There is a lot to like about Blessed Unrest's production of The Storm (by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, translated and adapted by Laura Wickens and directed by Jessica Burr), which runs through the middle of May at Interart Theatre. The first thing I noticed was the use of the raw theater space, up to and including the little natural ledges common in brick buildings that were probably once-upon-a-time factories or warehouses. The set design included, even in this small space, a river of water, one of the best uses of which was creating 'rain' visibly through one character working the ropes to allow tin cans with holes in them to dip into water and be lifted up - once in a small version and later in a multi-can version creating a rain storm of sorts.
I liked the choreography and the way the ensemble moved together in such a way as to create another kind of architecture along with the space. This was enhanced by the costumes, which - like the theater space worked with various shades of red and tan colors, so that everyone seemed to somehow emerge from the earth of the floor (painted red, too). This whole mise-en-scène made the piece seem organic to the place and gave it a rootedness that is unusual in more traditional theater venues, so hooray for that.
I won't give away the story but it has a fable-like quality, includes love, lust, and an evil leader of a town, deceit, confusion, adultery and an inheritance. There are moments of great beauty and emotion, created through the visibility of the artifice rather than an attempt at its erasure. There is an interesting sound score including at times a cacophony of sounds, voices, music (live and recorded) that I enjoyed a great deal.
The one problem I had with the production was nearer the end when this artifice gave way to a certain kind of naturalism that to my mind undercut the expressionistic quality I liked at the beginning. There were interesting dance/movement sequences that I wished had continued, evolved perhaps into something even more chaotic or rambunctious rather than ending in emotive monologues.
This critique is of course a taste issue. I am not a big fan of naturalism, as anyone who reads my criticism or sees my own work would know, and only really buy it if it's the only way that a certain piece can be performed and it's done impeccably (which, considering its prevalence as the American Acting Style, is kind of depressingly rare). Also, I should add I saw the show's first performance, so some of these issues may resolve themselves with more time in front of an audience.
What I also liked was how the whole cast worked as an ensemble. I loved the gender-bending casting. Some performances that stood out were Jason Griffith as Feklusha ("a bride with two grooms") who did a lovely woman of a certain age drag routine with gorgeous choreography (and played the cello!) - this artifice never faded and as such had more emotional power for me than some of the other intentionally emotional moments in the play. He and his 'grooms' (Dave Edson & Giorgio Pinetta) looked a bit like they were in a Pina Bausch piece that every once in a while took precedence here, their whole presence being that strong. I loved Laura Wickens as Varvara, the pregnant spinster sister-in-law. She had an unforced earthiness to her, along with a Brechtian awareness of an audience that creates the kind of precision in performance I enjoy. For most of the play I liked Zenzelé Cooper's presence as Katrina. Her naturalistic turn (which was the turn of the production at which she was the center) at the end was what I found a bit difficult to follow. However, for the first 3/4 of the play she was able to play the usually difficult role of the ingenue with a vigor and wry clarity quite well.
All in all, this show is worth seeing because it is reaching for something without recourse to easy irony and even if I don't personally agree with every strategy, the project has great merit, is very well choreographed and designed and as such uses space well. If you go to a lot of theater, you know how rare those qualities are.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
I am in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I will be getting to know soon. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog will trace the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that'll feature too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June last year my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island. Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
A recent addendum as of July 1, 2013: I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC but because of immigration rules that'll be slow. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani