetic language? Why was Puck needing this performance to be told? How was this fun for Puck? What was Puck doing?” A lot of cracks came out of the plaster using this framework of the possessed performers.

Robyne: And I felt that it was Eric Tucker just not being able to help himself with the direction. He just couldn’t leave well enough alone. He couldn’t trust that the production was doing what it was supposed to do.

Wesley: If they would have ended with the mechanicals scene going then to Puck, I would have been happy for the whole cast then deliver Puck’s monologue. But if they would have ended with that sort of simplicity, it would have been a very different feeling leaving the play. But instead, I left a little baffled, and more irritated than curious. 

Robyne: Yeah, because I loved the ending up until that point and then they finished on that note and I left wondering why. Why? Why? Why did that have to happen?

Wesley: And it didn’t excite me in the same way that the performes did.

Robyne: And I can’t find a conceptual defense for it.

Wesley: No, cause getting us in to intermission, they walked backwards off the set, and then getting us in to act two, they did the same exact thing, walking forward with some more wheel grinding and a lot of it was very impressive in terms of performance.

Robyne: yeah, I’m sure that if you had recorded Bottom’s delivery and played it backwards it would be English.

Wesley: It would be, probably, perfect verse, but-

Robyne: It just didn’t need to exist.

Wesley: The rest of it was so strong. The poetry was so strong. And Nance Williamson’s Helena – her delivery of sorrow, trying to chase after Demetrius was enough.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: The performers put so much care into telling A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Eric Tucker’s concept became too much for it.

Robyne: Which is not to say that his direction was terrible.

Wesley: No.

Robyne: There were moments where, while I did not at all care for what was happening on stage, I really appreciate how structured the, would you say post modern?

Wesley: Oh yeah.

Robyne: -movement styles were. The creation of Bottom and Bottom being completely lost while bound by his fellow actors – the actual, physical, human actors in this production not the actors in the production of Pyramus and Thisbe – was wonderful.

25:00

His sense of physicality as an ass, were wonderful. There were moments of the players leaving Athens in an elevator singing “Girl from Impanema,” that worked really well for me. And Just confused me as to why the other anachronistic pieces were not cut when they didn’t work and if they were recognized as not working.

Wesley: This must have been very much devised.  I can’t imagine that this was just a directing coming in going, “I know exactly how this is going to be staged, I know exactly what you all are going to be doing.” This clearly speaks well for collaborative theater. To have talented, very well seasoned actors playing and this director then parsing out what goes where and how best to tell the story.

            Those moments, they were cinematic moments with sharp cuts between places – with us being above people, and now below people, and now to the side of people – that were seamless and fun. The problem was when they got overshadowed by a looming concept.

Robyne: And to me, directors are responsible for the end performances and it should have been up to him or a producer to have helped clean up those performances, to wipe away some of the stereotypical, archetypal mannerisms and vocal choices; unless that was the initial design, and then to work them further in. And there were things that just really irked me, like Demetrius’s Spanish. Not only his Spanish accent but his actual speaking of Spanish felt completely put on to this production.  Egius’s homosexuality felt put on to this production. And I did not care for Snug the Joiner being this weird conjoined twin ‘Other’ thing.

Wesley: So for me, Demetrius’s Spanish was enjoyable and made sense for the character, it didn’t seem so put upon. Egius’s homosexuality was just so broad, so unnecessary and didn’t really make sense for the character, I don’t really know howthey got to point B there. I loved Snug the Joiner. I laughed so hard. Just given how this is a world of such mania they’ve made, to have this sort of monster zombie come out, out of nowhere, it made no sense, and I thought it was hilarious. Especially given, always going back to her, Joey Parson’s reaction of “Oh God!”  Every time, with terror. I mean, it just makes me laugh, every time. There was some diminishing returns there by the time we got to the final mechanicals’ scene. But we didn’t need that comedy adding in.

Robyne: So Wesley, any other thoughts?

Wesley: I think in general this is a, off/on production that stars some very incredible performances.

Robyne: I completely agree. A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Pearl Theater until October 31st. Wesley, my question is – Is the show worth the $65 ticket for non-members?

Wesley: It is if you really enjoy seeing new versions of Shakespeare, but if your interests go anywhere beyond that I would say this is one to miss.

Robyne: I would be very pleased if I saw this production at a $20 ticket.

