Circus has long been a beloved popular entertainment in the United States (and in many other places around the globe). From P.T. Barnum's early acts to New York's very own Big Apple Circus, a day at the big top brings up many different associations: balancing elephants, high-flying trapeze artists, the smell of peanuts and popcorn in the air. NoFit State Circus, a collective of circus performers from Wales, presents its own modern take on this classic performance form with its latest touring show, Bianco, pitching its tent just outside St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. .
Light, A Dark Comedy is a clever and smartly written play wrapped neatly with an amazing array of costumes, puppetry, lighting and media. It delivers a futuristic world ruled by an evil mayor and her equally evil, if somewhat “pretentious mystical nitwit,” sister. Sunlight has been literally sucked from the sky and leaving everyone to "stay online" or fall into darkness. No one really remembers actually seeing the sun, however, there are references and ditties scattered throughout the play that alludes to the sun. So much so that the words "day" and "light" have been replaced with the word "dim." What happens to the human spirit when subjugated by darkness and despair? And, for a young girl–what will she resort to for extra rations for her and her mother?
While pulling from modern mythology, movies and history, Light, A Dark Comedy is rich with symbolism making for an ominous, expressive tale for a modern age by playwright Greg Steinbruner. The story follows a young girl called Moth on a journey through her own darkness, from completely believing the evil Mayor to eventually confronting the truth and the Sandman. Along the way, Moth, played by Tami Stronach, encounters the Sleeper Services, who take away those who have fallen asleep. Moth also comes across the evil Mushanto Mushroom Corporation–where orphans are conscripted to work off their debt to pay for the care of the sleepers, The Underground–a rag tag group making up the resistance movement, the Queen–whose whispers cause people to sleep so that she can control their dreams, and finally Sunny and Ray–who broadcast an illegal radio show with supposedly cryptic messages for The Underground. The story languishes in the middle and it might be a tough sell for children due to the length and heavy subject matter. However, the detail in the story woven by Steinbruner and the tightly choreographed production is incredibly engaging.
Light, A Dark Comedy is brought to life by a great cast who, with the exception of Stronach, play multiple roles while creating and re-creating the stage for each scene. Here, darkness and shadows allow for characters to blend in while holding up a screen to complete the set or make a large flock of birds swirl overhead. Stronach, similar to Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, is the thread throughout this 90-minute journey and is rarely off stage. She, as well as the entire cast, is completely immersed in her character, movement and the story. Everything is so tightly intertwined to bring anything less to the stage could easily be catastrophic. Carine Montbertand plays the evil Mayor with great aplomb delivering a wicked, sinister character. It is her portrayal of the Mayor’s sister, The Queen, though, that appears forced. It is almost as if she is trying too hard to make her character uniquely different than the Mayor. Steinbruner's play challenges six actors, including himself, to play 16 roles in one production. With the extraordinary direction of Adrienne Kapstein the cast utilizes every opportunity to nuance 16 characters to life. From language and dialect to physical attributes and an abundance of costuming this is a challenging play both physically and mentally, and the cast made it appear seamless under her guidance. It is quite surprising when only seven actors appear on stage at curtain call.
Before all of this could take place, a talented development team created a very complex and moving production. Barbara Samuels delivers unique lighting to a relatively sunless play, Theresa Squire layers costumes for 16 characters to change into quickly, Mark Van Hare designs subtle sounds and striking music, Tom Lee designs vivid projection imagery, and Lake Simmons' delightful puppetry includes an expressive chicken laying an egg and a giant dragonfly who buzzes about the characters. Tying the vivid production together is Deb O with a steampunk style set design that utilizes three rolling “stages” and holds a multitude of props to create scene upon scene.
Light, A Dark Comedy is an unexpected 90 minutes that touches each of the five senses and is an invitation to explore the sixth. As Moth describes, “It’s on the tip of your tongue, but the name of the thing–the thing that’s missing–just doesn’t come to your lips.” It’s when Moth ventures out into the world and she comes to the crossroad of curiosity and dreaming, that she understands that only light can overcome darkness.
