Thursday, September 16, 2010

KSER Review of Arcana

For those keeping track, here's a transcript of my most recent review from Douglas Bailey, who runs the "Behind the Mask" radio reviews at KSER 90.7:

"Welcome to the KSER program "Behind the Mask"- Dramatic criticism of live performance in and around Snohomish County.

"Open Circle Theatre, who is now located in Belltown by the way (in case you missed their move from south Lake Union like I did), has just opened a clever and creative play. Arcana was written by local playwright John Longenbaugh, and is guaranteed to surprise and delight.

"As background, the Major Arcana are the special cards in a Tarot deck. You know, those mythic figures like Death, the Fool, that sort of thing. The play Arcana is comprised of stories inspired by eight of these cards. What playwright Longenbaugh does that makes this idea so fresh is he puts these characters into today’s world, then stands back to see what will happen to them.

"Take 'The Empress' for example. Our royalty lets us know she is the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, but she looks like the girl next door and is dating in a bar. Trust me it makes for some extremely humorous dialogue. April Davidson does an outstanding job of conveying a lot of information with very few words. By the time she’s introduced herself and said the new guy’s name you pretty much know exactly what kind of guy he is, and it’s very funny.

"'The Moon' card takes a different approach, albeit one just as successful. Several people lounge around at night watching the moon, remembering, falling in love, dreaming...each in different places. While the moon, sharply dressed in white tux, weaves around each one relating to them in their own unique way. It created a wonderful sense of magic on stage.

"Perhaps my favorite was built around 'The Star' card. On one side of the stage a young couple in love lays on the grass watching the falling stars in the night. Across the stage two stars sit and talk about their past, all the joys they have had in life, and what they can take on this journey that is about to begin. It isn’t difficult to figure out they are about to take a glorious but career ending trip through the night sky themselves. It is surprising how much empathy you can have for a star, believe me.

"Not all these short stories are as successful however. For example 'The Sun' is built around a visual recreation of Manet’s painting of the picnic. But The Sun is relegated to such a secondary role it had more to do with grass or clouds than it did the solar orb. It just missed an opportunity to create more.

"Beautifully acted all the way around, this is an extremely strong cast. Open Circle is a small but clearly dedicated theatre group given the quality of actors they brought together. I mentioned April Davidson’s impressive talents as the Empress, but she was brilliant every time she walked on stage. It is always so rewarding to attend any theatre, no matter the size, and see someone like April that knows how to create fully three dimensional characters and get you to love them immediately. I hope to see a lot more of this talented actor on stage.

"Brandon Ryan is a familiar face to theatre goers around town. His many roles in this production showcased the outstanding skill he brings to acting. Brandon is able to build characters with such quirky idiosyncrasies that you can’t help but be amused watching him. His reporter for the Rolling Stone magazine in one of the pieces was just about as good as theatre gets. Anywhere.

"Set design by Eric Gordon was sparse but totally appropriate for the small stage. He created a framework the actors would use effectively without it getting in the way through the use of a few simple platforms and props. With so many different scenes too often the designer feels a need to clutter it up with set pieces that have to be drug on and off every time. Eric uses just the right restraint and we all benefited from it.

"Arcana plays at the Open Circle Theatre through October 2nd. Performances are Friday and Saturday with a 7:30 curtain, and a Sunday matinee at 4:00. The theatre is located upstairs at 2222 Second Ave in the heart of Belltown. As the cool days of fall return we all start thinking of more indoor activities. I can say without reservation one of those activities should be the witty and totally enjoyable production of Arcana. Get out to see this one before it closes, you’ll enjoy every moment."

And just a short comment from me: it's always interesting when a critic interprets a play in a way that I didn't intend, but clearly delights them. I can't say I ever imagined the meaning of "Stardust" that Doug attributes to my play--but who am I to take away from his interpretation? There's an anecdote about T.S. Eliot being asked at one of his readings what the three white leopards sitting beneath a juniper tree in his poem "Ash Wednesday" meant. "It means that there are three white leopards under a juniper tree," he said. Meaning in literature occurs somewhere between writer and reader, playwright and audience. When it comes to metaphor, no one gets to claim the ultimate authority.

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