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31 minutes | Mar 7, 2020
Sevens Sins at Company XIV
Wesley and Robyne review Seven Sins running at Company XIV March 5-October 31. Please send any feedback or inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
48 minutes | Feb 21, 2020
Oklahoma! on Broadway
For more information on the Oklahoma Tour, please visit https://oklahomabroadway.com/ Please send any feedback or inquiries to email@example.com
37 minutes | May 30, 2017
Episode 8 - Baghdaddy
A Review of the Musical Baghdaddy
16 minutes | Jul 10, 2016
Special Episode - Hamilton, Brecht, and Performing History
Wesley's analysis of Hamilton and the act of performing history, through a Brechtian lens. Show notes and transcripts at www.obstructed-view.com. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/obstructedviewpodcast, on Twitter @obstructed_view, on Soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
26 minutes | Mar 4, 2016
Episode 7 - Snow White
Wesley: Hi I’m Wesley.Robyne: And I’m Robyne.Wesley: And this is, Obstructed View.Robyne: And today we will be discussing Company XIV’s Snow White at the Minetta Lane Theatre.Wesley: Company XIV’s Snow White follows the traditional German tale, rather than the Disney version of the Snow White story. If you don’t know the original tale, it is in which a vain queen consults her mirror “Who is the fairest in the land?” The mirror responds, “Snow White.” Who she then orders to have killed. Snow White flees to the woods where the queen gives chase after her, intending to kill her. Snow white finally dies by eating a poisoned apple but is revived by a handsome prince. At the prince’s wedding ceremony with Snow White, which the queen attends, the queen is punished to death by being forced to wear red-hot iron metal shoes.Robyne: Our design team for Snow White was Zane Pihlstrom for set and costumes, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew for lighting and projection design, and makeup design by Sarah Cimino. The only addition that has been made to the in house set Company XIV has been using this season was the addition of a small pop up puppet theatre.Wesley: The way that they interacted with the set, it didn’t have the sense of going up and down, up and down, all over the place that Cinderella did, where it really utilized every corner at all times. But there was such a full bodied vision for all these different stage elements. They really saw a much larger picture than I think they did in the two previous pieces, where it was really all about this three ring circus where you look at this one then you look at this place and this place, this was a much more open dance space. And you really got a good sense of that during the pre-show, in which the actors were just walking around on the stage going about their business. I loved the pre-show for this one because everyone seemed so calm, and ready to tell the story, and you were able to access all aspects of the space without treating it like an “I Spy” game.Robyne: There was so much air. There was so much space. You could breathe in this production, and in this design, and in the treatment of the space, that I found to be the real hinderance in Nutcracker Rouge, it was just so fast paced and frantic, and this was just so much more relaxed in its pre-show, and its staging, and all of that franticness was gone.Wesley: Yeah, this was a much more constructed, and much more patiently delivered piece.Robyne: And that was really paralleled in the lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. It was a lot more along the lines of Cinderella, but where Cinderella was that warm amber color of champagne feeling, this was much more of a bright neon, techno-colored mixed drink. Like a cosmopolitan or an Appletini.Wesley: Yeah … uh-Robyne: Lighting wise- Wesley: okayRobyne: ...you know it’s trueWesley: So, Cinderella had this hollywood golden age feel to it. Nutcracker Rouge was a ... jewel toned Pollock painting. But this, this had that beautiful haze to it. Almost as though you were looking at an overcast day inside this jewel toned box. It was so beautiful how all these different colors mixed together, and how they really took advantage of what I think was the season. I think that this was very much a play that belonged in the heart of winter, in February. I think they really understood the mood of this audience walking into this play. I didn’t want me to be confused and think I was in summer, but they made a beautiful atmosphere with this lighting, and there were even moments where the lighting was hitting the chandelier that was so new, it was such a new idea with lighting and its interaction with set.Robyne: And it felt present. You mentioned that Cinderella felt like the Hollywood golden age, but something about this lighting design really helped this production feel young, and capture Snow White’s youthfulness.Wesley: And, we’ll get into this further later in the podcast, but while the other two productions felt like Company XIV first and their story second. I really saw this as a continuation of the Snow White mythos. I saw this as a continuation of the world of Snow White. I think they had a lot of respect for the source material.Robyne: It felt so true to form, and it was completely narrative in that sense. Something I really loved in the lighting design was that in the creation of Snow White’s glass casket which was this really beautiful scene, very slowly placed, of them unraveling cling wrap, essentially, a giant roll of cling wrap over the previously used false proscenium framework, in which she is laid on a box5:00and it is slowly, by four people, just rolled and rolled and rolled. The lighting inside of that scene work painted it this very light, almost neon, blue that was gorgeous, it worked so very well. And there is something about that tint of blue that is glasswork and that felt like that Disney style and that-Wesley: And furthermore in that moment there was something that I saw, that I didn’t witness in the other two pieces, which was a part of melancholy. This moment of meditative melancholy with its combination of this totally out of the blue Dance Theatre Pina Bausch moment with them taking the cling wrap around and around the proscenium, which I loved, and also just committing to the mood first.Robyne: That is one of the two moments of stillness in this production, that really just stuck out, and I don’t recall seeing in Cinderella, because even in moments of calm and quiet, for instance the Fairy Godmother’s entrance, there is