ANTIGONE, or We Are the Rebels Asking for the Storm
Reviewed by Gray Palmer
Fugitive Kind Productions
Through June 2
At Bootleg Theater, Fugitive Kind Productions presents the premiere of a new version of Antigone by Matt Minnicino, directed by Amanda McRaven. In a program note, adapter Minnicino explains that his subtitle comes from a letter by Pussy Riot musician Nadya Tolokno to Slovaj Zizek (no comment about Tolokno’s taste in smart guys).
Is this a Pussy Riot Sophocles? And if so, a Creon-critic might ask the company, “Have you committed hooliganism motivated by poetical hatred?”
Yes, Fugitive Kind’s in-your-face interpretation is inspired by the celebrity Tolokno. But then, — who could be more in-your-face than Antigone?
So, why not?
The play starts where Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes leaves off. Civil war has ended. Contending brothers, the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, have killed each other. Their uncle Creon (Jason Vande Brake), now king of Thebes, grants state honors to Eteocles while the body of Polyneices, declared an enemy of the state, must rot in the field. In this way, Creon kills the dead again. And any attempt to bury Polyneices would be a capital crime.
Their sister Antigone (Sage Howard) will have none of it. She performs a hasty burial and escapes unseen. The corpse is uncovered. Guard is redoubled. She comes back, and she is captured.
Director McRaven’s stage pictures are immediately stirring: the dead on a battle-field at the city’s seventh gate, the king delivering policy as a state ritual, the chorus sometimes as a spin-academy trying to stay ahead of an angry public, sometimes as that public (the ensemble does the choral speaking well), the visits to Antigone’s prison-cell.
Would this be tragedy under the sign of Dionysus without the weird? The gods have vanished from Thebes after the defilement of Polyneices. Fire refuses to light, prayers are meaningless, birds become strange. Creon calls for consultation from the seer Tiresius (the excellent Jeff Marras, also the production’s choreographer), who tells him, “Ak ak ak ak ak… Many bird beaks carry crumbs of that dead boy all over…” The warnings are ignored.
The four principals — Howard in the title part, Vande Brake as Creon, Jim Senti as Creon’s son Haimon, affianced to Antigone, and Mercedes Manning as her sister Ismene — are all strong.
Minnicino has added scenes to expand the role of Creon’s queen, Eurydice (a very good Emily L. Gibson), accompanied by an intern (in a touching performance by Alana Marie Cheuvront).
The new scenes and slight rearrangements don’t diminish Sophocles’ text at all. Gender-crossing in the casting of the Soldier (the appealing Petey Gibson) is welcome, and so is the use of Spanish by the chorus.
Minnicino’s varied diction — working from a translation by Kenneth Cavender — does go loose and slam-jangly, frequently blunt and obscene from Antigone, but this is not an indictable theatrical offense. The work is decidedly an adaptation.
The production design is good: Set by Jeanine Ringer, lights by Karyn D. Lawrence, costumes by Allison K. Dillard, sound by Corrine Carillo. The skilled composer is Andrew Heringer.
SHINE DARKLY, ILLYRIA
Fugitive Kind Theater Soars with its World Premiere Fantasy SHINE DARKLY, ILLYRIA
by Shari Barrett
Using Shakespeare's Twelfth Night as a jumping-off point, SHINE DARKLY, ILLYRIA by Ovation Award winning writer Meghan Brown, the resident playwright of Fugitive Kind Theater, is more of a continuation than a sequel. And don't worry if the classic play is unknown to you because Ovation Award winning director Amanda McRaven makes sure the audience is filled in about Will's original tale by having the Illyrians act out the story for us, showing us how twins Viola and Sebastian washed up on the island of Illyria, how Viola dressed as Sebastian believing he was dead and was sent to pursue Olivia for Orsino, only to fall for the woman herself. But of course Sebastian shows up, woos and marries Olivia while Viola reveals her femininity and is immediately wed to Orsino. But in the years that follow, all is not well in the increasingly dark Illyria, ruled over by the vindictive Moon.
Fugitive Kind Theater is the presenting company, which for eleven years has engaged in creating boundary-breaking shows. This production takes the group to new heights, setting the story in what appears to be a fantasy circus world on the island of Illyria where anything goes and people are allowed to be whoever and whatever they want to be. It's a small society, but one most of us could certainly enjoy living in given the lack of stress and having any real work to do. But of course, such an idyllic world cannot last, and it is the dark side of Illyria we visit in SHINE DARKLY, ILLYRIA.
