Howard’s End, the classic novel by E. M. Forster is one that I have never read, but I did see and fall in love with the 1992 movie that stars the amazing Emma Thompson as Margaret Schlegel, Helena Bonham Carter as sister Helen, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox, Anthony Hopkins as her wealthy husband, Henry, and Samuel West as the pitiful but lovely Leonard Bast. The gorgeous film has been described as a touching deconstruction and examination of the three social classes of Edwardian England at the beginning of the 20th Century, with the Wilcoxes as the Victorian capitalists, the Schlegel sisters as the enlightened bourgeois brimming over with humanistic and philanthropic tendencies, and the young Bast standing in for the struggling working class intellect fighting hard to survive in London as a mere clerk.
The dual plot delicately revolves around a death-bed wish by Ruth, the sickly and ignored wife of Henry Wilcox, a man of significant wealth. She asks to bequeath her beloved country house, Howards End, to Margaret, and not one of her children or husband. The Wilcox family deems this request as financially non-binding and decides to not give the house away, nor tell Margaret, the new and very dear kindred spirit of Ruth’s. Meanwhile, Margaret’s sister Helen has taken a strong interest, mostly philanthropic, in Leonard Bast, a poor working class clerk, who slowly descends the ladder of success, mainly because of Henry Wilcox’s un-asked for advice, at Helen’s insistence and interference. As Margaret gravitates towards Henry Wilcox after Ruth’s death, eventually becoming engaged, Helen becomes more and more aligned with Leonard, and the Howards End finds its way, quite naturally, into its rightful hands. The parallels to The Inheritance are clearly striking.
It’s no wonder that the ambitious playwright Matthew Lopez (The Legend of Georgia McBride, The Whipping Man) was struck by the political and social layers of Howards End and saw within a construct that could fit somewhere inside the psyche of a new generation of gay men, especially taking into account Edward Morgan Forster’s own personal battle with his visibility and hidden sexuality. Paying a certain homage to the fore-bearers of gay culture, The Inheritance tackles a tremendous amount of complicated territory, pushing its place onto the fireside mantle somewhere beside Kushner’s far more ethereal Angels in America. With a slightly aggressive and pompous stance of an overly confident pretty boy, Lopez dares us to look away from its imperfect but devastatingly emotional six acts and seven hours, even as the play pretends to be a bookend to the angelic, “most beautiful and far reaching introduction to a place and time representing the History of Gay America in the 1980’s“. Even in comparison to that, The Inheritance is most decidedly a masterpiece, almost measuring up to Kushner’s triumphant Angels as it dives head first into 21st Century queer politics and the economic discrepancies within modern culture and society. It owes itself more to the closeted E. M. Foster than Kushner though, yielding a monumental piece about the turbulent lives of a group of young, ambitious gay New Yorkers floundering and excelling, just like the Schlegels, but this go round, Forster’s sisters, who are now Lopez’s lovers, sometime after the peak of the AIDs crisis are strutting proudly into the gay frontier of love relationships, won marriage equality, and the loss of souls to addiction and community abandonment. Spanning generations of attachments and the entanglement of lives and loves, The Inheritance bridges the themes of E. M. Forster’s novel, attaching itself to the past and present New York City, and tries to understand the legacy that threads the two together and what the two worlds owe one another.
One by one they wander in, taking their places on the bare rectangle platform, designed with a beautiful refined ease by Bob Crowley (Broadway’s An American in Paris) with superb lighting by Jon Clark (Young Vic/St. Ann’s A Streetcar Named Desire), solid sound design by Paul Arditti (West End/Broadway’s King Charles III) & Christopher Reid (West End/Broadway’s Harry Potter…) and gorgeously period-crossing original music by Paul Englishby (West End/Broadway’s The Audience).The space easily serves forth the delicious feast we are about to partake in and be moved by with such beautiful force. We aren’t sure who the main story-teller at the moment is, but all these men seem to be in need of some guidance to write the stories of their lives. They turn, most delicately and decisively to the wise and structured E. M. Forster, played with sweet stiffness by the glorious Paul Hilton (“The Crown“). With his steady and kind repressed hand, and as directed with impeccable care by the magnanimous Stephen Daldry (West End/Broadway’s Billy Elliot, Skylight), the hounds of a rethought Howards End are released, fighting the “writer’s valued tool, procrastination” and diving full on into the tangled web of The Inheritance.
