Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Review: Theatre of Death slices into murder and mayhem in Addison
It's been a regular Halloween trick and treat since 2004.
ADDISON Theatre Of Death is a seasonally-fitting production. Rather than being the familiar two or three act, full length play, this production is a series of scenes about murder, mayhem, and the macabre. Presented by MBS Productions, the show is performed in the Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison Theatre Center. Theatre Of Death has been presented by MBS Productions since 2004. With the success of each season, similar scenes dealing with death and dying have been brought back to the stage for a new season of audiences to enjoy.
The Stone Cottage Theatre is a unique performance space. It is literally a stone cottage, with a large open area inside the building with portable seating that allows the configuration to be adjusted for each production. This encourages the performers to use minimal sets and requires that the audience allow their imagination to be directed to where the actors and director want to take them in time and location.
Most of the scenes were either in full light or dimmed light with an occasional spotlight being used. The audience seating was close to the performing area, allowing a very intimate feeling, sometimes uncomfortable feeling for the audience, when the scene was emotionally or physically intense.
For this production, the inside of the theatre was essentially bare with a large black drape hung center stage that created a staging area for the actors as well as a place to keep needed props and portable set pieces. On the top of the black drape was laid a blood red cloth. In front of the drape was a wooden table with a skull and burning candle. Leading downstage from the drape, almost to the audience, was a velvet cloth. Such an eerie setting prompted more than one member of the audience to comment that it felt like a scene from a movie about the supernatural. Sitting in the audience, I had the same feeling and my imagination went wild with the possibilities of what might be taking place at what appeared to be an altar.
Each scene presented was unique in time, location, circumstances, and method of death. To whom, where, and how death would happen was the challenge for the audience to figure out During his curtain speech, Director Mark-Brian Sonna shared with the audience that the color red had a special significance to each scene and challenged the audience to make the connection. He also shared with the audience how this style of theatre was developed and often used.
As described on the webpage for MBS Productions, “During the Middle Ages a form of street theatre was born in Spain known as Teatro Breve or Brief Theatre. It remained a popular till the early 1900s. Our theatre company led the Renaissance of this art form. We selected eight of these short plays from various centuries that have never been seen in this country and present them in one evening. Some are comedies, others are scary, and some are simply bizarre but they all are highly entertaining. The one thing they have in common? They deal with death, dying and murder! All the plays are World Premieres, New Translations, or New Adaptations.”
General Dance of Death (Excerpt) by Anonymous, 1300s, Spain
Full cast, directed by Sonna
"This was a unique piece of musical theatre and is the oldest known record of Musical Theatre from the Middle Ages. The music and the choreography have long been lost but the lyrics remain and they still are relevant. In it, Death sings and dances to the amusement and horror of the audience. This opening excerpt from the much longer theatrical piece has Death welcoming the audience to the show and it seemed like a fitting beginning to the evening."
In this opening scene, the lights are dark and we begin to hear whispered chants from backstage. As the chants become louder, so did the beating of my heart. As the chants become more frequent and insistent, shadowy figures with faces and bodies covered with veils seemed to float, slither, walk, and crawl into the room. When all of the performers are in the room, close enough to the audience so that our anxiety level and blood pressure had risen, the scene abruptly ends. Sonna directed each scene to provide maximum shock value and always with some kind of twist.
Romance de Marquillos by Anonymous, 13th century, Spain
Hannah Law, Richard S. Blake, directed by Sonna
"This short play is a prime example of the type of tale that would amuse audiences in the Middle Ages. Revenge is eternal."
Revenge may be eternal. So is death. The two actors in this scene respectively play a fair-maiden and knight that has come to claim his prize. Unfortunately for the knight, the beautiful prize has a deadly sting. Hannah Law plays a maiden that is fated to become the possession of a knight played by Richard Blake. Instead of giving in, Law convinces the knight not to “touch” her until the first light of day. The knight agrees, with permanent consequences. Both actors seemed a little detached and unsure of themselves in this scene. When the maiden convinces the knight to wait for his prize, the plea came across as a conversation without much emotional quality. As the knight agrees and they lay down together on the bed, it came across as a mechanical movement lacking much emotion or connection to each other. Law’s face did seem to light up as she ends the scene with the knight’s sword in his body.