The talented ensemble cast includes (in alphabetical order) Julia Aks, Robyn Buck, Jennice Butler, Alana Marie Cheuvront, Jessica DiBattista, Emily L. Gibson, Sage Howard Simpson, Mercedes Manning, Jeff Marras, Tyler Menjivar, Jim Senti, Jason Vande Brake and Benny Wills, and I commend each of them for working so brilliantly together to transport us to the other-worldly Illyria, ruled over by The Moon.
Through incredibly skillful and physical story-enhancing ensemble choreography by Jessica DiBattista, evocative lighting by Karyn Lawrence and Ray Salas' wondrous sound design, Illyria is depicted as an island paradise where inhabitants do reverence to the Moon and revel at nightly Moon parties. Love, sex and dancing abound, but no children are ever conceived. Gender boundaries in sex can be rather fluid, just as some of Shakespeare's original characters engaged in cross-dressing.
Viola (gender-bending Sage Howard Simpson) and her husband, the bombastic Orsino (Jason Vande Brake) just wants to parties to continue, and the two do not share a great love between them since Viola feels more herself when passing as a man. Graphic midnight phone sex calls on tin cans between Viola and Olivia reveal their deep attraction for each other, and you will root for them to succeed since they truly appear to make each other happy. When their husbands finally learn the truth, the outcome will definitely surprise you!
The Moon, portrayed by sprite pole-dancer Alana Marie Cheuvront, has a favorite in the Countess Olivia (Mercedes Manning, who literally spews venom when her needs are not met), a devotion maintained by Olivia's addictive consumption of the euphoria-inducing moon dust provided by the Moon for her through her ever-suffering hand-maiden Mariah (Robyn Buck). With her partner Sir Tobey Belch (Benny Wills), Mariah proceeds to plot against Olivia after the two lovers engage in the sexiest duet I have seen in a long time, all the while complaining about how gross being a human being is. Get ready to hear several words not usually uttered onstage, which I guarantee will make you laugh!
And what of the dark side of the tale? Severe storms are being created by The Moon in an attempt to warn Olivia of an upcoming ecological disaster brought on by humanity's environmental neglect which may cause the island to disappear. But of course, Olivia does not listen as she only has her need for moon dust on her mind, a situation that leads to machinations by the angry Moon. And when Sir Tobey goes on the attack, it causes lovers to be in conflict, broken hearts for many, and the absolute destruction of their island paradise. The tale unravels to reveal whether the Illyrians can evolve with love and magic on their side, or will they wait too long to react to their dire situation and die as the ocean rises?
Adding to the circus atmosphere is Feste (Jeff Marras, who channels the much-loved Frankfurter from Rocky Horror at times), the cross-dressing party host who talks to the Moon over a tin can on rope phone. His exuberance in the role if a joy to behold. In fact, all the actors in the entire ensemble work at a fever pitch, flitting around the stage and creating he most amazing dances, especially when they mimic the building eaves striking Illyria. The wonders never seem to end, especially when work together to construct their getaway vehicle. You will be swept away in the fantasy and never want it to end.
Shine Darkly, Illyria - Theatre Review
by Erin Fair
Shine Darkly, Illyria is the newest play from the Fugitive Kind. This quaint little theater with a seating of about thirty is decorated with a furious whimsy. Teal tapestries drape the walls and tin cans dangle from the ceiling setting the stage for the actors to move about the stage seamlessly. The play opens with two actors singing out front and the rest of the cast form a most interesting human carousel. That is when we learn that they celebrate the moon every night with the kind of fervor that would make a Burning Man party-goer enervated.
Shine Darkly, Illyria seems like a bedtime story with the master of ceremony relaying the story of Sebastian, Viola, Olivia, and Duke but it is actually a continuation of the unfinished love quadrangle. At the end of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night the happy couples break off into their respective pairs with Viola and Orsino together and Olivia and Sebastian together. In this play the now crestfallen women struggle against their inner carnal desire for each other and remain miserable in their external relationships. Secrets, dependency, and obligations, permeate this production as it unfolds over the course of a hectic rainstorm.
This play is an innovative sort-of sequel to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. If you take Moulin Rouge and set it to the backdrop of Shakespeare, you would get Meghan Brown's Shine Darkly, Illyria. This play succeeds on every level. It is impossible to pick out a standout performance, set, costume, or direction. Everyone on the stage and behind the scenes triumphed. However, there was a chaste yet romantic scene done against the backdrop of a jazz lounge atmosphere that was so well done that it must be pointed out. The cast was outstanding and the actress who played the moon displayed an incredible show of strength and ability. Shine Darkly, Illyria has my highest recommendation and this reviewer plans on seeing it again next weekend.