It all starts with a voicemail, introducing us to the gentle and kind Eric Glass, played to perfection by the wonderful Kyle Soller (National’s Edward II) and his boyfriend, Toby Darling, a writer of narcissistic impression, played fully by the handsome Andrew Burnaps (Vineyard’s This Day Forward). “Eric Glass did not believe he was special“, we are told, and while that affliction never enters the mind of Toby, Burnap’s young writer saunters with an entitled pride, although his past doesn’t support his construct. He has written an acclaimed and self-described autobiographic novel, although based on that same construct, that he is now adapting for the stage. He believes in his power far more than the gentle Eric does in his own, and even as they are presented initially as the love-struck couple, we see the cracks and the mismatched puzzle pieces colliding far before the foreseeable destruction that comes in the form of a duality reminiscent of Forster’s Leonard Bast.
The contrast, especially in that deliciously sexually interaction between these two and Hilton’s Morgan encapsulates all that this play is laying out; the levels of advance and the traps we all can fall into. With Lopez replacing umbrellas with Strand Bookshop bags, the introduction of Adam McDowall, forcible portrayed by the breathtakingly good Samuel H. Levine (LCT’s Kill Floor), one of the threads that will lead to destruction and enlightenment is off and running with a clarity and authentic-ness that is quite appealing and forever heart-breaking. Levine does an excellent job playing the leading man-to-be, a stand in of half sorts of Forster’s Bast, although dramatically and financially not one and the same. His initial introduction to the cast of others: Hugo Bolton as Jasper, Robert Boulter as Charles/Peter, Hubert Burton as Tucker, Syrus Lowe as Tristan, Michael Marcus as Jason #1/Paul, and Michael Walters as Jason #2, leaves us all, including Eric and Toby, wanting more and more of the complex creature, a lucky orphan adopted into wealth and privilege, in a way that only Toby could dream of. Levine also excels later on, ratcheting up the drama most determinedly by playing the other slice of Bast, the downtrodden and emotionally abused and discarded Leo with a powerfully emotional delicacy that makes it harder and harder to see them personified by only one person.
In the other thread that most beautifully transcribes Howards End into this century, is also brought forth by the phenomenal Hilton as the Ruth stand-in, Walter, the ignored husband of Henry Wilcox. It’s a pitch perfect portrayal of love emerging and being discarded by the powerful and wealthy Henry, played most elegantly and intelligently by the excellent John Benjamin Hickey (Broadway’s Six Degrees of Separation). Floating alongside, deepening the attachment most majestically, we have Jack Riddiford embodying the form of the Young Walter and Burton diving in once again as the Young Henry. Hickey’s Henry doesn’t enter into the rectangle of truth until much later, as Eric and Walter’s friendship, a beautiful recreation of Redgrave/Thompson’s Ruth and Margaret, is forever formulated, but Henry’s intense personage hangs over the emotionally touching connection long before. Culminating in the most delicious re-imagining of the dinner scene straight from the Merchant/Ivory film, when Redgrave struggles to understand Margaret and her friend’s feisty involvement in the Suffrage movement, and unable to fully digest all these women’s political and intelligent view points. Lopez does this alignment justice with a gay oral history told by the greek chorus of gay male friends at Eric’s 35th birthday party (another 35th, just like the marvelous Miss Bobbie at Companya few blocks away) that hits hard and wide, even when not exactly as embracing of all topics, including Prep and living with HIV, divesting the old stereotypes that gay sex leads to death and disease. But it is left up to Walter and ultimately Henry, to make these young men understand the agonies that his generation faced when AIDS devastated a whole swath of their generation, a result that I personally carry as deeply and strongly as many others my age.