still a very slow, decadent movement to that. Whereas, in this Snow White is dead and not moving, frozen, and Snow White lost in the snow storm was a beautiful, calm, very still moment.Wesley: It was expansive and cinematic in a way that I had not seen from this company before. It was a sense of wonder, and it made evident this sense of a German expressionist film, I had not seen in their previous work.Robyne: Hands down, maybe my favorite moment in theatre that I’ve seen this past year. That snowstorm scene. Completely transportive. And I’ve nothing else to say. It was fantastic.Wesley: And furthermore in the other two pieces by them, the quiet moments felt like spaces between the things you’re supposed to see. They felt like the “...” between scenes, rather than feeling like stand alone scenes that are supposed to be taken in on their own account. And in this, those quiet moment felt like moments that are supposed to weigh as much as the stunt, as the singing, as anything else.Robyne: And it really helped us follow Snow White’s travels. It brought us into her mind and we were allowed to breathe with her, and be afraid with her, as opposed to being shown all these ridiculous things as we were in the Nutcracker... or, almost, forced to feel in Cinderella. Along those lines restraint, something I really appreciated about this production, in comparison to the other two, was a much healthier display of the leather BDSM, which they are so fond of- which was in this instance so more properly used in the simple use of ball gags with the queen’s mirror bearers. The opening scene has the queen enter and really gorgeously displays her vanity and her cold cruelness, as opposed to the wicked stepmother in Cinderella’s very hot cruelness. With sharp whips. And while the wicked queen came out with a whip at some point it always felt like a very blue flame.Wesley: The costuming in this piece, while I agree their use of the BDSM was much better in this, I would like to start to see some more variation in the costuming that they use.Robyne: I completely agree. I love the use of near nudity. I loved the Prince’s outfit in this, it was newer than I’d seen in the other productions. But it’s still mostly corsets and nude forms, and that is absolutely fine if that is your basis. But a little more flavoring would be really appreciated.Wesley: And I remember saying, I’d like to see something on that stage that doesn’t look like it would hurt to the touch. A lot of it just seemed uncomfortable at this point in time with this level of character, and this level of world building, I’d like to see some sense of comfort in this world that they’re making.Robyne: I would love some version of Cinderella where we see her in something much simpler, like a cotton blouse. And really have an everyman be taken into this exquisite world.Wesley: A thing they added in Snow White, which we hadn’t seen in Company XIV before, was the use of projections. Projections are brought in every time the queen asks the mirror “Who is the fairest of us all?”Robyne: And I really loved that concept. I loved that the mirror was really reflecting her face, and so we saw in various forms, one time beautifully projected onto her back, the mirror which would be her face responding to her question. 10:00It happened a little too often and they went a little too long, but it was great. It worked very well and they were using it to supplement some missing part of the production, like set, and the use of projection I loved. Wesley: I agree, I think the use of projection was phenomenal, especially, as you said, when it was on her back. A lot of variation and innovation with how it’s projected. I’ll give them that this is how it works in the original piece, that these were the questions asked, and these were the responses from that source material. However, I just think it took too long to get into, and too long to get out of each of those moments in terms of streamlining the question and answer periods between her and the mirror.Robyne: Agreed.Wesley: And lastly we have sound design by the director Austin McCormick.Robyne: There’s a lot I liked about the sound design in this production. There’s a lot I loved about it. I’m a little tired of operatic singing at this point, I felt a little too much of it in this production. But the mashing up of “Toxic” with a tango flamenco dance number was, was visionary. That song, the choreography, in line with it, that music just worked perfectly for me.Wesley: I, in terms of choice of music and what’s being used, I really liked their commitment to the baroque style and classical music in this. I felt that the other
31 minutes | Mar 4, 2016
Episode 6 - Hir
Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.Robyne: And I’m Robyne.Wesley: And this is Obstructed View.Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing Hir at Playwright’s Horizons, written by Taylor Mac, and directed by Niegel Smith.Wesley: Hir follows Isaac, a dishonorably discharged soldier coming home from the war, to discover that his father had suffered a debilitating stroke, and that his mother, Paige, took over the household turning everything he knew upside down.Robyne: The design team for Hir was, scenic design, David Zinn, costume design by Gabriel Berry, lighting design by Mike Inwood, and sound design by Fitz Patton.Wesley: The play setting is in contemporary lower middle class America and the design team really reached for a sort of hyper realistic presentation of this world.Robyne: The attention to detail in this design was exquisite. The designers all worked together to create this very detailed hyper realistic world. The sound design was sparse. I can only really recall two cues: It was the sound of crickets in act II, and the sound of a car driving away in act I, and that was all that was needed. The silence that filled the room when silence was called for was great. Everything else was practical sound.Wesley: What Fitz Patton’s sound design was able to do for me in those rare moments they used sound design, it gave this great sense of this expansive world outside this home we know. It was a vague, not so much foreboding, as it was expansive world of the unknown outside this home. She goes out in the car and you’re left to your imagination what this city looks like. It kind of makes this “everywhere America” kind of feel to it.Robyne: And in conjunction with Mike Inwood’s lighting design, which was discrete and subtle, this world became so defined. The restraint on the part of the designers really created this