Wesley: Yeah, at La Mama. However, given that price, if you have the stakes to see deconstructed Shakespeare, or have made a hobby of seeing Midsummer or Shakespeare performances, this is one probably not to be missed.

We hope you enjoy the podcast and that you will share your thoughts with us.

Robyne: As always, you can find us and join the conversation on facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on twitter @Obstructed_View, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview, on tumblr obstructedviewpodcast.tumblr.com, or at Obstructed-view.com

Wesley: Special Thanks today goes out Ari Edelson, Alyssa Jenette, and Julian Fleisher for your love and support. This is Wesley.

Robyne: And Robyne,

Wesley: And remember,

Robyne: Dream the Impossible Dream.

 

Obstructed View - Episode 1 - Magic Trick

Pictured: Chet Siegel (left) and Ethan Hova

Robyne: Hello, I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and I’m Wesley,

Robyne: and this is Obstructed View. 

Wesley: Today we’ll be discussing Magic Trick by Mariah MacCarthy, presented by Caps Lock Theatre with Jack Sharkey as Executive producer.

Robyne: And a few notes before we begin, in this conversation we’ll be discussing some adult themes and sexual content, so just a heads up on that if you’re sensitive to that material, and second, I do know Mariah personally, we’ve worked together in the past. And always spoilers will abound but we will do our best to warn you when they are coming.

Wesley: This is the second production of Magic Trick, previously produced at HERE Arts Center. Magic Trick was done at Theatre Row in their Studio Theater. Unfortunately, we saw it on its closing weekend, so you’ll have to catch a future production.

Robyne: Magic Trick is a play in two that runs about two and a half hours, it follows the shifting romantic complexities between its three characters: Bana, Eric, and Clara.  Starting at scene eight and then continuing to jump through its chronology, the play offers a disjointed portrait of the at times beautiful but rather toxic relationships these three people share.

Wesley: The story centers primarily around Bana, a feisty partially paralyzed woman, who falls in love with Eric, a trust fund baby of thirty-seven. Spoilers. One day while out Bana meets Clara, a fantastic burlesque performer, with whom she falls in love.  Afraid to leave Eric because of a previous outburst when she tried to move out months earlier, as well as some legitimate romantic feeling, she feels trapped and has Clara help her move out while Eric is asleep. 

Robyn: Hence the Magic Trick Title. I’d like to start out talking about design.

Chet Siegel (left), Kim Gainer, and Ethan Hova

Wesley: All right, so for design in this production, we have, Tim McMath doing scenic design, Lighting by Lois Catanzaro, Costumes Allison Dawe, and sound design by Genarro Marletta.

Robyne: I really think that the world the designers created meshed together very well.

Wesley: I agree entirely.

Robyne: Starting with the moment we stepped into the space, it felt like a late 90s – early 2000s, kind of rundown, dive bar, drag, burlesque performance space. That really –

Wesley: Well the thing is we’re in the top floor of a midtown theater complex. The space could be very, it could be very sterile but I think that they did a good job of making me feel like I actually went to the basement of a bar in Bushwick or something.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: You know like there’s a lot of texture to that world. I actually wasn’t quite sure what was, at first I wasn’t sure what was already in the space when they got there.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: To a certain extent it feels as thought they could have done very little in order to transform the space. I couldn’t tell because it all seemed to fit so naturally in that theater for me.

Robyne: Yeah, I totally agree.

Wesley: Especially the painting on the walls, they painted the word “Magic” in paint, and for me, I don’t know, it’s one of those things that I never quite see in theaters like that where they actually go to that extent where they will paint the walls to bring you into a special space for that production.

Robyne: Absolutely. Which the lighting really helped. It, it focused primarily on the blues, and pinks, and purples that I find prevalent in that kind of sexy kitten, burlesque-y, drag-y kind of beautiful grim.

Wesley: Right, and it didn’t feel like high-level LED lights, or something like that, this felt like worn gels that have been used time and time again, and especially the, ugh, I love when they actually put the dressing room mirror

Robyne: The dressing room practical lights were great.

Wesley: I loved that. We get a better window, it’s more voyeuristic.

