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He Says: CasablancaBox: A Better ‘Why’ to Match the ‘Wow”

He Says: CasablancaBox: A Better ‘Why’ to Match the ‘Wow”

Casablanca Box

Walking into the upstairs theatre at HERE Arts Center is like walking on a Hollywood film studio soundstage. It feels like we are members of a live audience at the filming of an epic old-school movie from a bygone era. The set (impeccable designed by Reid Farrington, who also is the director and the video designer) with a bright white wall of light and the dark silhouettes of crew assembling scenery and lighting equipment (impeccable lighting design by Laura Mrosckowski) oozes with classic movie magic charm. As with all of those famous black and white films, CasablancaBox, as written by Sara Farrington, has the vision and the style to incite all those warm nostalgic feelings that flood our senses when we watch the 1942 romantic drama that this production plays homage to, the great Casablanca.

Casablanca Box

The craftsmanship that has gone into this multimedia production is pretty astounding all around. With large white flats, smaller film screens handheld throughout the stage and the production, and a few manually deployed microphone booms, CasablancaBox layers the actual Bogart/Bergman film, Casablanca strategically in front and all around the meticulous recreations of scenes from the film while also giving us a behind the scenes narrative. The troubles, insecurities, jealousies, and personal dramas floating through the filming of Casablanca ricochet through the large soundstage set as film director, Michael Curtiz (loudly and intensely portrayed by Kevin R. Free) tries valiantly to make a film against all the odds shown here. Standing next to him is the ever-present assistant, Irene, the stressed out girl messenger (a high energy fireball Stephanie Regina), who also plays double duty as the old-fashioned magnificently voiced film narrator.

Casablanca
Zac Hoogendyk as the film actor, Claude Rains/Renault, Rob Hille as the complicated Peter Lorre/Ugarte, Matt McGloin as the arrogant actor whose contract stipulates he always gets the girl, Paul Henreid/Laszlo, and most notably the two headliners, Roger Casey as the worried Humphrey Bogart/Rick, and Catherine Gowl as the distracted and confused Ingrid Bergman/Ilse all do wonderful complicated work.  They flesh out the real insecure actors that are also movie stars, unsure about this project, their own casting, and their personal troubles that circulate around the edges of the filming. The extras, the men and women who create the atmosphere by being those that swirl around Rick’s bar, all have a place in the Farringtons’ CasablancaBox. They are not just ‘the lamps’ as they describe themselves in the film, but these ‘Refugees’ are given singular moments to shine in this theatrical production, namely Gabriel Diego Hernandez (the Austrian – Gregory Gaye), McGloin (the German – Lukas), Annemarie Hagenaars (the Polish – Adrianna), and Gabriella Rhodeen (the British – Carol).  It’s with the screenwriters (Lenore Coffee/Lynn R. Guerra, Howard Koch/Kyle Stockburger, Julius Epstein/Jon Swain, and Philip epstein/Adam Patterson, where we truly see the whirl wind of drama floating around the soundstage as they all attempt to make a film which doesn’t have a finished screenplay. The others scamper and prance around in front of that gorgeous white wall in what can only be described as a well choreographed nostalgic masterclass in showmanship.

Matt McGloin, Rob Hille, Gabriella Rhodeen

Matt McGloin, Rob Hille, Gabriella Rhodeen. Photo by Benjamin Heller

The atmosphere never lets up, constantly giving us a multi-layered vantage point into the creation of art, and all the uncertainties that are interwoven within.  I only wish the creators put as much energy and time into the greater worldview of this piece as they did in the visual concept. The video work and the choreography (Laura K. Nicoll) is spot on perfect, and the execution, although shaky and messy at a few moments here and there, is also pretty exacting.  The large cast work hard being where they need to be, holding up the props and screens in the exact place they are needed, and always adding to the visual dynamic energy that exists in CasablancaBox. One can tell this project started as a big visual concept lovingly done, but what was needed was a better narrative as to why we should be interested in the behind the scenes story.  The bigger picture of what is the meaning of all this spectacular imagery isn’t clear but needed to take this from a place of beauty to a more fully satisfying event.  What we needed here on that beautiful sound stage is a better ‘Why?’ that matches the incredible ‘Wow’.

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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