The third act, filling out Part I of The Inheritance has the dynamic destruction of the narrator and the device that served the first three acts so well. The tears that flow just before each interval testify to the delicacy of the writing and poignancy of the truth that Lopez is trying to enlist. It sometimes feels manipulative, and sometimes the stereotypes of the gaggle of gay men that surround the four or five main characters grows tiresome. But it is the depth of disappointment that is inflamed with the Wilcox’s decision to ignore Walter’s deathbed request when the imbalances of empathy and emotional thought are more blatantly exposed. He throws forward the further collapse with the Hilary question, “Are you sure she’s going to win?” that piles on the parallels between the superficial decadence of the modern gay man’s lifestyle of prosperity and the rigid class system of Edwardian England, stomping forth the complicated inequalities that define our own need for external validation and instant gratification. The social system, although less cleanly defined still does define, with Henry Wilcox as the billionaire gay Republican at one end, and the homeless rent boy addicted to crystal meth at the other, even with the thin thread of disavowed connection between the two coming up to the surface for a grasp of air. There is “a difference in morality“, Jasper (Bolton) defiantly declares, but does wealth and privilege, sprouted forward quite remarkably by Wilcox at his brunch meeting with Eric’s friends, negate the advances of civil rights and the gay movements forward. Does this imbalance demolish the concept of equal opportunity for all, even those without a huge bank balance to buy their influence. Leo’s poverty rings true, but it’s really in Toby’s destruction of Morgan that decidedly brings Act I to an emotional close, in its both beautiful writing and the cruel and ultimately deadly blow it brings to the narrator, Forster.
After the break, I was thrilled beyond belief to arrive back at the theatre for Part II, even after the tearful spot of trouble I found myself in throughout Part I. Morgan is gone, for the most part, and the meaninglessness of faux art and Fire Island Pine partying is all the rage. Civil rights have advanced, far beyond the closeted Forster’s era, but troubles remain as clear and disconcerting as ever, with friendships fracturing, partnerships dissolving, and the abandonment of one another the biggest disease of the modern gay man. The rectangle of community rises and falls, going from communal table to dance floor to graveyard memorial, as the pack finds themselves fighting for our nature’s soul, leading us to a ghostlike apparition that digs deep into our heart and breaks all resistance down. Troy makes his re-entrance in style (“Did you miss me?) dragging the beautiful, tender, and damaged Leo down a beach boardwalk to destruction, crashing a wedding and himself in that order. “Who said anything about falling in love?” is the phrase of the sun drenched blue dance party, seeing the fall-out from a far, but I didn’t see the blessed twist that waits for Leo. His winged creative flight is as satisfying and scary as they come, seeing destruction, and than salvation in the care of the house that forever belongs to Eric, long before he was even aware how perfect it all fit.
It also ushers in the magnificent, although slightly underused, Vanessa Redgrave (Broadway’s The Year of Magical Thinking) as caretaker Margaret, a beautifully structured nod on so many emotional levels to the Howards End character, Ruth, she portrayed in the film. Margaret’s story is brutal and engaging, traversing all that is at stake in The Inheritance. It’s a ‘passing-down’ moment, an Inheritance of style and connectivity with the likes of Forster, Kushner, and Redgrave, neatly encompassing all the themes of community, engagement, and art, dysfunction and alignment of love and care, acknowledging all and more that can be said of the young men who arrive at this house and their complicated and tragic need for salvation.
The performances, even the over exaggerated, revel in the brittle difficulty of this modern age, finding truth and togetherness against the force of humanity and this difficult time we find ourselves in. “How much do I matter?” is where its power and thought-provoking center lives. Surrounded by ghosts of men who were lost before their time, The Inheritance is guaranteed to bring forth the tears, even when put off a bit here and there with its overly simplistic dive into crystal meth, sexual addiction, and exploration. It is an exhausting and exhilarating way to spend a day in London’s West End at the Noël Coward Theatre after it transferred successfully from the Young Vic, but the journey is well intended, containing truths that need to be told and a message to all to try to do better. The ending struggled to enter my soul as much as the rest of this long “400 page” play that seems to be co-created by its ancestors and the triumphant. They speak of a future that we know nothing about, one that feels too rosy and optimistic, especially with all the dreadful realness of the world that we see around us, where “faggot” is still a hostile and purposeful snarl. I hope they are right, though, and the difficulty for me to see brightness and clarity in our collective future is misguided. Fingers crossed.