Robyne: The lighting really helped the scenic shifts, in breaking the magical delusion that the burlesque numbers that were performed created, into that stark reality of the characters lives. There were a couple of those shifts where we went from these warm, fuzzy, fun, almost alcoholic lights into this stark, cold, were back stage this is where reality happens – theres a moment where they’re sitting backstage in the second act and rather than having the, the burlesque nudity, it was the two women, sitting, removing the tape residue off of their tits.

Wesley: Yeah. Well it has a sort of Chicago vibe to it. It’s escapism into another reality where you are the star of the world.

Robyne: Yeah, and I felt that this sound design just accentuated that world for me with the use of that, oh god, turn-of-the-century, trip-hop, ugh, Cake, and Morcheeba, and Poe, and Portishead, all of these alternative, influential- that kind of music that’s warm and sexy but dark and dangerous, and there’s damage there. And that’s, that’s what this piece is for me. With those elements, combined with – I said combined but I think almost in counter to the costumes.

Chet Siegel (left) and Kim Gainer

Wesley: Mhmm

Robyne: In a way that accentuated the costumes even more. Because Eric is kind of bland in his dress, it shows that he-

Wesley: Apathetic.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: He doesn’t care what he looks like. For me, cause Eric he is a trust fund baby, he is a thirty-seven year-old trust-fund baby.

Robyne: Mhmm

Wesley: A lot of somebody’s self-worth comes from interacting with Society, giving something to the society that the society then, at times, pays you back for. He hasn’t had to do that; things come to him. And so, everything sort of wilts. And part of that is his apathy to how he looks and how he dressed.

Yeah. Which is the complete opposite of Clara. Where EVERYTHING about her appearance is designed. I loved the glitz and glitter and sometimes painful campiness in the burlesque in the burlesque numbers because they’re so ridiculous and gimmicky and that’s beautiful because that’s exactly what burlesque is to me. It’s this sexy striping while wearing a robot costume, and it’s great. Like, there has to be this sense of humor and play and fun but also here’s a little skin. And so the art of the burlesque is just heighten by the artistry of these designs.

Wesley: One of the things I really enjoyed about the burlesque costuming is how homemade they feel.

Robyne: Mhmm.

Wesley: They don’t feel as though she went to a high level store – it didn’t feel as if she got this high-level costume designer. I had this image in my mind of Clara going to her house, picking up fabrics and sewing them herself, or tearing apart new clothes in order to get the designs that she wants.

Robyne: In one of the final scenes, she was hand-stitching underwear for a bit, and I loved that, I loved that level of detail in this world.

Wesley: I agree. I think it shows, also, that this is a person fighting for something. Now, whether or not that is a good thing she is fighting for, or whether it’s helping her is another conversation.

Robyne: Right.

Wesley: But she is definitely somebody who is going to be pushing for something she wants.

Robyne: Yeah. I do feel though that- I love the design, and the only way to make it more authentic would be to do it in location.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: And I know that we discussed this right after the show, but I think that this isn’t a play, I think this is a movie.

Wesley: I absolutely agree. I think there are a lot of things that lend this to film than it does to theatre. For me, this production has such a sense of New York City, but it’s a passive sense. And so like while other shows might say ‘oh, now we’re in battery park city’ look over there, and there’s a that, look over there, there’s a that, this really, there’s just once or twice where they might reference where they are in the city and I would like very much in the framing of the world, which can come from film. A film in a frame, you see where we are. We’re in Bed-Stuy, we’re in the middle of Bed-Stuy, or we’re in the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center. And, you don’t have to point it out in the text, it’s just there. And the people that surround them, the various delusions walking through this city that they inhabit, a lot of it would go well towards film I think.

Robyne: Yeah, and a lot of the extras and background work would contextualize everything we’re seeing in a beautiful way. I was never sure if the trio was the center of attention, and were standing in the middle of a club, having this conversation, or if they were almost at the exit door waiting to kidnap Clara to discuss their future plans. And so, that kind of “hey were on the balcony overlooking the stage and there is a burlesque performance happening” and you see a bunch of people interacting, and this is very removed and quite, it would really contextualize what is happening.

Wesley: No, I mean, I agree entirely. I think also, for me, it just comes down to there is only so much a designer can do to recreate a world as opposed to putting it on location. And also, there’s a variety of burlesque shows they’d be going to, a variety of performances, a variety of posters, and you can get that weathered sense that comes from that grunge world, that still exists at times in New York City.

Robyne: And something that I loved about this production, as you would point out as obvious, is the diversity of the cast.

