Posts Tagged ‘Theatro Technis’

Review – Death and Botany – Fifty-Five Kings at Camden Fringe Festival

August 18, 2019

I have a budding interest in necromancy thanks to all of the research I did on HP Lovecraft’s classic short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” as translated into the genderswitched Asenath’s Tale. It’s fun to do necromancy on stage; you get to have actors playing multiple people inside the same body – something that doesn’t usually happen in the world of entertainment outside of the multiple retellings of The Parent Trap (and Big). But when I saw that Atticus Orsborn was doing a play on a wanna-be necromancer at the Camden Fringe festival, I was convinced to crawl out of my own show making hell and actually spend a night in the theater again. Death and Botany, hit me with your best shot!

The show started out with a heavy dose of spooky (not that a bit of “Bela Lugosi is Dead” is ever a bad choice), almost immediately going into a Satanic ritual that looked like it had been created with a bit of though aforehand. Fair enough, a little hair raising pleases most of the punters, but were we going to actually descend to that “anything related to the devil is inherently scary” low level of fright that frankly makes for flabby theater? Fear not! For nearly immediately it was made clear that our hero – or, well, perhaps “protagonist” – was really just not quite the master of the dark arts that he wished. And, true to the description, we were able to move a little sideways into reality (where, you know, necromancy is impossible, not that people might not try) and do a bit of dark comedy. Hurray!).

So … Eli (Osborn) is a young man with an obsession. He is obsessed with becoming a necromancer. To that end, he spends ages reading occult books in the local coffee shop (to the bemusement of barista Emma – Fran Hess) and going home and practicing ritual magic – and wearing a cape everywhere he goes. According to his mom, Nancy (Sonja Doubleday), he’s even managed to move out of the house, but due to his penchant for drying dead rats, he’s found himself thrown back into the arms of the family. This isn’t so great for Nancy, because some years after her husband Dean’s death, she’s finally started a romance with a handsome silver-haired gardener, Terry (Adam Templar). She’s afraid Eli might not like Terry – or, more likely, that Terry won’t want to date a woman who lives with a son who appears to be be crazy – or maybe even a psychopath. But it turns out, Terry wants to win Eli over … putting himself into a dangerous position.

The stakes for the play are raised fairly quickly when we are shown that Eli is not just a puffed up lunatic – he’s a puffed up lunatic who’s succeeded in raising the dead. Can he make friends with a single human being no … but wait, this must be qualified as “can he make friends with a single LIVING human being” because Eli has DEFINiTLY made inroad with, shall we say, the more corporeally challenged amongst us. And while it’s hysterically funny that he’s succeeded in incarnating a soul into a bonsai tree, with Eli’s problematic grounding in morals and ethics (not uncommon amongst necromancers, to be sure), the question of how he will use his powers becomes a presence that hovers over the stage. Eli has been written (and is played) most convincingly as a nerdy, not-connected guy with an inflated sense of self importance – and we, the audience, know that actually both Terry and Nancy might have something to genuinely fear. Sure, it’s charming that Eli misses his dad as much as he does … but there’s no doubts that having the powers he does with no counterbalancing morals is a dangerous situation.

Making this all more fun is the comic friendship that DOES develop between Eli and Elly and, let’s be honest, Templar’s fine turn as Terry (and a few other characters). Despite the story being so outlandish, the grounding that the four performers give it – including dismissive-to-disgusted Nancy – make the story even more compelling. In fact, the comedy got ratcheted up so high that I felt we were heading toward “Shaun of the Dead” territory – absolutely funny enough to keep me put, but scary enough for me to have no idea what would happen next. (Shockingly, the three people who snuck out of the auditorium about 2/3 of the way through ALL CAME BACK – a sight I had never seen!)

Overall, this is one of the best and most original horror plays I’ve ever seen, and I ended the evening feeling lucky I’d taken up the offer to review this show. With its flair for both comedy and believable horror, “Death and Botany” is a show I very much hope will be taking the stage again soon.

(This review is for a single night’s performance that took place on Friday, August 16, 2019.)