Forster’s Howards End, much like his Maurice, is gorgeous and deep, and as told in the beloved Merchant/Ivory film and reformulated into this epic masterpiece, The Inheritance by Lopez delivers on so many levels of observation and deconstruction in class structure and sociopolitical decrees that it is a wonder that it works as well as it does. Lopez finds his way through these themes and constructs them all most delicately and compassionately into a different time and place while holding true to the questions the story raises. It plays on Forster’s Maurice and the gay civil rights movement with clarity and sweet charm, developing ideas of prosperity and privilege that impact our fearlessness and pride. I couldn’t rise to my feet and applaud enough at the end of those nearly 7 hours, especially knowing that I’ll most likely have another chance, quite happily, to see The Inheritance once again when it floats over on Angel’s wings to Broadway, hopefully fully intact and ready to stomp its way onto the streets where this play lives.
Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth would, and should, be very proud.
For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com
Out of Town
A Dancing Dolly
Hello, Dolly! is a 1964 musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955. The musical follows the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a strong-willed matchmaker, as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. The show, directed and choreographed by Gower Champion and produced by David Merrick, moved to Broadway in 1964, winning 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. These awards set a record which the play held for 37 years. The show album Hello, Dolly! An Original Cast Recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002. There is no denying that Jerry Herman never wrote a bad song and that you will go home singing at least one if not several of these wonderfully tuneful songs.
In this neck of the woods, Stephen Casey is well-known for his high- stepping choreography and in the Act II production of Hello, Dolly!, he does not disappoint. Everyone in this show dances. The dance numbers are many and lengthy. And The Waiters Gallop number at the Harmonia Gardens Restaurant is especially applause worthy. The pared down chorus is just as proficient at singing as they are at dancing. And the small stage at Act II is ingeniously used to give an appearance of a much bigger space. Jenny Eisehower is a very lively and likeable Dolly Levi, in contrast to Scott Langdon’s delightfully cantankerous Mr. Vandergelder. Ms. Eisenhower’s statuesque height plays well off the shorter Mr. Langdon.We know she is a woman who is always in control. Elyse Langley displays a mature soprano rendering of “Ribbons Down my Back” as Irene Malloy. Lee Slobotkin is quite endearing as Barnaby Tucker and Jeremy Konopka is a young Tommy Tune with his longer than you can believe it legs.
The costumes by Millie Hiibel were bright and playful and worked in tandem with the simple set design by Dirk Durossette. The score is fully orchestrated though, unfortunately it’s in the “can” which for me takes away from the excitement you get from a live musical.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the show as much as I would have had the minor characters not been instructed or simply encouraged to mug to the audience. Every time this happened it brought me right out of the show. In 1812’s producton of The Play That Goes Wrong many of the actors were mugging their pants off and playing it over the top — but they were forgiven because they were supposed to be a terrible community theatre company.
And yet, if you like Jerry Herman and a lot of dancing you will enjoy this show and understand why it’s been revived so many times.
Tickets are available online at act2.org, by calling the Act II Box Office at 215-654-0200, or in-person at the Box Office at 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA. The Box Office is open Mon-Sat, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Student tickets are $15 and group discounts are available.
Hello, Dolly! Directed and Choreographed by Stephen Casey. Running now through June 18, 2023 at Act II Playhouse 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, PA 19002
Out of Town
The Sound Of Music Celebrates Opening Night at The John W. Engeman Theater
The John W. Engeman Theater’s production of The Sound Of Music opened last night, Saturday, May 20th. The final collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein was destined to become the world’s most beloved musical. Featuring a trove of cherished songs, including “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi,” “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” and the title number, “The Sound of Music” has won the hearts of audiences worldwide.