Sherlock Bartender (or Bar Tragedy) by Stefano Benni, 2007, Italy
Jorge Martin Lara, Brian Cook, Hannah Law, Richard S Blake, Veronica Day, Andrew Bryan, directed by Sonna, World Premiere translation by Carmela Lamberti
"Stefano Benni is one of the most well-known writers in Italy. Good hairdressers and bartenders are said to know everything because their clients confide in them. This short comedic play about an astute bartender delights as it builds suspense in the audience. How could a bartender know so much?"
This scene opens with Veronica Day and Andrew Bryan as two patrons in a bar with Lara as the bartender. The scene was believable. Each patron has liquid in their glasses which quickly disappear to the point where Day is rubbing her fingers inside of the glass trying to get every drop as Bryan attempts to get the attention of the bartender. Meanwhile, Brian Cook, as a patron, enters the bar looking for his girlfriend that has left him. Cook did a believable job as an upset guy looking for the girl that has walked out on him. As the bartender begins to matter-of-factly describe to Cook what he does for a living, what his girlfriend looks like and where she is now, Cook presented a believable amount of surprise and confusion. During the word interplay between these two characters, there were times when it seemed that lines were dropped or misspoken. During one exchange, Law stated, “as I said…” and a few lines were repeated.
The suspense built as every prediction that the bartender makes came true including the arrival of the girlfriend with her new companion. A gun is pulled by Bryan, an undercover policeman. The lights go out and we hear a shot. The fun twist is who gets shot.
Ride 13 by Alejandro de la Costa, 2012, USA
Andrew Bryan, Hannah Law, Jorge Martin Lara, Veronica Day, directed by Sonna, World Premiere
"This comedy is the 4th installment of the '13 plays' that run 13 minutes. In it, four unsuspecting people are in for the ride of their lives."
This scene opens as four actors approach four chairs in the center of the stage. As the dialogue develops between the actors, we soon learn that these are characters at a carnival or fair. Each has come to this ride. As they are sitting in the ride they notice that there is no attendant, no signs, and importantly, no safety-belts. The ride begins and then stops high above the ground. This is where the real fun begins. Each character is showing various amounts of concern and anxiety as the situation develops. The scene also has a comedic element when Bryan asks Lara where he is from. Lara, with an obvious Hispanic accent replies, “Cleveland.” The tension then mounts as a sign appears that tells each character to do something that they would never before admit wanting to do. Bryan and Lara end up in compromising positions. Both are denying that they have ever had these desires. One character is presenting a serious demeanor while the other is more tongue-in-cheek. Law’s character with a haughty manner refuses to play the game. Law used this characteristic frequently through many of the scenes. In this scene it succeeded. Watching the struggles of the four actors playing and seemingly improvising at times in this scene was fun to watch. In one instance, a chair broke and the cast worked with it in stride. The twist in this scene comes when Day makes a wish that ends the ride.
Mortal Agreement by Fabián Choque & Zulma Arellano Rojas, 2012, Peru
Andrew Bryan, Laura Lutz Jones, directed by MB Sonna, World Premiere, Translation by Sonna
"This writing pays homage to the Teatro Breve of the Middle Ages. We can guess the ending before it happens but nonetheless it still amuses."
Bryan plays an aging man that has been diagnosed with a fatal condition. He begins to drink, then makes the predictable bargain with Death, played by Lutz-Jones, for more time. The storyline was predictable as death can’t be cheated. However, Bryan was mesmerizing as the dying man who is alternately maniacally laughing and drinking, or gloating that he has cheated death. Lutz-Jones was fascinating to watch as Death. Her meticulous and fluid movements made death seam very real.