Changes Have Come to Illyria: Fugitive Kind Gears Up for Another Classic Adaptation
by EVAN HENERSON
“Find what you still don’t know.”
The words, spoken by Amanda McRaven, are more suggestion than directive — the precursor to a set of warm-up exercises designed to transport the members of Fugitive Kind Theater fully into the realm of the physical. On a drizzly Friday afternoon at LA STAGE Alliance’s rehearsal space in Atwater Village, the company is gearing up the first rough run-through of its newest play, Shine Darkly, Illyria. But before they head off into the realm of re-considered Shakespeare, there’s a different kind of work to be done.
During the warm-up, these actors are literally inseparable, stretching and clinching, twisting around each other, hoisting and counter-balancing each other’s weight. They vault into each other’s arms and drum on each other’s bodies. Even were Shine Darkly, Illyria not a highly physical show, this kind of exercise would not necessarily be out of place. When you play with Fugitive Kind, you play hard and get close.
“You could call it a mindfulness practice. It gets you out of your head,” says Mercedes Manning, a founding company member. “We don’t like to just jump into anything with each other cold. So we’re physically sharing weight, incorporating gestures, tempo and speed, all things that get you physically moving. [We’re] kinesthetically responding to something somebody does or to the sounds they make. It takes you out of your head into the actual physical.”
The company was developed by a group of friends and artists who were classmates in graduate school at UC Irvine in the mid-2000s. After graduation, McRaven studied in New Zealand under a Fulbright Scholarship while her classmates began their acting and theater careers in Los Angeles. In 2010, when she returned to Los Angeles, McRaven found many of her friends anxious for opportunities to work together again.
“They were missing something, a sense of community and being able to make something together,” McRaven says. “Everybody felt very isolated in L.A. and they wanted to find a way to get back to communal event, a spiritual event — not in terms of religion, but in terms of a cathartic human experience.”
The company (which drew its name from a line in Tennessee Williams’s Orpheus Descending in which Carol Cuterre remarks that “the fugitive kind will always follow their kind”) was formed in 2011. During its brief history, the company has typically staged one production per year, including Midsummer & Macbeth, a pair of Shakespeare plays cut to fit into a single evening; a radio play which became a stage play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (The Fire Room); and a workshop of Charles Mee’s Heaven on Earth. Shine Darkly, Illyria — written by playwright-in-residence Meghan Brown — is the company’s first production since its 2014 staging of Brown’s The Pliant Girls, which earned both Brown and director McRaven Ovation Awards.
Illyria originated after McRaven, Brown, and the ensemble spent the summer of 2015 delving into Twelfth Night, exploding it, and deciding to create a sequel of sorts. The process has been “a little more workshoppy” than previous productions, but the format seems to be suiting the company quite nicely.
“We believe the work should always be gratifying and not stressful,” says McRaven. “We design our year to spend lot of time going deep on one script. We believe in sustainability. We want to go deep with a piece and really get to know it.”
With the warm-up at an end, the Kindfolks move into their run-through. More clustering. More intimacy. The prologue includes a party with crescendo-ing cries of “MOON-dance! MOON-dance! MOON-dance!” Many of Shakespeare’s principal characters reappear. New to the Illyrian landscape is the character of the Moon, embodied by a young woman who revolves around a pole, makes oracle-like prophecies, and dispenses the highly addictive moon dust.
Changes have come to Illyria where Orsino, Olivia, Viola and the gang play out their antics of mistaken identity, trickery, and love. Shakespeare’s three sets of couples have paired off, but all is far from bliss. Neither Viola nor Olivia can shake the bond they created when Viola — dressed as the boy Cesario — was wooing her. Viola’s twin brother Sebastian, who married Olivia, is now seeing his wife get more and more distant the more strung out on moon dust she becomes. Sir Toby Belch and Maria have trust issues of their own.
Oh, and one other matter… thanks to years of neglect and revelry, the Illyrians must now face the fact that their perceived island paradise is not just decaying, but actually sinking. And this impending catastrophe, prophesied by the Moon, is their fault. This may be perhaps a less sunny take on these characters than the Bard of Avon imagined, but the tale developed organically in a distinctly Fugitive Kind-ly way.
