99 and Under the Radar: Independent Theatre's Evolution
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by Michael Roderick
Welome back to to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures.
This Week's Topic: Independent Theatre's Evolution
As technology becomes more and more a part of everyone's life, theatre companies are choosing to go one of two ways: Ignore and do what they've been doing or adapt to the changing environment. This week will cover some artists and shows that are adapting, and in the process, transforming the idea of what a theatrical presentation is.
First up is Rachel Klein's Tragedy of Maria Macabre which had one sold out performance at Dixon Place and was so well received that it is getting an extension. Klein is a visionary who has taken her skills as a choreographer and a theatrical director and fused them with a team of dancers who create a story that twists and turns all the way down to the very last chord. The story is told entirely through music and dance with the only narration being a series of cards that give the title of each vignette. Klein weaves the characters in and out of moments in history and their mortal lives with comedy, wit, and quirky fashion choices. Her cast of dancers truly throw themselves into the piece and do acrobatics, hula hoop tricks, and a straight jacket dance that is absolutely spectacular. Klein's style acknowledges the changes that movies and special effects have made on our culture by creating her own special effects through costumes, partnering, and eclectic music choices. The show is certainly not to be missed. To get tickets for the encore performance, go here.
Next up is the a show that simultaneously reminds us of the disconnect technology creates and the almost surreal connections technology makes possible. James Carter's Feeder: A Love story welcomes the audience by taking them into a room filled with television screens and cameras and placing them directly in front of what is an enormous amount of food. For those who decided to begin the story online and have checked out the intricate website, the setting is already familiar. For those who have not done so, the setting is disarming. In the center of the room, next to an enormous hole in the wall lays Jesse, played by Jennifer Conley Darling with tubes attached to her staring blankly off into space. The play then begins introducing us to Jesse's husband Noel, played with incredible intensity by Pierre Marc Diennet, who instantly comes into the room and switches on the web cam lamenting the loss of Jesse. At which point two struggles begin: Deciding to watch the video and interact with each character that way or look at the actors live on stage, and deciding whether you are disgusted or absolutely fascinated. Rarely in the theatre does a piece come out that causes one to be so engaged in every moment that time seems to stand still, yet such is the case with this piece masterfully directed by Jose Zayas. Zayas does a tremendous job of keeping the staging simple and elegant so that the audience is given the opportunity to dive into the lives of these two lovers. The premise of the show revolves around a fetish known as "Feederism" where someone is sexually aroused by feeding their mate and watching them get bigger. The ultimate goal here is that the partner eventually grows to such a size that they can no longer walk. The incredible thing about this piece though, is that it less about one fetish, than it is about fetishism and it's toll on relationships. Noel's obsession and Jesse's journey are actually not all that different from the couple next door in which the man would like his wife to be skinnier or the wife would like her husband to dress nicer. Everyone has fantasies and this production exposes the extremes that people go to when fantasy and reality co-mingle and challenges the audience to think about their own fantasies. This is largely due the universality of the writing in Carter's script and the brutally honest portrayal of each of these characters played by Darling and Diennet. Feeder is a glimpse of how theatre and technology can feed each other and will leave it's audience with a lot to think about. To grab tickets before the fill up, go here.
Finally, there is the new play On Campus by Steve Sherman. The set for the production is a series of dorm rooms laid out across the stage complete with doors and separate cubicles. The stage in essence become a series of small screens allowing the audience to peek in on the lives of a group of college students and professors all at the same time. In an age where people usually have at least 6 or 7 windows open on their computers, the use of the space fits very well with modern sensibilities. The direction in the piece is very clever. Marc Santa Maria does an excellent job of intricately staging the piece so that the students really do seem to be moving through a college campus and visiting one another's dorm rooms. One particularly inspired piece of direction includes the use of the audience as part of a lecture hall. Sherman's script is just as intricate introducing us in short bursts to a wide range of characters from jocks to jokers and he does an excellent job of weaving all of their lives together. What's also very impressive is the fact that Sherman is also a really fantastic actor. In addition to writing the piece, he plays one of the characters and never once seems out of place or self referrential. This show is filled with strong performances, from Caitlin Gold's heart breaking portrayal of a student dealing with first year isolation, to the Vince Vaughn- like delivery of Jake Millgard as the comedic character Stub. On Campus is a play that has great acting, solid directing, and writing that will stand the test of time. It would not be surprising to see this play being done on "On Campus" at colleges all over the country. One thing is for sure, True Light Productions has put together a show that deserves honors recognition. To get tickets before the class fills up go here.
It's always exciting to see theatre evolve and each of these shows prove that our technology, love of films, and internet realities can indeed work together. All of these artists have created the kind of work that will be around for the years to come. And that's something to look forward to.