Arts Runoff: U.S. Drag

Arts Runoff is a Middblog series of performance reviews, originally written by JP Allen ’11. Emily Jacke ’12.5 has taken over the series for the fall.

I have to include a disclaimer on this review, too: I saw this show on Tuesday night – 2nd dress; shows can change dramatically from day to day during the final rehearsals. Given what the show looked like when I watched it, however, I doubt it would have changed enough that my review would be irrelevant. 

Seeler Studio Theatre, Fri & Sat 8 pm

Summary: Two young women, Angela and Allison, recent graduates of Vassar College, have descended upon New York City. They are smart, vapid, ambitious and unemployed. Through their nightly bar and club adventures they come across a community formed around S.A.F.E (Stay Away From Ed), an advocacy group of sorts dedicated to keeping the public safe an informed about the dangers of Ed, the as yet un-caught perpetrator of a series of random attacks. “A biting coming-of-age comedy that captures ‘the viciousness of a certain kind of New York dream’ – New York Times.” (You may have seen people around campus wearing buttons with the word “help” with a slash through it. This show is what those are about.)

This is a faculty show, directed by Alex Draper, ’88, starring Meghan Leathers,’ 14 and Caitlin Duffy ‘15.5 with Matt Ball, ’14, Noah Berman, ’13, Greg Dorris, ’13, Chelsea Melone, ’15, Adam Milano, ’15 and Charlotte Michaelcheck, ’15. Tickets $10/8/6 through the box office.

Good: This is a striking show. There is something fierce about the acting, the movement and the content of the play. Gina Gionfriddo’s text contains a harsh humor, and characters who on the page seem almost flat. The actors bring these characters into sharp relief – not like “real people” (whatever that means) but “real characters,” larger than life. I suppose we’d call it “heightened realism.” The physical interactions of the actors and the versatility and transparency of the set lend themselves to a delicately stylized reality. The effect of all this is that the play is sardonically funny and (or perhaps because) it tackles abstract questions about youth, the value of people vs the value of stuff, gender & sexual politics and whether or not altruism is a disease. The design is minimalist, expressive and cohesive – as usual. The set and lights are beautiful and the costumes are sharp and just right.

Favorite moments: on the bed in the second scene, Angela (Meghan Leathers) and Allison (Caitlin Duffy) express both a familiar “don’t wake me up I’m hung over” attitude and use their intertwined legs and torsos to create something akin to a monster made of women’s bodies, which has the effect of terrorizing their very straight-laced roommate (Noah Berman). In another scene, James (Greg Dorris), the independently wealthy, nearly pathological altruist, describes the manner in which he makes himself cry. Allison, frustrated with her lack of anything to do (besides take a job she feels is beneath her) has engrossed herself in a relationship. She is antiquing and going to go to school for interior decorating and she is wearing a pearl necklace and a soft, cream-colored shirt. It is forced and it looks forced. Well played, Jule Emerson & Danielle Nieves! Well played.

Bad: There are a few moments – especially a long dream sequence – which on Tuesday felt a little bit forced. The show hinges on this sort of tension between the abstract and the real, but this part felt like it had gone a little farther over into the abstract and just felt kind of weird. For someone who has watched a decent amount of theatre, I wasn’t thrown, but someone less theatre-y might have been. I obviously can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure this is probably much tighter now than it was on Tuesday. As far as design goes, there was only one thing I didn’t like, and it was this bright blue headband on Mary (Chelsea Melone). I thought it was distracting. But it wasn’t terrible by any means, and I doubt the average audience member would really think about it that hard. (Although I guess now I’ve pointed it out if you watch, you might look for it? Oops.)

Broad: This is a rich show — it has multiple layers of dicourse playing through it, and demands attention. The characters are not as simple as they at first seem, although they are perhaps not that complicated either. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance I saw — the acting is really really good, the production values are high, and the show is also not quite like the departmental shows we have often seen at Midd. It is refreshing to see something so contemporary. It is also a really meaty show; I’m still chewing on the ideas and questions it raised. I’m not sure quite what I took away from it, but it was definitely interesting. If you are going to see this show, you are going to see something pretty excellent. Enjoy it.

Contextual Rating:  The remaining performances, Friday and Saturday at 8pm are SOLD OUT but it’s worth coming early to see if any seats open up. 

If you already have something planned this afternoon/ evening…

…have fun.  See a different show next week.

…do it.  See this show.

…put it off.  See this show.

…skip it. See U.S. Drag.

Emily Jacke ’12.5 is a Theatre Major with a focus in Costume Design from Jaffrey, NH.