According to Brown, the investigative workshop of Twelfth Night was leading her toward a creative brick wall. The playwright felt she had nothing original to offer to yet another adaptation of the play.
“So I kind of worked a little backwards, where it was like, ‘Okay, what are some things about this play that I do find really relevant to right now?’” Brown recalls. “I really got into the idea [that] it’s raining on this sort of dark island where everyone’s solution is just to party more, and this idea too of the end of Twelfth Night where everyone is married to each other. What’s happening five months or five years after that, where it’s these people who are kind of thrown together conveniently? What is that?”
Sage Howard Simpson, who plays Viola, was pleased that Shine Darkly developed with environmental issues. Following The Pliant Girls, which explored issues of gender dynamics, Simpson contends that it is important that dramas continue to ask socially relevant questions.
“It didn’t set out to be this way, but the play really speaks to how we’re treating our planet as a society,” Simpson said. “Olivia realizes that there are all these problems and that this island is really sinking and we are responsible for it. She says, ‘Well then why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?’ I think that is a question we need to ask ourselves… our responsibility for the way we are treating our home.”
Brown tailored the play to the creative talents of the FK company members, making Shine Darkly, Illyria every bit a company project. The presence of performer Alana Marie Cheuvront, a skilled pole dancer, led to the creation of the Moon. One day when Cheuvront was absent from rehearsal, another person stood in for the Moon. That development worked its way into the plot as well.
Following the run of Shine Darkly, Illyria company members expect to scatter for the summer and reconnect in the fall, possibly to restage the production. Fundraising, touring, festival visits are also on the agenda, and a new play will likely be ready to hit the boards in the spring of 2017.
“We are always working on infrastructure, and we’ll be looking for a physical home at some point,” McRaven says. “Right now, we’re interested in touring, getting what we do out into the world.”
SHINE DARKLY, ILLYRIA by Fugitive Kind Theater, May 6–29 at McCadden Place Theatre.
THE PLIANT GIRLS
May-June 2014 and January 2015
WINNER OF 2 OVATION AWARDS:
Playwriting for an Original Play • Meghan Brown
Director of a Play • Amanda McRaven
NOMINATED FOR 8 OVATION AWARDS
Best Production of a Play - Intimate Theatre
Acting Ensemble for a Play
Playwriting for an Original Play • Meghan Brown
Director of a Play • Amanda McRaven
Featured Actress in a Play • Rachel Grate
Featured Actress in a Play • Sage Howard
Featured Actor in a Play • Tyler Seiple
Costume Design, Intimate Theatre • Rachel Stivers
The Fire Room
Hollywood Fringe 2013
Huffington Post Arts & Culture Review
by James Scarborough
For lonely hearts who fear the prospect of dying alone, there's the thought-provoking and enchanting The Fire Room, written by Meghan Brown and directed by Amanda McRaven at the Actor's Company Theatre in West Hollywood as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
It's a well-conceived, directed, and acted story. First, there is a place in the afterlife for people who died alone. Second, apparently you can hook up with someone who died centuries before. Third, there's red tape for getting out of the waiting room of Purgatory and, in the arms of a significant other, march triumphantly through the Pearly Gates. And fourth, though we shouldn't be surprised in this era of Big Data and 24/7 Internet connectivity, the connection process is based on algorithms.
It's a clever tale, set in various Afterlife locales. There's a contemporary Van Nuys apartment, a Roaring Twenties Speakeasy, and some sort of office space where the admin takes place. Dressed in white, dancing with lissome grace across the stage, is an Administrator (Rachel Grate). In the company of her Assistants (Maricella Ibarra, Marissa Moses, Sena Ramirez), she angelically reads what at first appear to be an epic poem featuring Dido, Queen of Carthage, and pages from Harlequin romances. As we later learn, the words come from, for lack of a better word, applications that show the depth of romantic feeling to which aspirants to Afterlife-coupling can aspire.
In this unexpected setting, two ghosts, Meredith (Mercedes Manning) and J.W. (Jason Vande Brake) find true love. She died in a recent car crash; he died in the 19th century. Just a little paperwork (you didn't think you'd escape that once you died, did you?), and they can leave their bureaucratic Purgatory and carry on happily ever and forever after.
Small problem, though. Meredith had an ex, Charlie (Jim Senti). Charlie is one of those exes who believes that the couple's rancor and discord were a sign of a functional relationship based on a profound love. Another problem (more of a administrative detail, actually), Meredith, God knows why, pledged herself to Charlie when she died, giving him what amounts to rights of first refusal. Chastened, J.W. seeks consolation in the company of the lonely Eunice (Sage Simpson). The story resolves itself with the usual plot twists that would attend such a story in a mortal sphere.
