REVIEW: Winter Pageant 2010 (Redmoon Theater)

 

TV-inspired ‘Pageant 2010’ pales next to previous editions

 

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Redmoon Theater presents
  
Winter Pageant 2010
   
Created and directed by Seth Bockley
Redmoon Central, 1463 W Hubbard  (map)
Through Jan. 2   |  
Tickets: $10–22  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Redmoon Theater’s nearly annual, alternative take on an all-ages family holiday show, Winter Pageant, typically showcases the progression of the seasons and celebrates the return of spring, while avoiding religion, hackneyed holiday themes and Christmas commercialism. This year, alas, it also avoids innovation and runs short on pageantry.

A takeoff on the early-1970s TV sitcom "The Partridge Family," the show, just over an hour long, follows Rita and the Seasons, a family band consisting of Rita (Kasey Foster) and her four children, Summer (Eric Prather), Fall (Alex Knapp), Winter (Carly Ciarrocchi) and Spring (Matt Rudy, played on opening night by understudy Felicia IMG_7127Bertch). It’s 153 years after their ’70s success and the family are now all cotton-wigged, doddering geriatrics — depicted with a full complement of cheap, stereotypical jokes about dimwitted, disabled old people, from shaky Rita in  orthopedic oxfords and pastel print housedress to Summer in unzipped plaid pants to an unfocused Fall with a walker. Still the ruling matriarch of her clan, Rita receives an unexpected package one day, which proves to be a magical box of memories of the group’s heyday that temporarily restores them to youthful vigor.

Each band member then reenacts his or her personal hit. The original music by Mikhail Fiksel, with lyrics by Creator/Director Seth Bockley, takes us on a mini-tour through 1970s musical styles, with Rita’s funk, surf rock from Summer, folk-rock from Fall and Winter and bubblegum pop from Spring, the baby of the family. The songs are bouncy and the singers good — these are the best parts of the production — but the show’s creativity seems to have stopped there.

More intimate than Redmoon’s usual spectacles, this show is mainly set on a small stage with only a few props. It’s all done with artistry, but there’s little here we haven’t seen before. No marvelous new gadgets or impressive puppetry mark this year’s pageant. It features such typical Redmoon tropes as scrolling cantastoria, shadow  puppets, a few rod puppets and some ugly quilted soft toys, which carry out the cartoonish theme of the appliqued fabric backdrop. The glass-headed astronaut costume makes its inevitable appearance, accompanied by a cute space cow and the inexorable bubble machines.

DSC_0981"This year, we have been inspired by the sounds of classic rock and roll, and influenced by vintage cartoons and nostalgic T.V. shows," wrote Bockley in the program. "These forms of entertainment are a common language across generations."

Maybe so, but they’re a tired one. It’s disappointing to see Redmoon, which has produced such magical and creative performances in the past, turning to television for its inspiration, and such tiresome TV at that. Even its star, teen heartthrob David Cassidy, thought "The Partridge Family" was silly and saccharine.

If you’re willing to expose your kids or grandkids to TV-based comedy that mocks the elderly, they’ll likely have a good time. Nostalgic Baby Boomers who aren’t sensitive to digs about aging may enjoy it, too. I’m not sure what’s there for the generations in between, except amusement at the quaintness of the entertainments of their elders and reinforcement of youth’s smug conviction that they’ll never get old.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

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REVIEW: Living Newspapers Festival (Jackalope Theatre)

A Lot of Wit, a Bit of Melodrama, a Dash of Epic, and a Big Slice of Apple Pie

 Living Newspapers - John Milewshi - phot by Ryan Bourque

Jackalope Theatre and Silent Theatre Company presents:

Living Newspapers Festival

Devised by Kaiser Ahmed, Gus Menary, Andrew Buden Swanson and Jon Cohen
Written by Andrew Burden Swanson, Paul Amandes, Matt Welton, Cassandra Rose
through January 30th (more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Inspired by the Federal Theatre Project, a program that put starving dramatic artists back to work under FDR’s Works Progress Administration, Jackalope Theatre revives the Living Newspaper, a style of documentary theater based on current events pulled straight from newspaper articles. The Living Newspaper of the New Deal was controversial for its time, originating from multimedia theatrical experiments of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Epic Theater style of Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator. Basing its drama on social and political issues, often told from a liberal/leftist point of view, the Living Newspaper drew fire from conservatives in Congress, which shut it down in 1939 after an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Living Newspapers - AJ Ware - photo by Ryan Bourque So it is that the five plays of the Living Newspapers Festival exhibit social commentary that is melodramatic, wildly satirical, a little agitprop, often surreal in its risk-taking but also laced with flourishes of old-school American patriotism. Both buoyant, youthful energy and casual professionalism sustain the production’s even tone and fully embodied concentration. The affable and rough-hewn presence of host Eric Prather rounds out Jackalope’s production with fresh accessibility—and a bit of corn, too.

