Review: Basement Arts – No Exit

Basement Arts, an awesome organization on campus, produced the play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre. The performances were on Thursday at 7 PM, on Friday at 7 and 11 PM and Saturday at 7 PM. All the performances were free and held in the Walgreen Drama Center. The performances were pretty well attended, as Basement Arts shows usually are. The Director was AJ Kolpach, Assistant Director, Alison Hacker, Stage Manager and Lighting, Jake Meyers, Set Designer, Daniel Estrella, and Sound Designer and composer, Samuel Johnson.

No Exit is an existential play, originally in French, in which two women, Inez and Estelle, and one man, Garcin, are escorted by a valet into a locked in a room where they remain together for all eternity as their hell. The most famous quote from the play, “Hell is other people” summarizes the entire plot. Plagued by the mistakes made when they were alive, and unable to find peace in the room due to their inherent flaws, the characters Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, reveal their biggest transgressions on Earth and, after an hour and a half, reach an impasse in their interactions with each other, revealing how they will remain stuck in an impossible dynamic with each other for all eternity.

Garcin was played by Aaquil Rowe, the Valet by Mingquan Ma, Inez by Nicole Gellman, and Estelle by Cayley Costello. Costello was by far the best actress. Her character was a social climber who had married an old, rich, man after her parents passed and was in hell for drowning the child she had with a lover. In the room, she is tormented by her need to feel desired by men. Costello did a great job of making her character vulnerable, high society, and really captured how worthless Estelle felt without validation. Aaquil Rowe was very passionate as Garcin, a pacifist who deserted the war, and abused his wife. Garcin was tormented by the idea that anyone would find him a coward, and is unable to physically love Estelle until Inez stops thinking of him as a coward. He was very expressive but flubbed his lines a few times.

No Exit
No Exit

Nicole Gellman did a good job of playing the sarcastic, cruel, lesbian, Inez, although the character seemed a little two dimensional, although that is not necessarily Gellman’s fault. Inez enters the room ready to admit to the murder she committed and fully realizes the point of the room and pits Garcin and Estelle against each other, which means, by the end of the play, the character has not really grown. The Valet, Mingquan Ma, was ok, although his diction was a little unclear.

The set on stage was a bit sparse, but still succeeding in creating the scene, with two couches, one chair, a door, a mantle, and a styrofoam bust. There was only one set issue which really brought the audience out of the moment. There is supposed the “unmovable” bronze bust on the mantle but it clearly moved and shifted around the mantle whenever anyone touched it. Original music was also created for this production by Samuel Johnson. Most of the background music was fine but there was one song sung by Inez which seemed out of place and did not have much to do with any of the characters.

Overall, Backstage Arts is a great organization on campus. This particular production was fine, anyone would have had difficulty with such an unusual play. Everyone seemed to have tried their best to make this existential play relatable and down to earth. I look forward to the next Backstage Arts production.

If you want to get involved, here are some links:
Basement Arts: Facebook
Basement Arts

PREVIEW: Ecstasy and Fantasy

Ecstasy and Fantasy

On Friday, February 15th, the School of Music, UM Chamber Choir,  and UMMA collaborate to create an evening of sounds inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Faculty from the school will perform a selection from Iriving Fine’s “Alice in Wonderland” as well as several other composers from the same era as well as a contemporary, visiting composer. The music will be performed alongside Florencia Pita’s “Alice” inspired artwork. The dual representation of imagination, fantasy, mystery, and magic will surely create a dynamic and intriguing performance. 7 pm at the UMMA.

REVIEW: Minimalist Magic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Power Center

Malcolm Tulip’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has taken the familiar play out of the woods and into the desert. In seeking to remove the play from its familiar fantasyland trappings while still retaining an air of mysticality and changeability, the director looked to the famous Burning Man festival instead, where people can create magical environs and fabulous new personae for themselves, and then disappear without a trace. The stage was filled not by shady trees and drooping vines but by a vast wooden semicircle, replete with ramps, climbing walls and trapdoors, and a very tall pole in the middle of the stage. This set, designed by Vincent Mountain, did not convey mystery but rather served to infuse the stage action with a sense of wild fun as actors clambered and leaped about—less forest, more jungle gym. Changes in lighting conveyed changes in scene and setting with almost subliminal deftness—kudos to lighting designer Rob Murphy. I personally have never been to Burning Man, so I cannot say how closely the proceedings on-stage resembled the actual event, but the emphasis in this production is really less on the setting and more on the individual characters.