wonderfully realistic world.Wesley: Something that I initially disliked, which grew to be one of my favorite parts of the piece was this photo-realism, and the subtlety and the refinement with which these designers, including lighting designer Mike Inwood’s work, where it was so small in detail, and in presentation that these people were then grounded as people in a real setting, in a real social structure, and with real personalities and histories.Robyne: From the moment that the curtain went up David Zinn’s set and Gabriel Berry’s costume designs just- you immediately knew who these people were and where we were, within two seconds. Even the slightly absurd opening of this production, you got a very clear sense: who was in control, what the living situation was, what the financial situation was of this family. And, it was gorgeous, it was claustrophobic almost, how trapped the designers made us feel in that moment, in the chaos of the set dressings on this wonderfully detailed set by David Zinn.Wesley: Yeah, so David Zinn’s set, when the curtain opened, it really had this feeling of one of those “Eye Spy” books I had when I was little. Everything was everywhere. Nothing but color. Nothing but handmade mess happening, and the costume design by Gabriel Berry, they were both matched, the same level, which is not abstract mess, but concrete. These were people with a financial background, with an ability to create this sort of mess they have in front of them. This wasn’t generic mess. This wasn’t even high abstract mess. This was a concrete, people creating the world around them. And, as much as I thought those initial moments with Isaac coming into the home were manic and- I thought I was in trouble with the show- it really gave a good background to what this show was going to be about. Isaacs difficulty of getting into this world and his ultimate departure from it.Robyne: The set dressings beautifully illustrated the chaos that was going on at home, beautifully demonstrated the intentional chaos that Paige had decided to exert on her home. Wesley: And there were a couple reveals in act II in the space, once the place gets cleaned up, once you start to see that this home is just a place where these people are able to project themselves, and their personalities, and their desires onto it. Even if it is, the father punching holes in the wall. And these sorts of moments became so grounded with this world being photorealistic.Robyne: Overall I thought that the design for this piece was exquisite.5:00 It was a lot of high detail work, and designers getting out of the way, to allow a piece of this nature to happen.Wesley: Right, as I said before there was something about it that I didn’t care for in act I, mostly because the writing style, and the nature of this world we were in felt more archetypal, it felt more abstract. But come act II, with the grounding of all these characters and their histories, and their lives, it became one of the most important things to make this production a success for me.Robyne: Taylor Mac’s writing in this piece is, in my opinion, a little hit and miss. There are many instances of things being brought up, and immediately dropped. There are moments where reveals happen to no end. It was simply more information that was piled on and contrary, I feel, to the design which was very concrete and hyperrealistic and, as I said, claustrophobic, in a sense, the actual writing and concept of the play felt even slightly farcical, in an unintentional sense. The play occurs over fourteen hours, and we see the first and the last of those two hours. I feel there were a lot of logical fallacies in the reality they had created.Wesley: Absolutely, so we are loaded with a lot of history in this family the second they start, but none of those are revealed very organically. There was a great deal of information we as audience members needed to get really quickly in this piece to understand the complexity of this family and what they’re going through. Often it came off with this sort of improvisational air to me. I think one of the reasons so much of the information is given so ham fistedly in the beginning is that there’s so much to get. We, like Isaac, are dropped in the middle of this insane world. So, Isaac had been dishonorably discharged for using drugs, and was sent back home. Not only had his father, Arnold, suffered this stroke, but his mother, Paige, is drugging him (Arnold) with estrogen pills in order to keep him docile and not only that but his sibling, Max, previously his sister is going through transition and is now going by the pronouns Hir and Ze. Which is something brand new to Isaac and which is where the piece gets its title from. His mother Paige is excited about all of these changes, and all this power she has in the household. Isaac does his best to regain some control in the family, and a great deal of this information is developed in this improvisational air of “here’s this new piece of information, we’ll play with it for thirty seconds, until the next piece of information”, just keeping it on rotation like that, rather than keeping it organically developing a conversation.Robyne: For a world where there seems to be so much consequence for your actions, there seems to be very little consequence for your dialogue, in this world. And I found that very troublesome. The play felt like a divide between wanting to be this hyperrealistic kitchen drama where you see all these people as people, as separate individuals, interesting, quirky human beings. And on the other side, it felt like it wanted to be a very important philosophical conversation. Now to Taylor Mac’s credit the piece did not feel preachy in the least. There was a brief lesson on pronouns, that when looking around the audience I felt was really necessary, but was not exhaustive, and had a beautiful coda where Isaac, not knowing what to do with Max, simply stared and Max said “Hug me, just hug me.” And there was this gorgeous moment where they embraced and Isaac said something about how Max smelled different and Max said, “I know isn’t it cool?” And that was wonderful, and there was a number of these moments in the dialogue, most of them Paige’s, where you see the nonsensical, farcical airs she puts on break in these gorgeous moments of honesty. For instance, when Isaac goes to remove Arnold’s mumu, and clownish drag makeup, and Paige immediately snaps “We will not rewrite his history with pity.” Gorgeous. The underlying structure of the story is fascinating and gorgeous and the conflicts these characters go through are fascinating and it’s so fast. A lot of the reveals are so fast. The amount of time this play is supposed to happen is so fast. If this was a miniseries on HBO, if this was a new “Angels in America” for this generation. If this wasn’t a play, but the structure was longer and we were given more time for these reveals and to get to know these characters. A play is the wrong format for this story I think. 