Saturday, September 22, 2012

"800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" from Caravan Theatre

"800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" wades into the arcane mind of the often misunderstood science fiction writer as he struggles to live through his last days, his experience with meeting God, and the transformation of one of his novels into the film Bladerunner."

Let it be said, "800 Words" is a play about ideas, just as Philip K. Dick was a lover, transcriptor of psychedelic, scientific and religious epiphanies. That being said, the play moves in an out through episodes of Dick's life to dissertations on theology and art to the fragile strings of his psychology, where even time is anything but linear. That being said, the play has a tendency to ramble and repeat with the actors going along for the ride rather than creating new explorations of some scenes that are ultimately the same.

Philip K. Dick is played by John Gresh who brings the complex character into the most human light imaginable. The "SF" writer is affluent in language and affable in demeanor. You instantly want to share one of his beers and listen to Linda Ronstadt with him, making all his triumphs and failures all the more personal. Also another high point of the show, Tony Bingham as Stan Lem, a Polish, Marxist book publisher and Secret Agent Man brings an amazing mix of comic timing, energy and physical prowess to his quick-switching roles.

Pittsburgh up-and-comer Lily Davis plays several female roles and makes a lot of what could be seen as simply "jail bait" characters like Philip's underage grug supplier and a Marxist "incentive" named Gertrude. Likewise, Diana Ifft brings a lot in one of the play's most random tangents, although the entire scene could be cut from the piece with little or no reprecussions.

There are some problems with the show. The video aspects of the show are dismal to say the least, with random words flying by - mostly illegibly - and a "VIDEO" projection box in the right hand corner popping up on set. Similarly, there is lack of sound design (which is very different from just playing a song as background music) leaves some scenes feeling empty and oddly quiet, and puppetry of the piece is sloppy at many points - including some puppets being left dead onstage with their insides poking out.

Despite the unimpressive technical aspects of the show, there are a hundred reason to see Caravan's Theatre latest work. Lovers of Philip's work will be delighted with the piece, and noy-yet-fans will definately leave inspired to pick up one of his 44 novels or 121 short stories. Open-minded audiences will also be treated to a theatrical experience that asks dynamic questions of which the only answer is, there are more questions.    

Tickets for "800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick" can be purchased here:

-The Eponymous Theatre Critic is alone on a smoldering planet surrounded by nothing but stacks and stacks of books and a single broken pair of glasses at Epony's feet.   

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Riders to the Sea" and "Lizbeth" from Microscopic Opera Company

"Riders to the Sea" follows a small Irish family on the night the last man of their family, as all the men before him, dies at seas. "Lizabeth" is an operatic exploration into the life and motivations of Lizzie Bordon, the infamous 19th century woman who allegedly killed off her father and stepmother with an ax.

It is completely possible that the general confusion of the audience at "Riders to the Sea" may be coloring this section of the review. But, let it be known, the Irish one-act that starts off the evening is actually shown in two ways. The first half is the non-musical play by J.M. Synge, and, immediately after, the actresses of the piece switch roles, and the operatic version by Ralph Vaughan Williams begins.

While it is interesting to see the two version put side by side, and even more exciting to see a company willing to take the risk, the two versions are a) virtually identical in terms of lines and b) virtually identical in forms of staging. The effect, instead of having one piece illuminate the other's, or show different aspects of certain revelations, is more watching one show and then watching it again, this time with music.

However, while the concept and staging seems a bit off, the performances by the various leads stand strong. Laurie Klatscher, Tressa Glover and Brandi Welle deliver an honest portrayal of women who have lost everything only to find the cliff where they can push off more. While Mary Beth Sederburg, Gail Novak Mosites and Leah Edmondson Dyer sing their way through the journey with grace and amazing voices.

However, the real meat of the night comes in the second act with the short opera "Lizabeth". While "Rider's to the Sea" features no suprises or changes between the two version, "Lizabeth" shows off the staging prowess of director Gregory Lehane. "Lizabeth" shows not only the murderess Lizzie, but her elder and younger version, showing all sides of her split psyche at once.

Anna Signer as Lizabeth, the eldest, is refined, friendly and creepily engaging as a woman who has spent the majority of her life trying to escape her own name. Is she caught in a web of self-delusion? Dementia? Is she using one to cope with the other? Jillian K. Marini as Young Lizzie captures the stubborn face and physical body of Lizzie's young, frustrated side. And, rounding out the gruesome trifecta, Erica Olden plays the Lizzie that is pushed to the brink as a woman, due to stress and affection that has always been just out of reach, finally breaks.

As always, the live orchestra of Microscopic is a perfect addition to the evening, never overpowering of the actors and beautifully underscoring both selections with melodies that uplift or haunt you long after the show is over. Again, Microscopic Opera provides a night of theatre that is unique and bloody good.

Tickets to "Riders to teh Sea & Lizabeth" can be purchsed here:

- The Eponymous Theatre critic enjoys lambasting* with olive oil and oregano.

*Editor Correction: I believe the term is "Lamb Basting". If you want people to know you're a chef, just write it.