The fairies in this show are very different from the usual cute, mischievous pixies we are accustomed to seeing in Midsummer. These fairies are, essentially, a very Burning-Man-esque combination of earthiness and weirdness. The servant fairies (Mustardseed, Peaseblossom, et al.), clad in simple black ensembles of jeans and sleeveless shirts, look for all the world like theatre techies; they make magic happen, but they’re very no-nonsense and workmanlike about it. The main fairies, Oberon, Titania, and Puck, are a somewhat stranger breed; the best way to describe their visual appearance would be if a trio of punk rockers decided to play dress-up with a combination of their parent’s clothes and Christmas-tree lights. Caitlin Chou as Oberon projected that character’s imperious majesty, using an Indiana-Jones-grade bullwhip as a symbol of power like Prospero and his staff, while Tyler Dean played Titania with an almost campy sense of regality and dignity. Oh, forgot to mention—the gender roles for many of the major characters have been switched around. This device, obvious yet imperceptible at the same time, is never confusing, highlighting the play’s themes of alterable identity. Indeed, the act of making some roles both male and female serves to emphasize the universality of these beloved characters.

The most startling characterization comes in the form of Robin Goodfellow, a.k.a. Puck: played by Derek Tran, Oberon’s right-hand sprite becomes a borderline malicious character, taking a frightening kind of delight in messing with mortals and fairies alike, not much caring what effect his actions have. Such a conceptualization is not entirely new; the fairy fun in Midsummer has always seemed rather random and bizarre, powerful creatures with ethics highly alien to human rules doing as they please with little regard to who gets caught in the crossfire. It’s just that they’ve never seemed so dangerous before. The strange otherness of these beings is underlined by the creepy sound designs of Conor Barry and Simon Alexander-Adams.

The impulsiveness of the young lovers came through with wonderful clarity in this production. Hermia and Lysander’s flight into the woods to elope, Helena’s crazy lovesick pursuit of Demetrius, and all the other painful and hilarious difficulties these characters endure resonated with the immediacy of youth. Even the magical complications that ensue once both of the men are bewitched to fall in love with Helena seemed to be less the result of fairy potions and more simple teenage caprice. Hermia and Lysander, played by Kevin Collins and Jacqueline Toboni respectively, were perfect at portraying the characters as the rebellious teenagers they are, fleeing the oppressive rules of King Theseus and Hermia’s father Egeus (the king and the father were played as stodgy sleazeballs by Drew Ariana and Emily Hanley, respectively, while Ariel Sobel gave an understatedly funny performance as a dazedly apathetic trophy-wife Queen Hippolyta). Jon Manganello’s Demetrius seemed a much more well-to-do lad than Lysander, smartly dressed, charismatic, and determined in his pursuit of Hermia, while Quinn Scillian gave a hilarious performance of Helena as a severely neurotic girl next door. Much credit must also go to Christianne Myers’ costume designs for helping to outline these characterizations before the characters even speak a word.

Madeline Sharton, Allison Brown, William Filkowski, Elizabeth Raynes, Danielle Cohn and Joseph Dunn are endearingly goony as the lowlife actors, the Rude Mechanicals. The Mechanicals in this production came off less like vainly oblivious wannabe-thespians and more like simple working folk who don’t really know what they’re doing, but want to make a good job of it anyways. Brown in particular made the absolute most of the role of Bottom—arguably Shakespeare’s most virtuosic comic creation—combining slaphappy brashness in the character’s “human” scenes, Looney-Tune wackiness in the sequence where the character is transformed into an ass, and unashamed outrageousness in the final performance-within-a-performance, which must be seen to be believed.

Although the unconventional set and hodgepodge of costumes can seem confusing at first, it quickly becomes apparent that this is an interpretation highly faithful to the spirit of this strange and wonderful work. Very soon, the thrill of watching such brilliant scenes, so rich in poetic truth and comic delight, being performed by such intelligent and insightful actors, becomes palpable. This is quite simply one of the strongest ensemble performances I have ever seen on the stage of the Power Center. Without a doubt, a must-see.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Power Center December 8 at 8 P.M. and December 9 at 2 P.M.