Wesley: yeah, the diversity here- if you would have told me what this play was about before I saw it; I would have been very nervous. I would be like, “two and a half hours, for a rom-com about a girl in a wheel chair, her abusive lover, and a sociopathic burlesque performer? This sounds dreadful.” ON the surface this sort of casting can feel, at time, self-congratulatory; there was none of that here. This felt very authentic. It was more New York for it. And once again, since it was so New York, I wanted to see the city. And I got the sense of that one burlesque theater, but to see his studio apartment would have been important for me. They were very limited, because it was twenty scenes. With a lot of shifting actions.

Robyne: And a very small venue.

Wesley: A very small venue. But I think that with changing the set so often, it, at time, felt like a necessary evil.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And this story deserves better than that, these characters, this script, deserves better than necessary evils like that.

Robyne: On of the things I loved, I know you didn’t really care for, is the use of the framed placards in the back. When you title a scene, it’s almost Brechtian, of like, ‘this is what you’re about to see, get ready’ with that tease, but it also lended itself to the idea that it ‘s magic, it just felt very showman-y.

Wesley: No I enjoyed the thing itself, I like the vaudevillian sense of “Scene Eight” or ugh “I was attacked by a Bear.” You know? And you’re like, “What when is that coming out?” My issue just went to, I thought the placards themselves, and the way they were shifted, was showingly amateurish compared to things like lighting and sound. The idea of having them didn’t seem half baked, but the things themselves were just kind of distractingly handmade.  

Robyne: Clunky?

Wesley: Yeah, it was clunky for me.

Robyne: Ugh, see I liked that. I liked having that clunky, man made feel to it. I liked the, the lack of illusion; it’s the same as having the Stage Kitten, Gina Doherty, coming in and taking off the clothes that were stripped in the burlesque numbers and resetting the stage. It wasn’t just glorifying a crew person, and having them in costume and in the world. She actually interacted with the world and was totally necessary for the production and just flavored it so well.

Wesley: Now, my, my response to that is simply, I didn’t think that the integration of burlesque into the play, meaning into this love triangle was brought to its full conclusion. I didn’t feel as though that synthesis was fully constructed. Not every scene, has the burlesque heart or that burlesque pulse, and while I don’t need it for every scene, their burlesque was sprinkled in intermittedly. There were probably, what would you say, about four or five burlesque performances done?

Robyne: Mhmm.

Wesley: With choreography by Sidney Erik Wright, and some of them I think really understood where the characters were in their abilities. There was a bit of a fun catharsis with Eric’s burlesque, ugh surprise Boy-lesque number. I was not entirely taken with Clara’s performances …

Robyne: Specifically with Clara I was unsure of what her skill level was supposed to be. So starting with Bana, I could really see skill develop, and I got a very clear sense of when she started and what she’d learned. But it seemed with Eric that he was pretty bad at it and it was wonderful and there was that wonderful moment of him removing the pants and how awkward that is.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: But there’s a sense that Bana overtook Clara in skill, and I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a commentary on Clara isn’t good and she’s aware that she’s not fantastic, and she was using Bana, literally using the girl in the wheelchair as a gimmick and then Bana is actually naturally gifted at this or if it-

Wesley: See, well the thing is, I buy Bana being naturally gifted. When you meet her, her self-confidence is through the roof; she has damage but she is very articulate and she is very direct and she doesn’t shurk away from thinking that she is beautiful or worthy of being seen on stage. As she says, ‘I have a hot ass, I wish more people could see it.’

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Clara, they’re supposed to like be obsessed with her. Eric and Bana, when they first see her in the bar, become obsessed with her. Maybe it was an off night, but I didn’t find anything in the choreography that came off as dazzling. Nor did I think there was much joy in the execution compared to the more text driven acting scenes. That, I think that there was more of a pulse with the text moments than there ever was with the dance with her.  And during all of the duets, my mind was on Bana, which I think that might be part of the point. It might be, that there is this new girl, who quickly outshines her, and then she is left in the dust. But I did, I think that final swan, I think, there is a final, there is a final dance to this piece, that is sort of in this magic realm, that I think was really well done, and it came off as choreography that Bana developed. I’m not sure how you felt about it, but I think that that particular scene, starting off with her first lesson, going to the duet, and then her solo, that’s a great arc. And I think the choreography really spoke well of that.