Esperanza by José Peón y Contreras, 1876, Mexico
Full cast, directed by Sonna, World Premiere, translation by Sonna
"This story of obsessive love is written by one of the most pre-eminent Mexican playwrights of the 19th century and is a true melodrama. Even though it was written in the 19th century, the story takes place in the 1600’s. Though most melodramas now cause chuckles with their hard-to-believe coincidences, this one is unsettling because the main character’s obsession with the young woman, Esperanza, is truly frightening. Esperanza means hope."
The scene is about true love, lust, hidden identities, and murder. Law plays a lady in love with a Spanish knight played by Cook. Meanwhile, Blake plays a character that is obsessed with the lady. Lutz-Jones plays maid to the lady. Bryan portrays the squire to the knight. Through a series of events the knight disobeys his king’s command and goes to see his lady only to be set up to be arrested and condemned by the soldier obsessed with the Lady. The melodramatic twist is when we learn that the young knight is the son of two of the other characters. Each of the actors in this scene was playing this scene believably. Lutz-Jones, as the maid was believably in that reality. While she was on stage you saw her visibly and physically connected to the other actors on stage and in the moment. Sonna was highly focused and energetic as the soldier that is sent to arrest the young knight. When Sonna was on stage, the energy was charged and active. When he entered the scene, he was focused and in command of the stage. Cook enthusiastically presented the young knight in love who will risk everything to be with his love. He brought the right amount of energy, focus and slightly over-the-top characteristics to this character to keep us engaged in his actions. Law, as the lady-love, was gorgeous in her gown, regal in her bearing and earnest in her demeanor. Bryan, as the squire, presented just the right amount of deference and concern for his master. There were times in this scene, though, where moments seemed to lag, notably when Sonna was not on stage.
Errors of Yesterday by Alex Slingsby, 2012, UK
Richard S Blake, Brian Cook, Laura Lutz Jones, Jorge Martin Lara, Andrew Bryan, Veronica Day, directed by Sonna, World Premiere
"This short play is penned by a 19 year-old living in East Yorkshire. He, like many contemporary young writers, has been part of the movement that has rekindled interest in this ancient form of theatre. A young man who is still living at home deals with his parents in an unexpected way after making a new “friend."
What a very twisted scene with a surprise ending. Blake and Lutz-Jones play harsh and emotionally abusive parents to a 19 year-old boy, played by Cook. Each parent is so emotionally abusive to the boy that the audience feels sorry for the boy. When the boy is sent out to make new friends at the park, he awkwardly approaches people in the park, played by Bryan and Day, who each hurry away from the boy. Lara’s character enters, approaches the boy and offers to be his friend. As he is talking to the boy, Lara’s character is touching the boy with caresses that are disturbing to watch. The twist happens when the boy goes home to his family, where, he blithely and violently informs his parents that he has made a new friend. Cook brought the right amount of disturbing calm and happiness to this character and makes this scene really work.
The End of the Day by Mark-Brian Sonna, 2012, USA
Veronica Day, Sonna, Richard S. Blake, directed by Phineas Bennet, World Premiere
"This 10-minute play is an experiment in insanity, violence, and blood. A middle-aged married man has stopped taking his medications…with unexpected consequences."
Sonna very believably played the middle-aged man with a sense of alternating mania, paranoia, anger, frustration, and confusion, all brilliantly. Initially the man is frustrated that he can’t sleep. When Day, as his wife, gets up to see what the problem may be, the fun begins. The audience was treated to a roller-coaster ride of emotions, accusations and physical threats with a knife. Day portrays a wife that genuinely seems concerned about her husband’s mental health until she manipulates her husband to the point where she and the therapist, played by Blake, think that they have him ready to mentally and emotionally crack. Each actor connected with the other on so many levels that the scene was so believable as to make the audience uncomfortable.
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