As time has passed, the Trayvon Martin murder has grown from one of outrage to one of deep thought and contemplation, especially among playwrights. Multicultural BRIDGE, Kickwheel Ensemble Theatre, and Bard College and Bard Academy at Simon’s Rock are joining together to present a reading of Facing Our Truth, a collection of six 10-minute plays by Winter Miller, Marcus Gardley, Dominique Morrisseau, Mona Mansour & Tala Manassah, Dan O’Brien with Quetzal Flores and A. Rey Pamatmat. Reflecting on race relations in the United States, this collection of one-acts was inspired by events surrounding the Trayvon Martin case. Simon’s Rock hosts the event at the McConnell Theatre in Great Barrington at 7pm on Tuesday (November 15) with a moderated panel and community discussion to follow.
In 2013, the New Black Fest in New York City commissioned six very diverse playwrights to write 10-minute plays on the topic of Trayvon Martin, race and/or privilege. This commission resulted in a collection of one-acts titled Facing Our Truth which continue to be presented around the country. Facing Our Truth’s purpose is to spark serious discussion in our collective communities around these urgent issues.
The cast of “Leap Year” at Simon’s Rock. Photo: Kevin Sprague.
Theater review by Gail M. Burns
It is hard to know where to begin writing about the train wreck that is Leap Year since I am not entirely sure what it is. I attended a press opening, so I assume it is not entirely an educational theatre collaboration between Shakespeare & Company and Bard College at Simon’s Rock because customarily such efforts are not open for review. But even if that is what it is, the production values are dismally low for Shakespeare & Company, which routinely turns out top notch productions in school gymnasiums with kids as young as eight or nine. In the handsome McConnell Theatre and with all the combined resources of Simon’s Rock and ShakesCo, this is a visual/technical embarrassment.
The script is poor, too. Playwright William Coe Bigelow is a successful writer for film and television, but this is his very first stage play and it shows. There was a staged reading of Leap Year during Shakespeare & Company’s 2009 Studio Festival of Plays, featuring Olympia Dukakis, and I noticed there was a larger cast involved, so some rewriting has taken place, but the play still badly needs the firm editing hand of a strong and experienced theatre director and/or producer. Shakespeare & Company Artistic Director Tony Simotes directed in 2009, but here he hands the directorial reins over to Stephen Rothman, who made his ShakesCo debut last season directing Parasite Drag [Review].
Both are experienced theatre professionals who ought to see the flaws in Bigelow’s script (not to mention the distracting hideousness of the set and costumes) and guide this production better.
“Moment of Impact is a story of a woman’s journey on a train, and a journey through life. This highly personal story explores self, life, death, and the amazing resiliency of the human spirit. [It] combines theatre, dance, and aerial acrobatics to create an original, humorous, moving, and thought-provoking one-woman show.” – Program note for Moment of Impact
While a little bland and formulaic, the paragraph above gives a succinct precise of Bronwyn Sims’ pithy presentation, except it leaves out the Ibsen. And you have to admire an artist who can cover life, death, train travel, aerial acrobatics, and Ibsen in under an hour.
There is nothing bland or formulaic about Moment of Impact though. Conceived in 2011 and 2012 during residencies at the Celebration Barn Theater in South Paris, Maine, this piece, under the title Lean Back, has had work-in-progress showings at Westover School and Franklin Pierce University. And for Sims and her Strong Coffee Stage Company, it is still in malleable form.
Sims sums up her inspiration thusly in an excerpt from a recent interview: “In 2009…on my way to Yale to do aerial work for the Rep, a boy jumped in front of the train I was on, and committed suicide. The entire day, things were resonating in my head about this boy. The fact that I was going to Yale to teach an actor how to fall for their death in a harness [in a production on Henrik Ibsen’s The Master Builder]…[I] wanted to explore the idea of blending aerial work into a piece of theater. I wanted to tell the story physically as well as through narrative…It brings up a lot of personal thoughts and things about life. There’s a lot of vulnerability that comes up. The work is really all about stepping into the unknown.”