Robyne: Yeah and for me the story we’re watching is Bana’s discovery of herself not in or with another person, but as a performer, and that is how she relates to herself. I don’t necessarily feel that her self-love as reflected in the text was worthy of that number. I agree, I loved the number, I loved watching her grow as a performer culminating in that number performance, was wonderful, I loved that. I just don’t know if it was earned. I also, the ending left me a little dismayed as to the other two characters, I wasn’t sure if the focus was on just Bana or if we were supposed to be following these three people.

Wesley: Right, for me, Eric changed a bit. Clara got left in the dust, I don’t know what came of her. A part of me thinks that burlesque is a small world, are they going to have to meet each other again? That’s always what I thought while I was watching this, are they going to cross paths, because burlesque isn’t the biggest world. But I think it wasn’t entirely earned for me either but I was able to really get, no actually, it was, I did think that that quiet moment with her and Eric transitioned very well into that final apotheosis. I wish it was a quicker transition to it, I remember it being a little bit clunky getting into that world, but I think it was ultimately successful in the end.

Robyne: I totally agree, I just don’t know if that moment of the two of them at the end was earned.

Wesley: That moment, okay.

Robyne: I felt that we were left on this almost The Graduate-esque ‘sitting in the back of the bus well now what do we do’ whereas that rang really false to me for his person. There were lessons to be learned by the other two characters from their interactions with Bana that I don’t know if they learned and if they learned then they ignored at the end of the play.  I was just –

Wesley: So lets transition then to talking about this play in terms of it’s script and it’s structure. So the relationship between Eric and Bana. They take a lot of time to say they love each other, I do take that verbatim. Cause we do get that one scene.

Robyne: Where they slow dance.

Wesley: Right.

Robyne: There’s a gorgeous moment where instead of picking her up out of her chair and slow dancing with her while carrying her, Bana has a reaction to being lifted out and Eric sits down with her on his knees and they just sit and slow rock back and forth, and that is a gorgeous moment textually. In reference to the dialogue, it felt like that scene along with the very violent refusal of letting her leave scene-

Wesley: Yeah there is a scene in this play, where he takes her. She’s leaving, cause that’s what she does, yet he throws a book at her, picks her up, throws her on the bed, and makes her unable to leave. And he’s almost shocked I think by his actions. And I think this is talking about privilege, and somebody trying to unlearn their privilege, and somebody who’s just never had to fight for anything. That scene I feel is like a trump card over any discussion of love I saw throughout the rest of the play. That scene had such, vitality is almost too nice a word, it, it, it was so violent, so-

Robyne: Virile.

Wesley: Yeah, that, the slow dance scene almost feels like the wrong day. That the slow dancing scene feels like the off day for him.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: I wish that for me it was about oh, he needs to go through this journey where he doesn’t own her and he learns his self worth. Instead, all I could think was, ‘she needs to get out of there.’

Robyne: Yeah, I, especially with the time jumps that occur, I was never sure as to when things had happened and how much time had passed. And how you come to so easily forgive somebody for something along those lines-

Wesley: And we never got that. We never got any scene in which we see love following that moment. Whether it is sex, whether it is romance. I can’t think of a single scene, following that, maybe, maybe it was them together in the bar waiting for Clara, but is that when the long con began?

Robyne: Yes.

Wesley: So, if she spent that long trying to get away, I don’t see the point in rooting for them to become friends-

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Which I did, cause I like him. I think he’s a great character. I think it’s important to have a character like that, and I like how they work with one another because, also, we get a lot of conversations where they call each other on each others bullshit, and they establish that in like scene two.

Robyne: Yeah, I love them together.

Wesley: Yeah, they have great Chemistry.

So both of the actors, Chet Siegel, and Ethan Hova, they have good - at first it was stifled and awkward, and I was not looking forward to the rest of the production; but in the style of the writing they had this great back and forth, these interactions, this chemistry, that’s wonderful. And is completely in a separate world from these three moments, that are just so starkly different that they overrode everything else in the script. And then there’s that third scene.