10:00The conversations around gender and trans community would be vastly different than how they are handled in this play in which we only had two hours and it would relieve a lot of the time constraint stress and it wouldn’t seem so farcical.Wesley: That moment you discussed earlier, when she says “we will not rewrite his history with pity,” that was the first moment in this play when I thought to myself, “here is a drama.” Everything up ‘til that point, I thought I was in trouble. I thought it was mania. But when that moment hit it became clear that these characters are to be understood as being people. I think that a lot of the transitions that happen during it, do happen too quickly for the time allotted. They feel shoehorned into this time span of the fourteen hours. Between act I, and act II Isaac refuses to give Arnold Arnold’s smoothie and the results of that are just so extreme.Robyne: He was immediately from this docile invalid, who for all intents and purposes is pity able, because what this woman is doing to him is inexcusable abuse, to a much more functional man, after being off of these drugs twelve hours later, and you can see in him the abuser he was. You can see in him the fun, rebellious kind of energy he used to have. And that is nonsensical over that amount of time. Another issue I had with this piece was Paige’s treatment towards Max v
39 minutes | Dec 11, 2015
Episode 5 - Nutcracker Rouge
25 minutes | Nov 2, 2015
Episode 4 - Dracula
Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.Robyne: and I’m Robyne.Wesley: and this is Obstructed View. Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing Dracula by Three Day Hangover. Dracula was presented at the McAlpine hall at West Park Church.Wesley: This performance was done immersively with a bar that was integrated into the performance.Robyne: If you don’t know the story of Dracula, we’ve linked a synopsis in the show notes. This piece by Steven Dietz and Lori Wolter Hudson is a liberal adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel. Let’s jump right into design.Wesley: So we have scenic and lighting design by Christopher and Justin Swader, sound design by Toby Jaguar Algya, and costume design by Caitlin Cisek. Robyne: I really liked the costumes. I loved how they found ways in all of the design elements under what I assume to be a very low budget, to really honor the story and the period from which this story comes. I found the proffesor’s costume to be very well contemporized. I found both Mina and Lucy’s costumes to be fitting of their characters. And all of the men seem to be fairly well dressed. I only didn’t necessarily care for Renfield’s costume, but it worked within the story and the design. Wesley: I thought the costuming worked well for what they were achieeing here. My only point of issue was Dracula, I thought his was a bit more on the grotesque side, a bit too flamboyant, a bit too 1970s. And when you’re contemporizing almost all these characters, he came off a bit dated and that was something that I couldn’t just grasp why.Robyne: I found that in the greater style of the piece that it fit, that he was a little dated. It didn’t bother me too much but I totally understand what you’re saying. I did think that the teeth work was wonderful, those prosthetic teeth up close looked great. Wesley: Yeah, teeth were great. I enjoyed the make up work.Robyne: I also like what they did set wise with dressing the room as they did. I understand that they couldn’t build a full set but there were a lot of things I liked about it. As you said when we first walked in to the room, I really liked how there was only one portrait on the wall. I really liked how bare most of it was, it really helped with the foot traffic in the immersion.Wesley: I, on initial impact, I appreciated the space greatly. It was large, it was cavernous, I liked the scarcity of what they used. There was a bit of difficulty of deciding where we can and cannot sit, I noticed a few people stumbling around trying to find a place to find a seat. But there was nothing really that distracting. I appreciate how they had to work with the sparcity of the space, transporting us from one world to another during the performance, though I wish there was a bit more integration into the actual foundation of the space itself. I never felt as though I was brought into a world with the hall around me, I felt as though I was always dealing with specific set properties being brought out in front of me. That with how statically they had the audience stand for great swaths of the performance where seats could easily do.Robyne: The immersiveness lost it’s fun when the scenes started to run over five minutes; I found myself standing for large periods of time. And the worst part of this production for me was the other audience members. Given that this was an immersive, Bar Theater piece, I was fully prepared for a lot of the interactions I was going to have, but there seemed to be a lot of clueless audience members who kept backing into one another, there were a lot of spilled drinks, there were a lot of elbows, and a good deal of that was unnecessary. While there was a lot of guidance given by either the cast out of character or by other members of the production team herding us along in this small room, there still was a lack of clarity in what was habitable space and, I agree, we were standing for far too long without moving. We should have been able to sit at certain points.Wesley: I’ve been in immersive situations where you finally form a bond of community with the audience around you experiencing the piece. For example, when I saw Speakeasy Dollhouse at the Player’s Club or, probably one of my favorite of these, A Serious Banquet, by This is Not a Theater Company, I felt as though I made friends that evening, experiencing this theatrical production, being immersed in this world with them. Here everyone else seemed a little bit intrusive. And given how big the hall was, I really felt lost with them.Robyne: In this style you have a spectrum and on the one end you have something like A Serious Banquet which is a party