The cast features Caitlin Burke as Mother Abbess(National Tour: The Sound of Music; Regional: Paper Mill Playhouse, McCarter Theater Center, North Shore Music Theatre, Meadow Brook Theatre, New York City Center)
Matthew Bryan Feld as Max Detweiler (Engeman: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: Vocalosity; Regional: DCPA, Portland Center Stage, West VA Public Theatre, Derby Dinner Playhouse; TV/Film: “Manifest,” “Power,” “Fashionista”);
Angel Reda as Elsa Schraeder (Broadway: The Cher Show, War Paint, Chicago; National Tours: Chicago, Sweet Charity; Regional: Oriental Theatre/, Goodman Theatre, Goodspeed, Pasadena Playhouse; TV/Film: “Ghost,” “The Undoing,” “Sami,” “Isn’t It Romantic”, “Stepford Wives”)
Tim Rogan as Captain Von Trapp (Engeman: Thoroughly Modern Millie; National Tours: Camelot, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast; Regional: Alliance Theatre, The Muny, Arena Stage, Cape Playhouse; TV/Film: “Physical”, “Blue Bloods”, “The Other Two”, “The Flight Attendant”)
Kayleen Seidl as Maria Rainer (Off-Broadway: Harmony: A New Musical, Fiddler on the Roof; National Tour: Guys and Dolls; Regional: Westchester Broadway Theatre, Paper Mill Playhouse, Actors’ Playhouse at Miracle Theatre, Heartland Opera Theatre).
The Sound Of Music is directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, A Chorus Line, Singin’ in The Rain, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Guys and Dolls, 42nd Street, and Gypsy)
and choreographed by Mandy Modic (Engeman Theater: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; National Tours: 42nd Street; Regional: The Marriott Theater, Drury Lane Theater, Chicago Shakespeare, Paramount Theater, The Wick, Mill Mountain Theater).
Tom Vendafreddo (Musical Director)
Out of Town
The Rage of Narcissus Rages On at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto
The music pulls us into the looking glass, just like Narcissus was drawn to the reflective image of himself that would end up being his downfall. It’s a compelling and robust formulation, layering in Greek mythology around a sex-fueled obsession, gifted into a hotel room, not by the goddess of revenge, Nemesis, an aspect of Aphrodite, but by the app called Grindr. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, known for his beauty, and somewhere, in The Rage of Narcissus, a one-person show written by Sergio Blanco (Darwin’s Leap; Slaughter), the hunter becomes the hunted, or at least that is what we are supposed to initially find ourselves believing.
“I is an other,” we are reminded in neon, as the one-man show starts off casually, with Matthew Romantini (Ghostlight’s The Boys in the Band) entering and speaking directly to us. He’s going to tell us a tale, a narrative, that mixes reality and fiction. He isn’t the person standing before us, at least not for the majority of the monologue that isn’t one. He, the actor, is about to transform himself into Sergio, the playwright who is going to, inside his compelling and sometimes difficult text, weave an autofiction around one particular terrifying and disturbing week in Toronto. Sergio, the character who may (or most likely is not) be the same who wrote the script, has arrived at his hotel so that he can give a lecture later that week at the University, all around the idea of Narcissus and the artist. He’s quite a proud creature, rattling off his intellectual successes, well, like a narcissist treating us to a long list of his grand accomplishments. It’s somewhat distancing, yet it is a blurring of self and the other, and once Romantini finally unzips himself and slips into the reflective pool of Sergio, he digs in and meanders around a formulation that is part autobiography and some pretty forceful and harrowing fiction. It’s Greek mythology with blood stains, and a whole lot of graphic sex tales to either engage or distract. Depending on your tolerance.
It’s a somewhat compelling dynamic, and Romantini delivers an appealing and engaging presence, even when the tale falls victim to far too many banal exchanges, grand gesturing, and circular twisted reflections. Unfolding on a set designed by Renato Baldin (Caminos Festival’s Rocking Futures), alongside art director Marcelo Moura Leite with strong, sometimes overwhelming lighting choices by Brandon Gonçalves (Nightjan’s Back and Forth The Musical) and a clear sound design by Julián Henao, the textual thriller inches forward through a sex-fueled obsession, splattered with mystery and abstractionisms, cut with intellectual curiosities and fabrications.
