My last few reviews have been for “bigger” shows at “bigger” and more “mainstream” theaters but it’s time we check in with some riskier and fringier theatrical expressions at smaller theater companies.
Review: Bridge Over Mud. Created by Verdensteatret. At On The Boards through Sunday, September 25, 2016.
We’ll start with the the riskiest and fringiest but also the most international. And, the one here for the shortest amount of time. It’s at Lower Queen Anne/the Uptown area’s On the Boards where they are hosting a weekend of performances by Norwegian avant garde theater company Verdensteatret. But who are they?
…a group of artists from different disciplines including computer animators, sound engineers, painters, video artists, and musicians. Working as a collaborative from their studio in Oslo, they build extraordinary links between seemingly incompatible technologies and materials. Verdensteatret’s unique brand of performance is presented in festivals, galleries, music venues, and theaters all over the world.
And, what is this piece about?
…a bare stage is transformed into an ingenious “movable room” and dream factory for your subconscious. Ghostly projections, abstracted images, and unearthly sounds converge in a performance that is part concert, part installation, and part WTF. Powered by 195 feet of elevated train tracks, 11 motorized vehicles, 60 speakers, and 30 micro-controlled motors, this indescribable work invites you to forge your own subterranean connections in a constantly morphing landscape that is both alien and familiar.
Yes, I cheated a lot here by the ole “cut and paste” but OtB did such a good job describing a difficult to describe show, why shouldn’t I take advantage of their excellent description? And, it’s a spot on summation of Bridge Over Mud, a very odd show that’s about…
Well, I don’t really know.
It’s about an hour long and it features the above described elaborate “model train track” and projections on screens and odd lighting and even odder noises as part of a journey we, the audience, take into…the subconscious? An alien dreamscape? A wacky hallucinogenic voyage into arty farty land like a mammoth installation piece at Burning Man? All or none of the above?
Bridge Over Mud is one of those things you’ll either really, really like or….not like at all. You’re probably more inclined to get into their groove if you appreciate electronica types of music and surreal cinema (Tarkovsky, who Verdensteatret cite as an influence, or Jodorowsky or Jan Švankmajer) and visual artists like Giger or Bosch.
I didn’t particularly like or dislike this piece…frankly, I’m a bit ambivalent about it. It was a tad too mechanical and chilly for my own personal tastes…there’s not much humanity in Bridge Over Mud. It’s about THINGS and images and sounds and not people and while I can appreciate interesting craftsmanship in theater, I think actual humans in stories ABOUT humanity are far more interesting and inherently dramatic. I did like the images created by the video cameras on the moving trains as they traverse the landscape of Bridge Over Mud..they are beautifully surreal, like a visit to an alien planet or a parallel world. But, to be honest, Seattle theater artist Kyle Loven created a piece back in January of this year (2016), Retraces, that used live video cameras on stage with miniature set pieces and it was far more fascinating and involving that the work created here by Verdensteatret. The set pieces were miniatures from our world and Loven’s show, odd as it was, did involve people interacting with each other and the outside world. The mechanics of Bridge Over Mud are frequently very visually striking but the inherent soullessness is off-putting.
Review: Trump the King, or POTUS Drumph by Nick Edwards. Based on Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry. Produced by Theater Schmeater. Directed by Joel Waage. Fight Choreography by Joshua Williamson. Music Direction by Robert Scherzer. Sound Design by David Gordon. Lighting Design by Shannon Miller. Costume Design by Tucker O’Connor. With Kevin Bordi, Sherif Amin, Arika Gloud, Jasmine Joshua, Yomarelis Lorenzo, Ben Nickols, Jackie Pomeroy, Emma Wilkinson. Now through October 15, 2016 at Theater Schmeater.
Also a bit off putting and disappointingly so, is Theater Scheater’s current and highly topical original production, TRUMP THE KING, OR POTUS DRUMPH which examines the current terrifying U.S. presidential race and the dreadful Republican nominee, celebrity businessman and delusional narcissist Donald J. Trump. It’s a new play written by Nick Edwards in collaboration with the play’s director Joel Waage who came up with the idea three months ago and uses Alfred Jarry’s 1896 play Ubu Roi as a spiritual guide and framework for this piece. Ubu, the central character of Jarry’s play, is a vulgar, greedy, dishonestly stupid and cowardly schlub who tricks his way into becoming king. Obviously Mr. Edwards and Mr. Waage noticed the similarities between Ubu and Herr Trump and quickly created this new play.