Wesley:  Yeah, so, Clara- at first when she meets Bana, is very loving and nurturing but then after spiriting her away in the night, Eric goes to her saying ‘do you know what happened to my girlfriend?’ and she’s like ‘We just met.” And he goes ‘well do you want to come over with me?’ Which was a fun scene. That was a fun scene. But then it turns into this sort of vertigo situation, where she’s ‘treat me like you treat her’ and it goes very dark very fast. And it’s never really referenced again besides Eric going ‘You need to get away from her.’ But then she starts to use Bana, and then she wants Bana to be her girlfriend. And it just comes off as more weird art Hitchcock than the rest of the play.

Robyne: Yeah, I got a sense from the jumping chronology of the play and the dialogue that there was a film noir aspect to it that didn’t really land.

Wesley: No

Robyne: And there was a lot of things that-

Wesley: There was a residue of different plays on this, I think. And the romance, the moments, and the chemistry between Eric and Bana, as well as the release in Bana finds in Clara’s burlesque and that self-fulfillment, that’s the conversation I think this play is best at. The rest of it feels like distraction and rather than making the characters feel more nuanced I feel like they were evading moralization. I feel as though this was evading me having an opinion on them. And Bana is a very complex character. She’s very self certain, she’s very feisty, and at the same time she’s very insecure. And she is very flighty. A wonderful millennial heroine.

Robyne: And I both love and hate that we don’t know anything actual about her past. We find that she’s a liar, and we find that she- it’s revealed only once what may have had happened. But we get no texture for that. And I like that mystery, but at the same time I’d like to know a little more who she is as a person. Cause the character is so well written and Chet’s portrayal of her is so wonderful.

Wesley: I loved it, I loved her. Yeah, no, I, I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to stand her. I thought she was going to be this spunky girl in a lifetime movie. Chet brought a lot of humor and strength and brought those insecurities out in wonderful ways.  I felt as though her articulate sense of who she was, the relationships she was in, and the reading of the people around her was earned, and it almost never is I find in a lot of these shows. And I think that her performance- the, I mean the only draw back was that at two and a half hours, it became a little expected at the end when she shot back with something.  But I was never once bored throughout this play. Which is saying something for an intimate, two and a half hour romance.

Robyne: Which is not, in my opinion, to say that the script isn’t a little too long, it could use some cutting like those scenes-

Wesley: There were roads you went down that weren’t entirely necessary. And at worst they were distracting from the things that this play does very well.

Robyne: Yeah, it could have been streamlined along a clearer sense of what story was being told.

Wesley: Exactly.

Robyne: And I just wasn’t particularly sure at certain moments what that story was. But it was told very well and it wasn’t painful to go through.

Wesley: And I really quickly want to say that the direction by Christina Roussos was excellent because I can’t imagine the work it took with these actors to get them into the spaces almost immediately with one after the other. Because a lot of them are used to contrast. We have a moment of violence or angst followed by a moment of bliss and quiet love.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And I enjoyed the abstract staging that happened. There was a moment that they were doing a dance and she sees Eric in the audience and she looks at him as she’s doing her burlesque performance. I liked that and I think that Christina went a very far way in bringing a bigger world to that small space.

Robyne: absolutely.

Wesley: All in all I think this play has more than just a decent foundation, I think it’s excellent in a lot of ways. There are just still roads to go down for it’s final iteration.

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: Things need to be carved out and perhaps a couple of things put on. And really understanding what medium this world belongs in.

Robyne: Yeah. And I’m so excited to see it’s next iteration.

Wesley: Oh, yeah, I’m so excited.

Robyne: I loved that this production doesn’t fall into the trap of, ‘oh we’ve put a woman in a wheelchair’ -

Wesley: Right

Robyne: ‘And then we are going to have a multiethnic cast of three.’ These are all beautiful people who could be anything and they just happen to be the people they are.

Wesley: And at the times when Bana gets indigent about the way people treat her in her wheelchair, more often than not it was her trying to pick a fight. Like, it didn’t feel like, ‘now audience, this is how you treat these people.’ It was, ‘this is a part of this character.’ There wasn’t a single piece of dialogue that wasn’t a part of that character.

Robyne: Yeah. And I love Mariah’s dialogue. I’ve seen a number of her pieces. She just has a knack for Human characters Speaking to each other with a very clear sense of relationship.