Looking into the mythology of its namesake, the structuring starts to engage and layer in on its paralleling, just like the myth’s ideas around falling in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, staring at it until one dies. Yet in Blanco’s rendering the central figure and the other start to seem less real and more hypnotically wrapped up in one another, fantasy, and form. There’s a blending and a blurring of lines and boundaries, playing with the idea of reality and fantasy, and sometimes extreme delirious nightmares. The character of Sergio is enamored, fixated on the utterly handsome and sexy Grindr hookup that takes place that first afternoon, and even though he tries to reject the sexual advances, he can’t seem to shake the hypersexual images and urges that surround and envelop him as the week runs forward. But the blurring compromises the situation, and we are left rolling around in the eroticism and wondering if is it really just a mirroring of a need, foreseeing the obvious outcome, that starts to form like blood stains on the carpet and walls? Or is it a death sentence waiting to be delivered by oneself fulfilling prophecy.
Playing out with a teasing sense of urgency by director Marcio Beauclair (Producer, Director/Adaptation), The Rage of Narcissus finds shared terror in its dismemberment, hinting at darkness while playing with the disorder that sliced with horrific, highly sexualized poetry. It’s super smart and entangling, this formulation, playing with truth and fiction in a way that we get tricked into not seeing the autofiction as it is being played out. It’s disturbing in its rawness and overt narcissism, yet we get caught up in the unraveling and the hypertension of the moment. It digs into the mystery and makes us forget our sense of place and time. He tricks us with his vision of his own sexual sense of self, the character, and the story. It pushes us away, at points, lulling us into not caring, but then forces us back in, playing with the tale within another, and wrapping itself in shifts of light and dark that make us see the distortion rather than the true reflection. It reflects back a vision, one we might not fully enjoy seeing, but it delivers the goods dramatically, almost traumatically, sending you out into the streets wondering and thinking about Greek mythology and the narcissistic world we live in. Take that as a cautionary tale, a story dismembered of truth and packed up in a duffle bag ready to teach by counter-example.
Out of Town
The Sound Inside Captivates at Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre
Bella slips in quietly, tasking us to keep up and give in. She paints a solid visual standing center stage and speaking directly to us, revealing layers of dynamics that are just “so good, it enrages me“ We can’t help staying tuned in, thinking and listening to The Sound Inside, as Moya O’Connell (Shaw’s Middletown) digs into her portrayal of Bella, the writer and teacher at the center of Coal Mine Theatre‘s impressively deep and profound production. Spinning the chair hypnotically, she expands our vantage point outward and inward all at the same time. Freeing up the velocity of thought inside the inevitable, this is what is on hold and delivered out within Adam Rapp’s (Nocturne, Noble Gases) delicious play, and as directed with sure-footed wisdom and expertise by Leora Morris (Coal Mine’s Knives in Hens), the piece expertly floats forward in segments, delicately ushering in the ideas of encapsulated loneliness and the acceptance of praise that resides within, ever so quietly. O’Connell gives us an intense complication that grabs hold brilliantly, even as she exists alone scribbling words of inspired wisdom when they overtake her. It makes us wonder, is this a tale manufactured under the trees late at night, or a reckoning of deep desperation, tasking us to weigh in and lay down with her in the snowy drifts.
The dynamic elegance of the ever-shifting piece, designed with an impeccable eye for distant focus by the dynamic Wes Babcock (Matchstick’s The Woodcutter), with detailed costuming by Laura Delchiaro (Shaw’s Gem of the Ocean), incredibly subtle, yet intense lighting also by Babcock, and engaging music and sound design by Chris Ross-Ewart (Stratford’s Hamlet-911), draws us in without pushing or prodding. “You can ask me something else“, states the defended and uncomfortable, as the performative nature of an intimate conversation told in a narrative structure keeps us guessing where we truly are standing and where we are going. It never gives anything away, nor holds our outreached hand as we move forward into the unknown, and it is all done with such strange intimate power by an expert cast that breathes it all in poetically.
