Thursday, June 19, 2014

WorldFest 2014 at Venice Theatre, Part 2

Live theater is an experience that cannot be replicated. Each performance has its own nuances.  Every audience responds to what it is seeing a bit differently, and the actors respond in turn to this vibe.  And when the run is over, the actors roll up their figurative tent and move on -- often to something totally different.  This impermanence is one of the things that makes theater so special.

But there's a downside as well.  Sometimes you see a performance that is so special, so creative, so magical, that you want to watch it over and over.  But you can't just hit the "play" button again.   The performance lives on only in your mind.

I came away from Wednesdays's WorldFest line-up having seen two shows that made me feel both grateful that I was there to have the experience yet regretful that it was so fleeting.  Interestingly, both shows used music throughout, but the experiences were radically different.

The first was "Our Daily Bread" by the Argentinian duo of Gabriela Pages and Mario Marino. The performance was done in silent movie style, with music advancing the story along with their movements.  As the curtain rose, a spotlight alternately shone on Pages and Marino as each waited with visible anticipation for the other on what might have been a blind date.  I was captivated from the first moment by her charming flapper-like leg movements and the look on his face that conveyed a wistful sense of hope.

During the course of the next hour, we were taken through their relationship, from that first meeting to their shared old age.  The "bread" theme was used liberally early on in the show.  During the courtship (and later when the relationship needs some reviving), flour is used like pixie dust as a means of flirtation.  A little dough creation represents their baby, which breasts feeds (quite energetically), grows before our very eyes and eventually leaves home.  (Both actors were hilarious during these scenes.)

Then things got really interesting, and even more difficult to describe in a way that will capture the magic.  The action included:  Pages moving behind a screen and changing into a wedding dress with an enormously long train that was used as a prop.  Marino coming offstage and manipulating a stagelight on her, boxing her in as she moved around the stage with an effect that reminded me a bit of a horror movie.  Images projected onto her that I took as an indication that she was struggling with an illness.  Both actors wearing masks--don't we all do that sometimes?--both on their faces and on the back of their heads, with their costumes designed in a way that worked both front and back.  The couple moving away from each other with the inevitable ebbs and flows of a marriage and coming back together.  The curve of their bodies indicating that they had grown together into old age.

The audience erupted at the end of the show in appreciation of a performance that was beautiful and moving and inordinately creative.  The concept of wanting to be able to hit the "replay" button came to me as I was walking out of the theater after watching this show.

The second performance that grabbed me and has yet to let go was "POP!" presented by the Danish Black Box Pangea.  When I was working on my article about the Festival, I skyped with the group's Emilie Bendix (who is a returning participant) to hear about what she had planned for this year.  She explained that they would be doing a "theater concert," a style of theater that is popular in Europe that hasn't yet migrated to the United States.  She said the purpose was to make the audience focus on the lyrics of popular songs.   I couldn't quite imagine how they were going to do this, but it sounded interesting.

The songs included Christina Perri's "I Am Human," Pharell Williams' "Happy," and Fun's "We Are Young." But having a sense of what lyrics were included is almost meaningless.   Sometimes they sang but often they spoke the words, forcing you to really hear what was being said. They used intonations and timing that made the words their own. They threw--and ate--paper hearts.  They played guitar and keyboard. They manipulated the lights. They came into the audience.  They switched clothing. They shared feelings of love and loss and pain and vulnerability. Ultimately, they defied any expectations I had about what my evening was going to hold.  The performance closed with Rasmus Rhode standing on a far side of the stage atop a box wearing Emilie's dress and his jacket and singing "Say something, I'm giving up on you" (from A Great Big World) in a haunting voice.  This moment in particular left me breathless.

"POP!" was edgy and made me simultaneously feel uncomfortable and exhilarated.  It was incredibly powerful.  I left the theater hoping this is the type of performance I'll be able to see when I go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

Thank you to Venice Theatre for bringing these amazing performances to the WorldFest stage.  And there's still more to come!  I can't wait.





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