And, that’s one of this play’s chief downfalls. It does feel a bit rushed and cobbled together as we follow the rise of Donald Trump from birth to his crowning as “The POTUS”. Despite some clever wordplay from Mr. Edwards, this play isn’t particularly funny nor do we really “learn” anything new that we didn’t already know about the dreadful Donald. It just reenacts scenes from the last few months that we’ve already lived through but it doesn’t really add anything new to the mix. There’s also the issue of who is this play for? Trump supporters won’t obviously like it and the arty liberals this play is targeted towards have little stomach to spend 90 minutes with such an odious character.
The other issue: it’s very difficult to satirize or parody something that is already satiric in nature. Trump and his campaign is such a ludicrous joke in real life, it’s hard to top that amount of shocking inanity in a satirical play. How do you parody a character who is already a parody of politician?
And, sad to say, this show needs a more experienced comedy cast and specifically one well trained in improv skills and topical comedy. While lead actor Kevin Bordi does a fine job with his Trump impersonation, the rest of the mostly quite young cast isn’t always up to the challenge with only a more experienced actor like Jasmine Joshua really excelling and connecting with the tone of the piece.
Despite some funny moments from Mr. Bordi as Trump and some clever wordplay from the script, there’s not much else to recommend in Trump the King. It’s a sad disappointment.
Review: The Toxic Avenger. Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro. Book and Lyrics by David Bryan. Produced by STAGEright. Directed by Sophia Federighi. Music Direction by Brandon Peck. Choreography by Jessica Low. Fight Choreography by Nick Michael Watson. Set Design by Perry Lewis. Lighting Design by Alyssa Milione. Sound Design by Richie Wells. Costume Design by Helen Roundhill. With Brian Lange, Ann Cornelius, Jessi Little, Sara Henley-Hicks, Nick Michael Watson. Now through October 1, 2016 at The Ballard Underground.
Not at all sad, but quite funny and delightful, the quirky musicalization of the cheesy Troma horror film THE TOXIC AVENGER currently being produced by STAGEright over at the Ballard Underground, is a madcap breezy romp. It’s a silly, silly show about a nebbishy New Jerseyite named Melvin who tries to fight corruption in his derelict New Jersey town but ends up dumped into a vat of toxic sludge and becomes…THE TOXIC AVENGER!
Melvin/Toxxy is also in love with the town’s lovely but blind librarian Sarah and his complicated courtship of her is just one part of his story that also includes a loving but yenta-y mother as well as assorted henchmen, bullies, cops, scientists and townsfolk, all played by two people.
The Toxic Avenger is not great art but it is great fun and it has a winning script by David Bryan who also co-wrote the lyrics with composer Joe DiPietro. This is the rare campy musical with good songs, including “My Big French Boyfriend” and “Choose Me, Oprah!” sung by the blind librarian and the adorable love ballad, “Hot Toxic Love”.
This is a shoestring budgeted show but STAGEright has done a lovely job of designing it on a budget with Helen Roundhill’s many many costumes being a huge asset. Brandon Peck’s tight musical direction and leading of the small band for this show is also an asset.
The superb 5 person cast should be your chief reason to see this show however…STAGEright has done an excellent job of casting with Brian Lange nicely perfecting his nebbish persona as Melvin/Toxxy. But, his four co-stars are so good they threaten to steal the show from him at times with Ann Cornelius in delicious scene stealing form with her dual roles as the nasty Mayor and the kvetchy Mama. She’s matched by the brilliant ensemble work from the duo of Sara Henley-Hicks and Nick Michael Watson as they have to make VERY quick changes from one outfit to another as they play dozens of minor characters in the show. They’re both very funny and very good at the physical schtick and pratfalls.
But, really, the comedy star of the night is our leading lady Jessi Little who is very very funny as the blind librarian, Sarah. Ms Little not only shines in her singing and comic timing and line delivery but she’s just great with all the physical bits required for this role. This is one of my favorite comedy performances of the year and I’d love to see her do more comedy work.
My only criticism of this production: it could be a tad tighter. It felt like they could have used a couple more days of rehearsal to really nail down all the required changes in costume, hair and scenery. I’m guessing this will improve as the run progresses and the cast and excellent crew can start to nail down those changes.
The Toxic Avenger is great fun and highly recommended for fans of camp musical theater. Do check it out.