that everyone is invited to, and on the other end you have Sleep No More, which is completely isolationist.5:00This fell somewhere in between without any real intention of how this piece is suppose to interact with the audience and how the audience is suppose to interact with each other. It felt as if no attention was paid as to what we were suppose to feel.Wesley: Granted, I don’t feel as thought the immersivity was suppose to be a gimmick, but it didn’t feel integral.Robyne: There were fun moments with the sound design and a lot of the practical, from-the-audience sounds. There was this howling bit they kept having us do that had a great deal of diminishing returns at the end. There was an expectation I felt that the audience was supposed to be much drunker than we were.Wesley: The interaction with us felt like a necessary evil on their part as if they had to follow through with the immersivitiy and so the scenic design of this world never really managed to put it into a framework in which the immersivity was a necessity to the story telling. Robyne: I did not feel that the immersiveness was used to transport us into this world and to make this interactive, to feel like we were involved in the world. I didn’t really know why we were being immersed in this. This may have just as easily been done in a proscenium and it may have worked far better.Wesley: Lighting design by Christopher and Just Swader as well, I had no real issue with.Robyne: The, again, clearly were limited on what they could do both financially and in the space. It worked fairly well. There’s a moment of audience interaction, that we’ll discuss later, using the lighting that was probably the highlight of the show. Overall, lighting was fine.Wesley: Yeah. They had a couple nice effects: the red that backlight Dracula when he entered, it had a nice 1980s Pop-film kind of vibe to it. We recognize this was a very limited budget production, and for what they were probably able to work with on that level this was excellently achieved.Robyne: Dracula is presented in this downtown, nerd, bar theater style that holds a certain amount of irreverence for the material, usually a great deal of irreverence for the material, and is filled with anachronisms. I have seen a great deal of this sort of theater and it is usually blunt and less funny than it thinks it is, and unfortunately I found that prevalent throughout Dracula.Wesley: There was a lot of joy in the performers getting a chance to perform but I felt no love for the characters, no love for the material –Robyne: There is a great deal of finesse required to pull off a show of this nature very well. A lot of the references felt very heavy handed, a lot of the modernization of the script felt blunt. There’s a number of times where they pull out their phones and the dialogue doesn’t sound like humans of today’s world discussing the use of technology. There was just some very rough moments of, I could almost feel the collaborators asking, “Well, how does this sound? This works.” With no smoothing out of the language.Wesley: The pop-culture references, they were so unnecessary. The anachronisms never gelled well. They felt like a style that was meant to feel novel but I have seen it so many times before that it just felt stale, and rather than making this show feel more timely, it just felt more dated.Robyne: There were a number of them that worked but they were just unfortunately buried beneath seven more that didn’t.Wesley: There were also many times that they would reference the bar, and drinking, and being drunk, which, it was funny before you’re legally able to drink. Like they’re the sort of thing that people would say in a college movie. Here, it as so self congratulatory and invaise. Robyne: It is a necessary part of the production, it is an intential design element and that can be a great deal of fun, but there is a fun, in-character way to discuss this and there is a forceful reminder that the ticket cost is low and you should be drinking and it’s part of the production. Which is totally fine but there is a way to convey that without swearing at your audience, which can be fun but in this instance absolutelywas not.Wesley: There was one instance I enjoyed and the was January Lavoy playing Yeungling. Her coming out as this sort of meta, product-placement character –Robyne: That anachronism, that contemporization, that kind of meta-theatrical element is what this entire style is built upon. And January was not only wonderful in that role, and I would almost say tongue-in-cheek, very self-aware, character,10:00but the renaming of Van Helsing, and having her constantly bringing that element of the drinking into it, having the audience partake in the drinking as part of the story telling, was wonderful. Having her offer beers as weapons was a great addition, was more of what I was hoping to see in this production. But the bruskness of having your characters remind the audience that the bar is open during intermission, the constant, “Time to take a shot!” felt like a younger, recent post graduate, theater company.Wesley: It felt like an app they were able to get for a cheap price but in order to be able to do anything with it you need to buy all the upgrades in it. It felt like we were being held hostage to this bar. Rather than it being a joyful part of this world we’re in, it felt like a necessary evil to appreciate this thing that I was entirely unable to appreciate on any level of sobriety. That’s not to say that the performers were drowned by the pi
44 minutes | Oct 23, 2015
Episode 3 - Cinderella