Light, A Dark Comedy runs until April 10 at the Triskelion Arts Muriel Schulman Theater (106 Calyer St. between Clifford Pl. and Banker St.) in Brooklyn. Evening performances are March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and matinee performances are Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets cost $18.00. To purchase tickets, visit papercanoecompany.com.
Letter of Marque Theater Company’s Double Falsehood is a tight and neat production of a play credited to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and adapted for the 18th-century stage by editor Lewis Theobold. There is some debate whether Shakespeare actually wrote this play, but director Andrew Bothwick-Leslie, in program notes, suggests that audiences put that aside and enjoy the ride through this “wild and unnerving story.”
Double Falsehood is a story of betrayal, forced marriage, rape and reconciliation. Duke Angelo, played by Nolan Kennedy, has two sons. Roderick (Welland H. Scripps) is upstanding, while the other, Henriquez (Adam Huff) is a hooligan. Henriquez causes a lot of trouble for everyone because he can’t keep his desires for women who don’t want him to himself. First, he rapes Violante, played by the wonderfully physical Poppy Liu. At one point, when she is overcome with disgust after Henriquez’s violation, she rubs and hits her body as if she could physically rid herself of the experience.
Next, Henriquez insists on marrying Leonora (Montana Lampert Hoover), his friend Julio’s (played by Zach Libresco) love interest. He does it because he can. After all, he is a nobleman, which trumps Julio’s power. Not only that, Leonora’s father, Don Bernardo, played with weight and depth by Ariel Estrada, is so hungry to align himself with the Duke’s wealth that he forces the marriage to take place even though Leonora refuses. Like King Lear, Don Bernardo is full of hubris and self-import. And also like Lear he is humbled in the end, but not before he bellows in rage at his daughter to make sure she marries Henriquez.
As the enfant terrible, Huff does an excellent job and resembles a young Johnny Rotten with his shaggy light-blond hair, which he spikes at times or slicks down at others. His nimble, earthy walk and demeanor give him the charm of a snake making its way slowly toward its prey. Unfortunately, all in his path are hurt by his actions, and he shows no compassion or remorse. He feels perfectly entitled to get what he wants.
The costumes, by Claire Townsend, are an intriguing mix of metaphors, and emphasize the quality of the characters well. Some wore more traditional-looking Elizabethan garb while others, such as Julio and Henriquez, wore contemporary clothing. Henriquez’s costume, in particular—red sneakers, a red hoodie, and a long black coat with gold embroidery on the front—made him look like a hipster straight out of Williamsburg and heightened his “I don’t care what anyone thinks” mentality.
One of the best scenes that Bothwick-Leslie stages is a simulated horseback ride through the woods by Scarlet Maressa Rivera, who plays a citizen, and Gerald, a messenger of sorts. Rivera “rides” through the woods as other cast members run past her with tree branches and a drum beats to indicate horse’s hooves. It’s a wonderful and original idea that is twice as enjoyable the second time. Nolan Kennedy, who plays the Duke, is also the music director, and the lovely musical scenes including a trio singing about death and love, accompanied by Kennedy on the ukulele.
The company did a good job of using the Irondale Center playing area in a beautiful old church. The space has been rendered wide open (no pews or built-in stage, etc.). It can’t be transformed into a black box, but the company utilized rolling panels and a small platform, conceived and designed by Steven Brenman, to create a smaller performance space. At times, the panels were removed to show a wider space, or more distance between places. In Elizabeth theater, time and space were indicated through language, but these small visual indicators helped orient the viewer, especially at the end when there was little movement and a lot of dialogue.
Luckily, all’s well that ends well, in the manner of Nicholas Sparks’s romantic novel The Notebook. When Leonora and Julio are finally reunited at the end of the play, they run to each other and Julio scoops her up high into his arms. Cue the rain. It’s a soppy and romantic moment, but effective nonetheless. If it started out worse than real life, it ends better and, although Henriquez’s actions are particularly heinous, our faith in redemption and justice are restored.