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Review – 4:48 Psychosis – Fourth Monkey Theatre Company at Theatro Technis

March 9, 2012

A few weeks ago I received an email inviting me to review the new season being put on by Fourth Monkey Theater Company. The season looked pretty dark: the Bacchae, an adaptation of Lord of the Flies, and 4:48 Psychosis, which rang a bell but which I actually knew nothing about. Given the options, I thought this was the play to choose: for some reason, the little voice in my head said “modern British classic,” but I couldn’t get anything more out of my head other than the phrase “tragically short career.” I figured this probably wasn’t going to be a cheery play given the rest of the season, but that’s not why I go to shows: I like dark as well as light. Per the email on opening night, it looked like the play was just short of two hours running time, with a 7:45 start time: ideal for a person like me who still has to get in to the day job after a night on the town. Let the rest of the world worry about getting the new Ipad: I had theater on MY mind.

I’ll skip telling anything you could find out about this show on Wikipedia and say that, per my experience (and from how it was performed), it’s a play about being suicidally depressed, to the point of being institutionalized and medicated. The female lead talks about her feelings and interacts with other people at the hospital (mostly doctors) and describes how she is treated and what she thinks about. At the same time this is happening, we see other people speaking what often appears to be her inner monologue, and occasionally the words of other patients.

I found this play a gripping and realistic depiction of mental illness that for once broke the standard of crazy people being performed in a way that bears no resemblance to actual craziness. Witness the sister in Floyd Collins, who mentions that she was in an institution but then spends the play being dreamy and generally moon-calfy, with a secret smile and a swoop to her arms and a glance that goes to the distance. This is a typical theatrical version of crazy: cute, crazy, prone to running off with cute men without thinking about the consequences, possibly throwing themselves in a river while reciting nursery rhymes.

Crazy is not Giselle or Lucia di Lammermoor, girls in floating dresses dancing themselves to death. Crazy is a person who can talk to you completely normally because they are actually still very much a human being: the problem is their inner dialogue, which may or may not be shared. 4:48 Psychosis gives you those words spoken aloud: you can see that a person with mental illness is still completely logical, that the powerful human brain is still running the show. It just is coming to conclusions like questioning just why anyone would want to bother to be friends with you and “I hope to God death is the fucking end.” Oddly, the statement by itself seems so extreme, but in the context of the play you can see all of the reasoning that lead to it being a logical conclusion (or hope). Wonderfully, the lead actress in Fourth Monkey’s 4:48 was exactly the logical, thinking, engaged, sympathetic, real person she needed to be to be convincingly a person who actually really is not well at all.

In the play, we are shown a lot of the realities of modern institutionalization: not the horror show of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest but the depressing truth of the witches brew of medicines people are given to try to make them “better,” along with the laundry list of effects each of these drugs have (so many of the people I know who have been medicated have kept list of their actual reactions to these drugs so that they can remember what does and doesn’t work and what side effects they had to endure); the narrator’s recollection of its affect on her weight and her sex drive was also very poignant and a sharp reminder of how the drugs still inhibit a person’s ability to lead a “normal” life. And the narrator also makes real her feeling of isolation and friendlessness and the frustrations of her relationships with her doctors – none of whom seem particularly interested in providing her with any kind of emotional anchors, none of whom ever seem to engage with her as a person rather than as a patient.

However, overlaying this script was the horrible directorial decision to put some 20 or more other women on stage at the same time, all in costumes that were differing cuts of green hospital gowns. Sometimes they were patients, sometimes they were doctors, sometimes they were the narrator’s thoughts, sometimes they did movement work, sometimes they all shouted together. Too, too frequently they were a distraction to the actual words of the show. Only once were they effective, when they surrounded the narrator and, as her thoughts, essential drowned/tore her apart: otherwise I found their clownish overacting killing my engagement in the show. I couldn’t help but think that the actresses were having a hard time splitting themselves off from their work in the other plays in rep. I finally got to the point where I couldn’t stand the noise levels anymore, and realized – despairingly – that per my estimate we still had 45 more minutes to go. (“20:46 boredom” was the comment in my notebook.) And suddenly – the stage cleared to one person and glitter fell from the ceiling, and then no one was there. And I realized it wasn’t the interval, the play was done, and we could go home. What a relief!

While at the end I felt highly impressed by Sarah Kane’s writing, I was really turned off by this performance. I hadn’t realized: it was a student show. I usually don’t go to them. In retrospect, I’m glad to have been exposed to the play, but this production was heavy handed enough to ruin the evening for me. Ah well. By 9 PM, I was down the street at a pub, and if nothing else I got a full hour discussion in about how this play could have been done more effectively.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012. It continues through Saturday, March 17th. Another review is here.)