Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two SPF Festival Plays in Two Days: The Nightshade Family and Alice in War

Went to see The Nightshade Family by Ruth McKee and Alice in War by Steven Bogart on Tuesday and Wednesday night this week. Both plays are being presented by the Summer Play Festival at Theater Row through this weekend.

Left The Nightshade Family at intermission. It is a very domestic comedy (?) about a troubled brother/sister relationship. A nice supporting acting job by Laura Heisler as Emily was not enough to keep me in my seat. Soap opera-style complications and odd, uncomfortable dentist office dance routines left me cold.

Alice in War, on the other hand was stunning!! The design work on this ‘workshop’ (which rivaled many big-budget productions and was more pleasing than my experience at Second Stage’s Eurydice earlier this month) was magical. Kate Cusack’s costumes and Lucrecia Briceno’s lighting were visual treats and stole the show on several occasions. The play is a (sort-of) fractured dreamscape re-telling of the Alice Through the Looking Glass story where a contemporary Alice is thrown into a desert war.

Lisa Joyce’s performance as Alice firmly places her as possibly the best actress of her generation in my mind (especially coming off her amazing work in Red Light Winter and the Doubt tour). It cannot be easy to convincingly portray a precocious ten-year-old girl, and her portrayal was rich with feeling and gloriously surprising, utterly authentic, and never precious. The play itself is a confection of twists and sweetly shocking developments, most involving children’s theater-style performances and genially-deranged characterizations from an astonishing cast of supporting actors. Major, major kudos to director Alice Reagan, who is so perfect for this gig her name is even Alice! I can’t even imagine pulling together a cast of this caliber, designs of this intensity and vivacity, and I haven’t even mentioned the astonishing original score by Raky Sastri. This was a beautiful arrangement of strange sounds and impulses that grabbed me in the pre-show phase and never let go.

The play has the military shooting down an angel at the start—you see her later, shattered by the missile. That alone puts it firmly in my oeuvre and got me hooked. Also a great moment when Alice discovers a “war machine” and gets a lecture on how it operates from a spot-on Glenn Peters.

Not sure I liked the intermission—I would rather have gone into this full immersion. And I can see a little room for trimming the second half. But, all in all, it was a great night at the theater. Recommend this one highly. Even if you aren’t as blown away as I was, I still think the decadent visuals and engaging design work will carry you along. Go, go, go!!! And it’s definitely going to sell out, so order tix in advance.

Bring a jacket, the theater is an icebox.

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