Letter of Marque Theater Company’s production of Double Falsehood plays through April 9. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the Irondale Center (85 S. Oxford St, Brooklyn). Subway directions: C train to Lafayette Avenue; B, D, M, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, 5 trains to Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street; G train to Fulton Street. Tickets are $20; a limited number of tickets will be given away free to the public. To learn more, visit www.lomtheater.org.
Third Rail Projects wastes no time in sweeping their audiences off the dirty streets of Bushwick and into the fold of their latest immersive world, The Grand Paradise. There are no tickets to The Grand Paradise, only boarding passes, and you’ll receive yours after checking in at the departures gate of their retro-fantasy airline. After a brief “in-flight” video on resort rules, you’ll disembark into the warm, indulgent terrace of the Grand Paradise resort. Crowded with sexy, sultry residents, the space is bedecked in tiki paraphernalia—fake palms, beaded curtains and a giant aquarium (indeed, every detail of the production design smacks of the culturally confused late 70s). It’s not long until you’re greeted by the swoon-worthy Siren (Elizabeth Carena) and your immersive adventure at The Grand Paradise begins.
Following their wildly popular show Then She Fell, artistic directors of Third Rail Projects (Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett) have expanded their audience size and added elements of spectacle to their latest production. Yet despite the added glitz, Third Rail Projects still manages to afford all audience members the intimate moments that make this type of theater so thrilling. Certainly, not everyone is comfortable with audience participation, but Third Rail Projects has made audience involvement feel as fun and safe as possible. Around every corner of The Grand Paradise is an inviting situation that directly involves audience members (individually or in small groups). The best part about the immersive design of The Grand Paradise is that participants need only watch and listen, and they will be warmly invited into a wide variety of charming and thought-provoking situations. Audiences are instructed not to open closed doors, and there is no need to chase characters, or elbow to the front for a good view, which—for viewers like myself—is a frustrating aspect of popular participatory productions today.
The Grand Paradise keeps audiences entertained during their entire two-hour stay and, indeed, the ensemble cast is a veritable treasure trove of diverse talent. Each performer adds something unique to your experience, whether it be pondering the passage of time with the elusive Venus (Emma Hoette), topographically mapping your past and future decisions with the activities director (Alberto Denis), trashing hotel rooms with the mischievous Jett (Mayte Natalio), or tying nautical knots while at sea with the Libertine (Bryan Strimple). The truly outstanding moments of The Grand Paradise are when the theatrical experience conjoins itself with your own life—beckoning the contemplation of more universal themes of time, fate, love and loss.
Like many immersive companies practicing in New York (Punchdrunk and Journey Lab), Third Rail Projects incorporates a good deal of contact improvisation dance into their experiences. While this style of post-modern dance is beautiful, and physically demonstrates meaningful tension and release between characters, it has become rote for many immersive performance makers. There are moments when these sequences linger for too long, losing significance and becoming somewhat monotonous. Within the marvelous bigger picture of The Grand Paradise, the slightly lengthy improvisational dance scenes are a forgettable flaw.
Whether you are an amateur or seasoned immersive theater-goer, there is something for you at The Grand Paradise. The cohesive theme, remarkable talent and complex-yet-invisible immersive design make for a fun and refreshingly unique experience. While many immersive shows deconstruct existing pieces of literature such as Alice and Wonderland or MacBeth, The Grand Paradise creates a fascinating world of its own to which no parallel exists. Hold your breath and dive into Third Rail's The Grand Paradise.
The Grand Paradise plays in Brooklyn at 383 Troutman St. (between Irving and Wyckoff Aves.) through Sept.4. Must be 21 or older to attend. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing with pockets. Ticket prices vary and are available at http://thegrandparadise.com/tickets.