Wesley: And also, very quickly, I want to say, I really loved the character of Eric. Because so often the love interest is, you get the audience to say ‘we want her to be with him’ or ‘ we don’t want her to be with him’ make him a slice of toast we feel that way about, and that’s it. But the neuroses of Eric were legitimized; the difficulties that he was going through we’re all very grounded. And I really think that there was a lot of foundation for their chemistry.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And you’ve talked a lot about Mariah’s writing as long as I’ve known you. You, you’ve actually claimed that one the readings you went to is one of the best things you’ve seen in New York, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect of it. And I’m very pleasantly surprised by somebody who really fits into understanding where her generation stands in the world.

Robyne: Absolutely. And I would be totally remiss if I did not mention the fight choreography by Jesse, I’m not even going to try to pronounce your last name, I apologize. Jesse G. (Jesse Geguzis)

Wesley: Yeah, I mean, most of the time fight choreography comes off as, ‘look at what we studied, we studied fight choreography.’ When I saw there was a fight choreographer at the end I was like, ‘what part of that was fight choreography?’

Robyne: Yeah and the moments of violence, there were two, were gorgeous and not once did I have the eye of being afraid for the performer, it was in the moment terrifying to watch the interaction between characters.

Wesley: Yeah, no, it was, it felt very organic, it felt very in the moment, and it didn’t feel choreographed.

Robyne: Yeah. Wesley, any other thoughts?

Wesley: No I think that’s it for me.

Robyne: Then I think that’s a wrap.

Wesley: We hope you enjoy the podcast and that you will share your thoughts with us.

Robyne: As always, you can find us and join in on the conversation on our website Obstructed-view.com, on facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on twitter @Obstructed_View, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview, on tumblr obstructedviewpodcast.tumblr.com, and on instagram at instagram.com/theobstructedviewpodcast.

Wesley: Special Thanks today goes out Ari Edelson, Alyssa Jenette, and Julian Fleisher for your love and support.

Robyne: This is Robyne,

Wesley: And Wesley,

Robyne: And remember,

Wesley: Your song was just passing for love.

 

[Not mentioned Kimberly (Kim) Gainer as Clara]

Obstructed View - Episode 0

Wesley: Hello, I’m Wesley,

Robyne: and I’m Robyne,

Wesley: And this is Obstructed View. 

Robyne: Before diving in to our inaugural season we wanted to give you all a brief introduction to who we are and what this podcast is.

Wesley: Hi, my name is Wesley Doucette. I am a director and choreographer, as well as a theatre journalist for Broadway World Dance and the NYTR.

Robyne: And my name is Robyne C. Martinez I am a freelance producer, general manager, and stage manager as well as a director/playwright. Wesley, how did we meet?

Wesley: I attended the Orchard Project as a member of the 2013 Core Company and Robyne was actually in Core in 2012. Last February, we met at a panel series produced by The Exchange, which runs the Orchard project, on history, race, and the civil rights movement, and their intersection with theatre around the framework of Robert Schenkann’s All The Way. From there we became on another’s "Plus One"s to shows and events

Robyne: And we would just discuss the work ad nauseam. And we really wanted to bring that level of conversation surrounding the performing arts to the public sphere – so we created this podcast to serve as a catalyst for those discussions.

Wesley: As artists ourselves we hope to cultivate a higher level of conversation between audiences and artists; we have zero illusion that our perspectives are unbiased and that we are divine, Plutonic audience members.

Robyne: We take full ownership of our baggage as artists when we see work and in conversation we make distinction between the quality of the work and its alignment with our personal aesthetic, without censoring either from the discussion.

Wesley: We are also in no way omniscient, and we encourage all of our listeners to continue the conversations we have on the podcast by sharing their thoughts, whether they agree, disagree, or have something entirely new to add, on our website or through social media.

Robyne: Before we sign off, Wesley, what would you say are the five most prevalent aspects of my taste and aesthetic?

Wesley: One would probably be carnality, social-consciousness, in addition to that diversity, a level of rambunctiousness in the performance, and polish, mostly in the world that is being created in front of you. And mine?

Robyne: Minimalism, nuance definitely, you love charm, and Brechtian stoicism,

Wesley: Not mutually exclusive.

Robyne: No. And confident self-awareness.

Wesley: I'll take it. We hope you enjoy the podcast and that you will share your thoughts with us.

Robyne: You can find us on facebook, twitter, soundcloud, google+, tumblr, and instagram, or at www.Obstructed-view.com.

Wesley: This is Wesley.

Robyne: And Robyne.

Wesley: And remember,

Robyne: It’s Only A Play.