[We apologize for the sound quality of the episode. We had some mic issues which caused some problems in editing.] Robyne: Hi, I’m Robyne.Wesley: and I’m Wesley.Robyne: and this is Obstructed View. Wesley: Today we’ll be discussing the Company XIV production of Cinderella at the Minetta Lane Theatre under the direction of Austin McCormick. Robyne: Today we’re going to start talking about the concept of the production and Austin McCormick’s style.Wesley: Company XIV is a burlesque circus that has taken over the Minetta Lane Theater and was previously performing across from the Public Theater in Astor Place. Their work survives on incredible design, fascinating choreography, and a high level of technical skill put towards unselfconscious frivolity. Robyne: A lot of what we saw in this production, and Wesley might be able to speak for the company’s design as a whole, was a self defined new Baroque Ballet. It was a very bare-bones, I would say deconstructed, Rococo, Louis XIV what Wesley would describe as melange. For this production our design team was: Choreography, direction, and sound design by Austin McCormick, set and costume design by Zane Pihlstrom, lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette, make-up design by Sarah Cimino, and stage management by Nataliya Vasilyeva.Wesley: I really cannot stress enough how incredibly fully realized the design of this production was.Robyne: Something I really loved about this production was how cohesive all of the designs were. The world felt complete because every element was there supporting the others and it was beautiful.Wesley: Absolutely, the lighting design by Jeanette Yew and Devon Jewette was sublime. The way certain lights hit chandeliers in the space, the way they filled that world using smoke and lights and mirrors everywhere.Robyne: The use of an old-school, large spot light that sat just off stage but visible to the audience to light one of the performances was divine. Wesley: So one of the things I really love about Company XIV’s design, and I noticed this last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it really goes to the heart of what makes them work very well, is that they take the best of every era and seamlessly blend them into a cohesive whole. You see design elements that speak to old time Hollywood Golden Age, you see design elements that speak to Weimar and Belle Epoque and Louis XIV and all these fascinating eras, but they never feel intrusive to the world they’re making for us. What makes it work so tremendously well is how the finesse in creation of each of these comes from immense study and immediacy in performance, and that goes I think a lot for Austin McCormick and his trust in his designers, and the designers in their finesse and creativity.Robyne: And I love how they can take this high style and mix it with contemporary anachronisms. So in this production we got a lot of covers of songs in different languages in different styles that were scintillating.Wesley: When the sisters enter, for example, they sing the song Sisters from White Christmas, but in German and as conjoined twins – like it’s, it sounds absurd but the joy of it and the oddity of it and the sensuality of it is incredible.Robyne: There is an aspect of beautiful grotesqueness running through out this production. It gives me the sense that this is how Austin McCormick views humanity, as this divine, glorious, disgusting ‘Thing’, and that is so in-line with my taste. I absolutely love the stylistic world that they created.Wesley: It’s something that I noticed last year when I saw Nutcracker Rouge, and it’s something that I noticed here – the design work from every angle did not give you a moment to question the abilities of anybody involved in this performance.Robyne: And every element of the design supported the production as a whole. There was nothing that felt out of place and there was nothing that did not feel necessary. I don’t know what could have been removed and left the piece intact.Wesley: Which is incredible given that this is Baroque style. Because Baroque is, of course, many different layers, many different elements coming in and out. This performance isn’t reductive in design. There are many things happening at any given time, but I wouldn’t wish any of it away.Robyne: No, it was the illusion of bareness. There is the idea that you as the audience can see all of the contraptions and mechanisms.5:00Robyne: The use of creating, in the set, in Zane Pihlstrom’s set you can see the frame, a literal giant frame that is used as a proscenium that is offset and angled to the audeience and about halfway into the stage. And it’s gorgeous. You can see all of the contraptions happening on the sides, you can see the performers drawing the curtains. And it works so wonderfully together as a concept. This is clearly a design team that loves and trusts each other and everyone is on the same page.Wesley: One of my favorite elements in terms of set design, which is then, of course, in cohesion with all the other design elements, was upstage there was a chandelier that was on the ground, and it wasn’t hanging by anything, and every once in a while the lights in the chandelier were lit and it caused this nice, gentle backlight onto the performers. And t’s little things like that, instead of having lights put a chandelier on the ground; the amount of commitment to the images in the designers’ heads. And also I think this all goes to the concept of Cinderella as a story about smoke and mirrors, as a story about finding a way to present yourself differently to the Prince, and find a way to escape. And it all read incredibly, beautifully well. Robyne: And the overall sense of brokenness, the overall sense of this gentle decay that permeated the entire piece. The costumes I loved for the most part, it was perfectly in line with the style. You really got to see the absolute beauty of the performers moving; which, Austin McCormick’s choreography, in every style, was gorgeous.Wesley: Yeah, his choreographic work, even on a clinical, academic level, beyond the sensuality of the burlesque, which is so integral to the way he works, is fascinating and is beautiful and could probably hold it’s own if the performers were wearing street clothes. But with the added bonus, with the gravy of it being burlesque, it came so much more alive. And the transcendence of such choreographic work was added to instead of reduced from.Robyne: And it’s important to state that if you are sensitive to seeing mostly nude bodies this might not be the piece for you, but I guarantee you that you will lose the sense that you are looking at sexually clothed bodies and just be lost in the beauty of their movement.Wesley: It’s very much like you said, the Rococo paintings. It really comes with that delicacy as if you were walking through the sculpture gardens of Versailles. Like they’re … They are sculptural in the way they are formed. And that doesn’t just go to their physical capabilities, that goes to the way they are presented, the way they are framed by this design team.Robyne: The performers become part of the art; the movement is all Art. It is non-sexual. It is sexual, but it is not sexualized. It is not for Dionysian pleasure, it is not erotic, it is –Wesley: There’s nothing prudish about it.Robyne: There is a joy in their humanity.Wesley: If you don’t think you will enjoy this performance because you think that they are either be using their sexuality in this burlesque framework as a gimmick, or you are made