Review: Radio Hitchcock

Radio HitchcockRadio Hitchcock at 34 West Theatre Co.

In homage to radio dramas of the 40s and 50s, Radio Hitchcock is a delightful production from 34 West Theater Co., full of intrigue, suspense, and rambunctious humor. Written by Stephen Wayne and Jeff Querin (34 West co-founders), the story is set up in a similar fashion to the old radio dramas; a normal person is suddenly thrust into a dangerous or bizarre situation. In this case, our heroine Josephine (wonderfully portrayed by Kristen Kos, making her 34 West debut) is given an envelope by a frantic man claiming, “They’re after me. You’re our only hope,” as he is struck dead by a passing bus. Chaos, calamity, and whimsy ensue. Read full review at The Art Mag.

Review: Paradise Interrupted

Spoleto Festival USA 2015 Paradise Interrupted Opera Review by Charleston, SC writer Matt Dobie

Spoleto Festival’s Paradise Interrupted

Paradise Interrupted, which made its world premiere at Spoleto Festival USA 2015, is an opera that melds traditional Chinese kunqu drama with contemporary art. It tells the story of a woman searching for an unattainable ideal and freeing herself from the confinement of that search. The set and light designs are profound achievements that dazzle the eyes. The music, though unusual, is well crafted and masterfully performed. But a dreadfully slow pace hinders the experience, and the repetitive nature of the story will test your ability to maintain focus. If you can muster the strength, a powerful finale will eventually reveal itself, bringing clarity and closure.

First and foremost, the visuals are truly astounding. The inventive set design employs the use of a multi-media installation, digital projections and hundreds of laser-cut paper sheets. Shadows also play a pivotal role. Be it a tree or a character’s silhouette, shadows are present throughout, playing with the notion that the woman’s desire has no substance, that it’s simply a phantom that cannot be attained. The multi-media installation and paper sheets serve a similar purpose, mirroring her confusion by appearing as a massive garden covered in ink. But for all their grandeur, these elements only provide symbolism and visual delight. They do not propel the story forward.

The music parallels the visuals in both its beauty and inactivity. Though rooted in Chinese folk music, it is undoubtedly modern. The orchestra is comprised of both western and eastern instruments that create a unique blend of timbres. The note selection, being equally distinctive, stretches our understanding of rhythm and melody. It is beautiful and awe-inspiring, but its pervasive dissidence becomes an encumbrance. The melodies and orchestrations coalesce into a repetitive din that can’t help but coax the viewer towards inattention.

Even with the lack of momentum created by the soundscape and set design, the libretto itself is the main cause of stagnation. It is rife with symbolism and allusions to nature. Though occasionally lovely, it persistently requires inference and interpretation, which wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t so terribly redundant. Repetition is essential to the story being told, but it becomes repetitive to a fault, to the point where focus is almost impossible to maintain and apathy a more appealing alternative.

All that being said, the actors perform remarkably with the material they are provided. Qian Yi, in the lead role as The Woman, floats around the stage with grace and ease, all the while flawlessly delivering complex melodies. The four male performers are also impressive, particularly John Holiday singing countertenor, belting out high notes that defy preconceptions of what a male voice can achieve. But for all their effort, their virtuosity gets lost in the mire of slow pacing and lack of artistic direction.

If you were to walk in on the performance at any given moment, the next few minutes would surely impress and entice. But soon, the novelty would wear off and disinterest would set in. The sum of its parts is certainly greater than the sum of its whole. But if you’re able to sustain the drudgery and maintain interest, the finale is emotionally impactful and conclusive. Paradise Interrupted is an artistic vision that will intrigue, challenge and perhaps even bore, but a keen observer will find purpose in its telling and may even be rewarded by it.

Spoleto Festival USA 2015 Paradise Interrupted Opera Review by Charleston, SC writer Matt Dobie

Review: Marie Antoinette

Matt Dobie reviews David Adjmi's Marie Antoinette performed at Pure Theatre in Charleston, SC









David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette at PURE Theatre

The story of Marie Antoinette is a familiar one. You read it in school or saw a movie about it once. Well, you don’t know this story of Marie Antoinette. David Adjmi’s play about the infamous 18th Century Queen of France gives depth to a character we’ve only known as an archetype. It is at times hilarious and other times tragic. It delves into existentialism and concerns about the role of government. The script itself is certainly full of life, but it’s the cast and crew of PURE Theater that gives it a quickened pulse and a razor focus that is guaranteed to enthrall.

Sharon Graci (PURE Theatre Co-Founder) directs this gem of a performance, adding tasteful nuances to an already brilliant script. The opening sequence, for example, is not in the original script, but is truly inspired, and sets the mood for the entire performance. She gets creative with the scene changes. Rather than crewmembers clad in black, moving set pieces on a darkened stage, the actors themselves do the moving and stay in character while doing it. A fine, creative hand is obviously at work behind the scenes and as the mood changes throughout the play, she masterfully conducts the production, creating a powerful and cohesive vision of a downward spiral.

The cast and crew harmonize beautifully to bring this concept to fruition. As the show begins, costume designers Janine Marie McCabe and Taylor-Ann Spencer garner Marie in an extravagant pink dress with comically tall macaroni. She is slowly made less gaudy as the story progresses until finally Marie is reduced to wearing nothing but filthy rags. Lighting designer Lauren Duffie bathes Marie in white light, revealing her beauty. But later, distant lights from each side of the stage cast dark, invasive shadows, evoking paranoia and uncertainty. These features enhance her characterization, but it’s the performance of Haydn Haring in the titular role that truly brings us into the mind of Marie Antoinette.

In a word, Haydn Haring is marvelous. Her disposition reflects the tone of the play so perfectly that a photographic still of her is all you would need to realize the intended mood. She is the gossiping 18th Century valley girl. She is the concerned wife and mother. She is the isolated lunatic, desperately grasping for a fleeting scrap of sanity. As the story begins, she is so easy to hate, then she makes us question our preconceived notions, then she inspires empathy. It is a remarkable performance.

The sound design of Miles Boinest is also essential. In one scene, we hear the various pops and sizzles of an unseen firework display. In another, we hear the rising cries of angry masses. Rather than letting us remain an audience watching from afar, we’re brought into Marie’s world—a part of it—compelling us to discuss the ideals and issues raised, all of which are still relevant today.

David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette is a poignant and powerful tale brought to life by the cast and crew of PURE Theatre. Their harmonious execution of the slowly altering mood is an artistic achievement. Truly a must see. Performances run through May 9th so set aside a date in your calendar to check it out.

Marie Antoinette

Learn more about PURE Theatre here along with the playwright and other members:

David Adjmi, playwright

Sharon Graci, director and co-founder of PURE Theatre

Haydn Haring, Marie Antoinette