Over the past couple of years, Flux Theatre Ensemble has garnered a reputation for excellence in both its production aspects and its choice of material, and so far they have yet to disappoint. The Lesser Seductions of History, written by August Schulenburg and directed by Heather Cohn, is a masterpiece, a glorious gift that they have offered up to the world, specific to one generation but timeless to all in its celebration of life, death, and the choices we make (or are forced to take) to exist in this harsh world. Flux Theatre Ensemble has bitten off a lot this time: No less than the encapsulation of an entire decade into an evening's entertainment. And what a decade it was! The 1960's, a time of intense social change and societal unrest, and one that many people are drawing frightening parallels to in this decade (the Rabbit-hole of Vietnam/Iraq, anyone?). Has Flux Theatre Ensemble bitten off more than they can chew with this one? How can one small group of players dare, as Shakespeare once asked, on such an unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object? The answer is, of course, that the play works only if the audience lets these players, ciphers to this great accompt, on their imaginary forces work.
Schulenburg and Flux are no stranger to the works of William Shakespeare, having produced A Midsummer Night's Dream in their season of transformation (Christina Shipp's Bottom will forever be a favorite of mine, no pun intended). It is no surprise, then, that the Bard's influence is sometimes heavily felt in this production. From the dramatic and elevated stakes faced by many of the characters, to the minimalist set considerations, to the passage of time and the framing sequences, together with the almost cinematic cutting back and forth from scene to scene which Shakespeare employed long before anyone had dreamed of the cinema, Lesser Seductions follows in the footsteps of the greatest dramatists that has come before. There may not be much new or original here, but the play is staged and performed so exquisitely, the story told with such style, one is reminded that even the old tales are good ones.
Not everyone will immediately take to the character of History (played by Candice Holdorf and referred to in the program as “One”), who has the unenviable task of presenting both prologue and epilogue, as well as moving the story from one decade to the next. Nevertheless, History plays her part and inexorably marches on into the future, while at the same time offering up Her observations on the past. The play may have worked without this character, but then by whom would we have been seduced, even if only to a lesser degree? The character of One does have a lot of challenges placed upon her, not the least of which includes interacting with the audience at several points, as well as, in another wink at Shakespeare, humbly asking for the audience's applause at show's end in true Puckish style. Candice Holdorf tackles the job with gusto as usual, and deftly goes from wielding ultimate power to serving as the meekest of History's subjects.
The entire cast is admirable, and as this is truly an ensemble, I cannot fail to mention each member. Jake Alexander as Isaac Cohen deftly transforms from a jazz-loving hepcat to a flower-loving Aquarian. Tiffany Clementi excels as Marie Cohen, Isaac's much abused wife, and Isaiah Tanenbaum brings an odd charm to his portrayal of Lee Cohen, Isaac's cousin. Matthew Archambault and Jason Paradine, as Barry and Bobby Tanner respectively, offer delightful performances. Michael Davis plays George Ward, a talented but tortured musician, while Raushanah Simmons plays the part of Martha Ward, George's sister and one of the truly devoted, first to her brother and Christ, then to the Party and the Cause. Ingrid Nordstrom as Anisa Hansen, Christina Shipp as Lizzie Ann Hansen, and Kelly O'Donnell as Tegan Tyrone all deliver startling, sublime performances.
All design elements are well represented with this production, from Lauren Parrish's mood-enhancing lighting design, cast in lots of soft white and cool colors, to Will Lowry's simple yet elegant table and chairs set, perfectly suited to the story requirements. Becky Kelly's costume choices, simple and not overstated, clearly represent the characters depicted. Perhaps the most critical element in a show about a period of history so steeped in aural fixations is the sound, and Asa Wember manages to exceed all expectations. In what is clearly a technically difficult show, Asa's design is always supportive, never overbearing, and suits the action perfectly.
Heather Cohn, as director, combines intelligence, imagination, and wisdom, and tempers all with a modicum of heart. Actors can only be as good as they are allowed to be by their director, and Heather has a great handle on her actors, as well as a distinguishing eye for detail. While all the stars in the Flux firmament shine oh so brightly, Heather Cohn seems to be their North star, giving them guidance, whilst August Schulenburg, in this production anyway, serves as both master architect and heart of hearts to what truly may be their greatest show yet.