uncomfortable by seeing the nude form on stage, I think that they will be able to transport you to a level that you will be able to appreciate it on a mere culinary level, at the very least. I know I keep on harking on the chandelier but there is a moment I remember watching and I looked up and there was a spot light above me hitting a chandelier going away from the stage. That is the kind of meticulousness in vision that Austin McCormick has and in his collaboration these designers to recognize that these are the things that transport us; these are the things that put a flavor in our mouths when we sit in that theater.Robyne: That level of detail shows that Austin McCormick loves what he does and he loves the art of storytelling and he has found his medium. This production is magic. It will transport you. It is absolutely gorgeous. It is highly stylized, and you might not enjoy the style but you cannot argue the execution.Wesley: One of the things I enjoy about Austin McCormick’s work is that I have no doubt that he is one of THE Visionaries right now of downtown theater. And the thing about visionaries is that very often they become constraining on their collaborators. I felt each person on this stage is getting to do exactly what they wanted to do when they woke up this morning. 10:00Everybody there brought something to the piece only they could bring. He is not only a visionary, but I’m also getting the sense that he is a collaborator in the construction of his work. Robyne: But that is not to say that the production is perfect. I did have some major issues with a few elements in this show. There was a BDSM theme that came through in some of the costume designs, for instance the horse. The creation of the horse, which in production, in performance, was gorgeous, but the elements of BDSM that strayed from the Step-Mother, which totally worked and made sense with her, lost me at certain points, and I did not understand why we needed tat pain and suffering for beauty.Wesley: The BDSM horse didn’t mesh with the sexuality that was being presented to us by the rest of that scene. The rest of that scene was very delicate, very floral, and it was very gilded with a gentle sexuality; and to have the horse brought in, and if it were a plot shift to have that kind of sexuality introduced, would be one thing. But instead, that kind of sensuality is accepted as the same to all the others in that particular scene, which was a little jarring in comparison to the seamlessness of the rest of the design.
29 minutes | Oct 9, 2015
Episode 2 - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Wesley: Hi, I’m Wesley.Robyne: and I’m Robyne.Wesley: and this is Obstructed View. Robyne: Today we’ll be discussing A Midsummer Night’s Dream presented by the Pearl Theatre Company and the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Wesley: For those of you who don't know the play, we've added a link to the plot summary as well as a performance. This particular production by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, used only five performers to tell the whole story. Those Performers are Mark Bedard, Sean McNall, Jason O'Connell, Joey Parson, and Nance Williamson. Robyne: We're gonna start off today discussing design. Our scenic designer was John McDermott, our costume designer was Jessica Wegener Shay, our lighting design was by Eric Southern, and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel. Wesley why don't you start us off?Wesley: The design work was very bare and sparse in terms of the scenic design. You got to see the back wall of the theater, and the stage was bare of any scenic element.Robyne: I found the scenic design to not quite be minimalist but barren.Wesley: The scenic design really tried to fight for the empty space sort of feel and the groundwork, the stage was covered with a bunch of pebbles-Robyne: or sand.Wesley: and there was neon tape, multicolored neon tape placed around the set. And hanging from the rafters in the upstage area, was a blue amorphous curtain like thing -Robyne: Yeah, it took me a while, but I really fell for the scenic design with the exception of that hanging back material, which I didn’t really see a purpose in, other than as a place for them to light. I really liked the bareness of the stage with the concept they were going for, at the same time I didn’t like the concept they went for.Wesley: Fair. I mean for me, the bareness of the stage made sense. I liked actually almost the entirety of the design on principal when I walked into the theater.Robyne: Yeah.Wesley: When I sat down I was excited for the performance we were about to see. I don’t think that the set elements necessarily meshed with the performers and the work they were doing on the same level. I think they were both well done but I didn’t see a unification of the two aesthetics.Robyne: Yeah, I really felt that there was no cohesion between the designs. I got the sense that the lighting, costume, and scenic, were all at least aiming for the same world, but not all in the same realm, if that makes sense, at least product wise. Design-wise, they may have all been on the same page. But the sound design, it was very barren, not in the same sense that the stage was, it was very lacking. There was not a lot of it. A lot of the sound was created by the performers. Which I get, but the choices that were made in the intermission, pre-music, and post show were all very non-cohesive.Wesley: And I do think a lot of that is based off of what I was reading the pearl theatre’s dramaturge about midsummer, which was that this is a dream world where times collide. It’s sort of like from The Frogs “The setting, Ancient Athens, the time, The Present Day.” That sort of dream sense you have when you walk into your house, and for some reason, you know it’s France. And I think they’re trying to get that sort of disjointed feel, however, I think that the design work really spoke for the directorial concept, but it didn’t really add much to the conversation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.Robyne: Yeah, I just didn’t feel that the Dream aesthetic meshed. I didn’t feel as if I was in a dream. Somewhere between the - I’m really sorry Jessica, I hated those costumes, the jumpsuits with the neon strips, seemed really out of place and only there to be utilized by the lighting designer’s use of the neon lights, the black lights, which were fine every once and again but that’s how they communicated that magic was being done and that felt really kitschy and unstylized, to me, it