For the Berkshire Fringe, Painting His Wings borders on the traditional. It is very clearly a play with a script that tells a linear story. The four actors play the same characters throughout, and, although its billed as a “Partial Puppet Play” the puppets consist of six finger puppets and two pair of wings. I mention this because I know puppetry is a turn-off for some who do not consider it true “theatre.”
Why isn’t Abellona Whalen (Katie Lawson) talking? She talks to the audience, and to her older brother Christopher (Nathaniel Moore), but not to her parents Willa (Alison Scaramella) and Paul (Antonio David Lyons) until the very end, when the source of the family’s sorrow and the structure of the play is revealed.
Abellona’s age is never specified, but she can read and she goes to school and yet still believes in what child psychologists call “magical thinking,” so she is somewhere between the ages of seven and ten. Christopher is probably in the fragile years of early adolescence, between 11-14. Both are creative children – the product of a loving marriage and a happy home. Christopher is fascinated by flight. He makes and paints little airplanes, which he adds one by one to a mobile that hangs over his bed. He is also painting a pair of cardboard wings to blend in to the night sky. Abellona, who lugs around a copy of H. A. Rey’s “The Stars,” is enamored of the night sky and is teaching herself to identify individual stars and the constellations. He lets her help paint stars on to his wings, and she insists that her favorite star, Antarus, be represented.
The Actor Playing Bill Viola (Josh Sauerman) explains his toilet troubles to the audience
What a perfect way to end my 2011 Berkshire Fringe Festival experience – with a piece that pokes wicked fun at the kind of pieces you always see at Fringe Festivals! In fact it was so perfect that I thought it WAS one of those Fringe pieces until I sat down and looked at my program and realized that it was a PLAY with a playwright and a director and actors. It was FICTIONAL! I was astounded!
In case you are not a Fringe-going person, many of the shows you see there are one person shows “conceived, written and performed” by the person on stage and they tell either some part of that actor’s personal story, or a story about which s/he feels passionately. This year FACE and Tangled Yarn fell into this category.
To be fair, you don’t just see this kind of navel-gazing exercise at Fringe Festivals. The tight economy means that theatres everywhere are mounting small cast shows which require minimal sets, costumes, and props. No lesser deity than the Williamstown Theatre Festival opened its 2010 season with It’s Jewdy’s Show.
The Pi Clowns have performed at the Berkshire Fringe before – hence the title The Return of the Pi Clowns – but I have never had an opportunity to see them. I am a great admirer of physical theatre, which is how the Pi Clowns bill themselves. While all of the circus arts are theatrical, not all of them are theatre, but clowns are.
The modern day clown usually selects a character name, persona, costume and make-up for life. She or he then acts as that clown persona whether in a story-based skit or a skill-based set. The five Pi Clowns I saw identified themselves as Clown (Andrew P. Quick), Monster Strong (Jonathan Deline), Miz G (Leah C. Gardner), Juggler (Tyler Parks) and Bruce (Bruce Glaseroff) but each had a clear clown persona even though only Quick carried that moniker on stage.
I realized as I searched for photos and video to accompany this review, that there is usually a sixth Pi Clown, a second woman, and that their routines vary greatly from performance to performance. While they have some set pieces, they mix up the order and the routines themselves. I did not find any images that exactly matched what I saw, and so it is possible that they never do the same show twice. So what I will do here is tell you what I enjoyed and give you a flavor of the troupe’s energy and ethos.
OK, this is just a hunch on my part because I’ve never seen them perform, but I’m willing to bet the farm that the Xylopholks will be serving up one of the most unique and downright fun musical events of the summer when play the Berkshire Fringe at 7pm Wednesday, August 5.
In addition to the array of cutting edge main events, the fifth annual Berkshire Fringe festival at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Mass. is also presenting its free :30 Live! concert series again this year.
The free half-hour performances take place at 7pm on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the run of the festival – July 29-August 17.
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