Of all the plays, The Death of Print, by Andrew Burden Swanson, comes closest to old-fashioned social melodrama. Based on the closing of Ann Arbor’s local newspaper, the small town newsmen of St. Anne’s must also compete in a dwindling economy against the advance of new media technology. Reporter Jake Gallagher (Swanson) rails against the loss of a local voice and the mercenary media takeover that will never serve the older townspeople of St. Anne. But who knows if he, too, will need to use the Internet in pursuit of reviving St. Anne’s local paper. Without acknowledging any need to shift with the times, the preachiness of Swanson’s work undercuts its realism, even if Charles Murray (Jack McCabe), his news editor, adds the depth of camaraderie to their relationship and Jake’s post-partum wife Agnes (AJ Ware) contributes needed tempering to his quixotic character.

Trouble Shoot, by Paul Amandes, wanders into surreal territory while addressing the escalating suicide rate of our currently deployed military and the unwritten policy of the President not sending letters of condolence to the families of these suicides, as opposed to other deaths at the front. Worn out by multiple tours, Chance (Pat Whalen) is ready to eat his M4, personified as a death-dealing military dominatrix by Candice Gregg—weird, but maybe only just as weird as Dad (Bill Hyland) expecting the government’s little symbolic gestures to make his son’s death alright. For her part, Mom (Kristin Collins) also has an unhealthy fascination with Chance’s gun and expects the military to track it down and ship it to her so that she can destroy it. In the midst of hurts that won’t heal, the question, “Would a letter from the President have made this so much better?” hangs over the whole piece.

The riot of the evening is Night of the Gators by Matt Welton. A small town in Louisiana becomes terrorized when greedy gator farmers manipulate their alligators’ genetics and reproductive capacity, leading to an explosion in hybrid human-gators that prey on human flesh. “It’s Arma-shit-hill-geddon out there,” cries Bobby (Danny Martinez) barely making it safely home. “We should not have played God with those creatures of God!” Only minutes later do we discover this is a propaganda piece by PETA, once the PETA Activist (Daisica Smith) strides onto stage and leads the audience, gospel-revival style. But equal time is given to the other side, which is more than any news organization will do these days for the public good. Joel Reitsma’s Politician is so fabulously greasy he could consider running for office. Of course, we learn the terrible consequences of not running gator farms—to hilarious effect.

There’s a magnificent poetry to Cassandra Rose’s Washington in Winter. All funding has been cut for the historical re-enactment of George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware to defeat the Hessians at Trenton. One father, playing George Washington (John Milewski) remains humorously undaunted in the face of cold, cut funds, reluctant adolescent troops (his children), and interrupting cell phones. But the evening also reveals “Washington’s” terrible vulnerability. At the end, Lucy Hancock, as the daughter playing Private Wesson, delivers Thomas Paines’ words so profoundly, no doubt remains whatsoever why they should be imprinted upon our lives forever.

Living Newspapers - Eric Prather - photo by Ryan Bourque The Silent Theatre Company delivers Slice of Americana, a day in the life of miners deep underground; which they do without words and in almost total darkness, the lamps on their protective helmets serving as the only sources of light until spotlight is used to heighten moments of fantasy. One could almost call this Norman Rockwell Underground, although it’s not likely Rockwell would depict a budding romance between two of the men. While the fantasy sequences may be of the lightest sort, we become so involved in their daily work in darkness that by the time one miner bursts into singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” its spontaneity is unquestionable. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any drama go so boldly for male pride and patriotism but Silent Theatre succeeds in making it an authentic moment.

The Living Newspaper Festival only lasts this weekend, but producer Kaiser Ahmed wants to make it a quarterly happening. Their display in The Artistic Home’s lobby goes into greater depth on the history of the Federal Theatre Project. Dramaturg Jon Cohen remarked on the similarities between now and then in the right’s targeting of arts’ funding. Try to catch this before it closes. The energy alone will give you hope for the future—for preserving current and relevant dramatic art, the 1st Amendment, and the nation–and the fun in doing it.

 

Rating: ★★★

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