felt sophomoric really, in it’s “NOW we’re doing magic” feel to it.Wesley: So, I think that this production takes after the Peter Brook 1970’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream that came to New York City. If you don’t know the Peter Brook production, it was a legendary production in which he put all the actor’s inside of this white box set and using as minimal use of design techniques as possible, told the whole story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And a lot of directors since then have taken on Peter Brook’s sort of minimalist aesthetic and deconstructed story telling to create this “Theatre is Magic” kind of feel. The problem is I don’t feel as though the aesthetic, especially in the neon, with the jumpsuits, with the costumes, were brought to the present day. They felt very 1980s, very 1970s, and sort of what post apocalyptic was suppose to feel like in 1983.5:00Robyne: It really felt to me like a hip-hop 80s artist experiment with neons and black lights. And I harp on that in the lighting design because there were moments in that lighting design that were absolutely gorgeous. For the most part, the lighting was fantastic, there were two or three really distinct moments, in the getting lost in the woods scene, -Wesley: Loved it, yeah.Robyne: - that were gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. And then it just felt like, I almost want to blame the director, Eric Tucker, for these moments of ‘and then I need this to happen,’ and so we had a flash of that neon magic, that was so unnecessary, and could have been conveyed in such a better manner.Wesley: The moments of lighting design that were really articulate about the world these characters are going through were incredible; especially this one scene, as you said, where they’re lost in the woods and everything goes dark, and we just get side lighting and every once in a while they pop up and you see their face then they disappear. It was beautiful. Once again, much like the scenic design, I thought the lighting design was, on it’s own merit, incredible. I enjoyed the neon, I enjoyed those moments of magic. I think a lot of power was given to those magically moments. Most people do Midsummer just for the mechanicals nowadays because they are hilarious and it’s really easy to get involved with them. It was nice of them to makes us care about the plight of Titania, the plight of Oberon, and to put that as sort of ethereal nature into their lighting design. However, there were a couple of choices that felt purely aesthetic for me and that didn’t articulate this world as well as others – the couple bars of neon on the back wall that didn’t transport me the way that when everything went dark as they’re lost in the woods, as you were talking about, that was a transportive moment.Robyne: Absolutely.Wesley: Even when Puck took the lights away, that was a moment of theater magic, for lack of a better term.Robyne: Absolutely, and then you had things like the natural sound of them running over that sandy pebble pit that really, in the darkness, gave you that sense of loss and confusion that was amazing.Wesley: There were just points that really felt as though they were painting, rather than producing a production of Midsummer.Robyne: There was a lot of concept put ONTO this production rather than concept drawn FROM this production.Wesley: The only point that never really meshed for me was the, and I’m once again sorry Jessica, but those costumes just baffled me as to how they fit in this world with these performers. Unless these costumes were suppose to be a commentary on 1980s underground theater troupes, which they kind of got to at the end with the mechanicals play and this sort of self-referential jab. But with how streamlined and how finished and how developed everything else was, to be Midsummer, those remained lagging in unfulfilled concept.Robyne: As we mentioned before, I loved all of the performers.Wesley: Yeah.Robyne: And it really felt like there were two different worlds. I said to Wesley as soon as we stepped out that this production definitely proves that you can do Midsummer with five people; I just don’t know why you would, if you can get a full cast. That being said, there were some phenomenal performances.Wesley: So using this cast of five, their breakdown was – Sean McNall playing Theseus, Peter Quince, and Demetrius, Jason O’Connell playing Puck, Bottom, and Aegeus, Nance Williamson playing Hippolyta, Helena, a fairy, Robin Starveling, and half of Snug the Joiner, Joey Parsons playing Hermia, Titania, and Tom Snout, and Mark Bedard playing Lysander, Oberon, Francis Flute, and Snug the Joiner.Robyne: My main issue with the performances I believe comes from the direction, that there was a lot of gross generalization and stereotypical, archetypal performance for minor characters to distinguish them in the on-stage transitions that happen that could have been much more easily conveyed through costumes. Wesley: Often what happens with double casting much less quadruple or even more casting is that you get broad generalizations in characterization. You don’t really get as much nuance and personality from each of these characters because they’re doing quick changes in front of you and that you need to be able to identify that these are new people every time. It’s fun story telling very often; there are a few times it doesn’t come fully to fruition. I would say everyone in the cast has at least one character they were able to knock out of the park.Robyne: Absolutely. Sean McNall’s Theseus was great.Wesley: Yeah. I really think that Jason O’Connell’s Bottom, especially during Bottom’s Dream was beautiful.10:00Robyne: That is one of the best, if not THE best, performances of Bottom’s Dream I have ever seen. Wesley: Yeah, it really grounded that character, which was needed by that point in time. Nance Williamson, she was a lot of fun in a lot of things. I’m trying to think of what I preferred her in, but I think just her variety really spoke for her. Going from Hippolyta to Helena to Robin Starveling, though I really like her emotional grounding of Helena, personally. Robyne: And the age difference really brought an
28 minutes | Sep 17, 2015
Obstructed View - Episode 1 - Magic Trick
A review of the play Magic Trick
3 minutes | Sep 9, 2015
Obstructed View - Episode 0
Obstructed View is a podcast created to serve as a platform for critical response to contemporary performance and as a chronicle for theatre history.
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