It’s truly captivating in its desperate loneliness, and you can’t take your eyes or ears off her for a moment, that is until the diabolically designed Christopher, beautifully embodied by the devilishly talented Aidan Correia (Touchstone’s’s Yaga) makes his appearance, without an appointment. He’s blown in wildly, as if from a cold snowy field to shift the life of a professor who didn’t know she needed the jolt. They both leans in, giving us more illumination in their stance than most can give in a soliloquy. Correia dynamically rises to her unspoken challenge, giving us a character of undeniable boyishly handsome complications that unsettles and intrigues. His ‘Old Yeller’ reduction and his storytelling of a young man’s train ride journey into internal discovery stop us in our tracks, just as it does to the unexpected complicated Bella. We can’t help but want to look deeper into that painting, or sneak a quick peek at the next paragraph, desperately wanting to understand, while enjoying the unknown and the unexplained.
Basking in the hallowed spotlight, the perfect formulations slowly fill in the tense details of what lies in The Sound Inside. Is she writing her new novel, speaking it out loud to the tree gods for approval, or is she telling us her tale so we may understand or maybe even collude with her? Or is it something more obscure? It’s hard to tell. In some ways, you don’t want to know is the only possible response that one can truly give. That’s the quandary where we find ourselves. Balancing on one of the most beautiful wrought entanglements, we navigate a thin line of understanding hidden in the layers that exist most definitively in and upon more layers. Is it all just creation, or a story of truth and confession? Are there footprints in the snow leading us somewhere? Suffice to say that there is nothing clumsy about The Sound Inside, as the two come together in a way that will haunt your imagination as you try to make sense of the imagined and what’s written. “Count to 30“, and tell me. I do have my own conclusion, but it doesn’t have to be the right or only one. Which is just so much more perfect than an obvious idea told loudly or energetically…
Out of Town
The Chinese Lady on Dynamic Display at Crow’s Theatre, Toronto
She sits, silent and still, full of hope, staring out as we file in to music that doesn’t quite fit the frame. We take in the visual like a crowd observing a caged peacock, delighted and intrigued, as a man sweeps the ground around her. She is newly arrived, this Chinese young woman tells us, sold for service to be displayed like a rare creature in a gilded cage. She performs with precision for the entitled colonial crowds who gasp and gaze at the exotically crafted foreigner so unusual that they gladly pay for this kind of overt exhibition. She is Afong Moy, perfectly and dynamically portrayed by Rosie Simon (Factory Theatre/ fu-GeN’s acquiesce), playing a role within a frame, presenting an ethnicity for the sole sake of cultural curiosity, hoping it will make a difference. But the air doesn’t feel right within the square, as it becomes more disturbing with each timely rotation. The years tick by as we watch with a growing sense of discomfort The Chinese Lady diving deeper and deeper into the muck of America at its worst.
Written with an expert force by Lloyd Suh (The Far Country), The Chinese Lady, now playing at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto by Studio 180 Theatre and fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, finds power and force in the unraveling of this distinct form of scientific racism over years of confinement. It engulfs it most delicately inside a sideshow format that emphasizes the barbaric structure that has basically imprisoned the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil. And if that doesn’t bring forth discomfort, I’m not quite sure what would. Afong Moy is just 14 years old when we first are introduced to her with the help of her irrelevant manservant and guard, Atung, played with a deep sense of purpose by John Ng 伍健琪 (fu-GEN Theatre’s CHING CHONG CHINAMAN). She is alone and basically enslaved within this artifice, delivered from her now-faraway family in Guangzhou Province in 1834, and indebted to her ’employers’, although she is never paid nor is her debt ever fulfilled. She has been put on display within these four impenetrable, yet barless walls so that crowds of European Americans (a fine and brilliant distinction from Indigenous Americans) as “The Chinese Lady” to be gawked at and exploited for twenty-five cents per adult, ten cents per child.
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