NW NEW WORKS WEEK 2 Jun 16, 2014
by Brett Love
Helena Theatre Company
I was very excited to see Helena Theatre Company on the bill, precisely because they are from Helena. One of the great things about NWNW is that we get to see performers from so many different areas.
The show didn't disappoint. The conversation about funding, and the effect that has on the art, is an important one. It was presented here in a thoughtful, and fun, way.
This was easily the show most outside my wheelhouse. I just don't get to the drag shows, so I have only the tiniest experience with it, and had no idea what to expect after seeing the promotional stills.
Initially, it seemed like a funny bit. Feyonce has her own rather unique look, and watching her perform 'Put A Ring On It' was hilarious. The real magic though, came when the drag came off. Hearing Wayne tell the story of his mother, and his history with drag brought us all into the story with him. By the time he performed 'Proud Mary', the audience had gone from watching Feyonce's funny drag act to rooting for Wayne.
I find I am really of two minds on That'swhatshesaid. On the one hand, more discussion about the need for more, and better, roles for women in the theatre is always a good thing. So I do support the idea behind the piece. But I just can't shake the feeling that the execution is a bit unfair. You could cherry-pick bits and pieces out of any group of plays and present it in an unfavorable light, whether they were the female, or male roles. It loses me just a bit there.
What I can't argue is that Erin Pike is a force of fucking nature.
She's completely fearless, totally committed, and just killing every opportunity here. Watching her flip back and forth between characters at break-neck speed was completely fascinating. Each of them had their own voice, mannerisms, and body language. That performance alone made the whole thing worthwhile.
Amy O is just the coolest. I bought in to the world she created for 'Something light, for the sake of the dark' from the moment she appeared in the shadows at the start of the performance. With the help of Amiya Brown's lights and set, we were taken on a tour of a dark cyberpunk landscape.
To me, this is what a William Gibson novel would look like as a dance piece. If you were going to tell me that Neuromancer was being staged as modern dance, this is what I would picture. Amy O as Molly Millions. Dark. Mysterious. And you can't look away.
This was a great way to open the show. David Schmader is great at being David Schmader. He's got his style down, and it's endlessly entertaining. It's a smart, irreverent take on the world as David sees it, and the OtB crowd is his crowd. His sendup of the modern internet culture summarized all the things we all think about it, but were too beaten down to convey past a 'Never Read The Comments' post on facebook.
My only disappointment was that I had unknowingly seen a workshop/early version of this, so I was completely spoiled for the reveal of Cherdonna. Given the tiny audience of that early performance though, I'm sure that wasn't a problem for most of the crowd, and it is a brilliant bit of theatre. Cherdonna is in a class of her own, and to see her in this context, with David's words coming out of her mouth, was the most wonderful of dichotomies.
Three perspectives in one space brought a lot of great dance. The trio of Coleman Pester, Victoria Jacobs, and Shannon Stewart is a remarkable group and I loved watching them. Throughout the performance though, the structure loomed. It was a terrific set piece, but I kept going back to the question of why it was there. I was waiting for someone to climb it, or knock it down, or set it on fire. Something.
I saw Hand2Mouth when they made their last stop at On The Boards, so I was eager to see them again. Eager, mixed with just a pinch of trepidation, because I had been told that there was audience participation, and that is just not my jam. Fortunately, I narrowly avoided that as the Coach picked my friend Kathryn (she's a great director!), sitting right next to me.
What followed was simply fantastic. The over the top, and unrelenting, rah-rah of the Pep Talk is infectious. And the whole thing was made that much more impressive by the attention to detail. Calling out the names of people in the audience, pulling out the 1976 Raiders, cassette tapes. It was all so wonderful to behold.
It also managed to navigate the tricky waters of sports and theatre, which don't often mix well. At the end of the day, you just couldn't help feeling better about the world, because Team Hand2Mouth is part of it. Their Pep Talk was a success on every level.
Who doesn't love Molly Sides? She is just made of wonderful. And just when I think I can't possibly be any more impressed, she shares something like this with us. From her haunting vocals to the beautiful dance, it was exquisite from beginning to end. The grief, the joy, the questions, the acceptance. She melted my heart.