It's a poetic and sensuous production (watch the electricity between Meredith and J.W.). It's sad (yes, there are bumps along the road to eternal love). And it's not a little funny (an algorithmic error almost lands one person in damnable perpetuity with the wrong person). In the space of an hour, the actors experience love, despair, anger, and loneliness. Like a good science fiction story, it seems so likely that, who knows, this just might be what is meant by getting a second chance at love.
by Lyle Zimskind
In Meghan Brown's poignant one-act play, a love quadrangle plays itself out in a region of the world to come that we are told looks disappointingly like Van Nuys. Meredith (Mercedes Manning) and J.W. (Jason Vande Brake) are ghosts of people who'd spent their time on earth more than a century apart, but meet and fall in love in the afterlife and prepare to spend eternity together. The uniting of their souls is threatened, though, by the arrival of Meredith's earthly boyfriend Charlie (Jim Senti), who worms his way back into her affections even though he's never really been good for her on either the temporal or the ethereal plane of being. J.W. meanwhile is pursued by the spirit of good-time girl Eunice (Sage Howard). Fortunately there's an angelic administrator (Rachel Grate) on hand to set things right.
Under Amanda McRaven's expansive direction, aided substantially by Jeanine Nicholas's clever stage design, The Fire Room transports us to a fully realized place where people struggle to cast off the emotional detritus of their human lives and move forward into eternity. The whole thing could have come across as kind of silly, but the actors do a good job psychologically grounding their portrayals of souls who are still striving and aspiring to love, even after death. This result is a production of great integrity and atmospheric strength.
Hollywood Fringe Audience Reviews
ROBERT SPUHLER says "loved it" · June 11, 2013
Watching "The Fire Room," I kept coming back to one of my favorite quotes: "Everything I've ever let go of has claw marks on it." This one-hour production from Fugitive Kind grabs you with a passion not often seen in the hip, ironic stance taken by so many in entertainment. Meghan Brown's script puts its heart on its sleeve, fastens it with nails, then comes at the audience full force, without worry of bruising or cuts. It's fast, funny, smart and, in its own twisted way, incredibly sweet. It's not afraid to care in a time where caring can often be seen as weakness. The cast is as fully committed to director Amanda McRaven's directorial vision as possible, and McRaven staging is far from the nearly sitcom-style direction often seen on stages this size. When the hour has passed and “The Fire Room” lets you out of its grasp, check your chest for claw marks.
ALEX SCOTT says "loved it" · June 10, 2013
The minute you walk into the "Other Space" at The Actor's Company you are transported into The Fire Room, a poetic and beautifully crafted (sorta fucked up) love story from the brilliant minds of playwright Meghan Brown and director Amanda McRaven. The cast almost effortlessly delivers page after page after page of Browns delicious text and we as an audience slowly begin to realize what were in for. And it's AWESOME. Sure, there are a few gripes I had about the show. At times the live accompaniment and sound design seems a bit over bearing and the actor's voices occasionally get lost in an echo created by the concrete floors of this makeshift blackbox. Also, Fugitive Kind, or any Theatre Company in SoCal for that matter - IT'S JUNE. TURN ON YOUR AIR CONDITIONING. PLEASE. IT’S HOT. DON’T MAKE US SUFFER.
All of that said, the occasional loud sound, and the echo, and the heat are small prices to pay for an otherwise beautifully crafted, amazingly executed live performance. Props and shout outs to all of the actors, but in particularly Jim Senti and Mercedes Manning. You were captivating!
The Fire Room by Meghan Brown is an hour long drama and a fully realized production. It’d be almost criminal not to go and support their amazing piece of work.
DONNA JO THORNDALE says "loved it" · June 10, 2013
AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A gorgeous piece of theatre that is beautifully executed by engaged, emotionally invested actors with a script that is both lyric and lean, dark and funny, tight and just the right touch of esoteric. Amanda McRaven directs her company, Fugitive Kind, will full commitment to the truth. This is the first piece I have seen by this LA-based ensemble and I am a devotee now, for sure. GO....SEE....THIS.......PLAY!!!!!!!!!!!
MICHELLE HALTERMAN says "loved it" · June 11, 2013
I absolutely LOVED The Fire Room! From the moment I walked in, the action was already going on. The writing and directing is incredible, but the acting is some of the best I've seen, and that goes for New York theatre as well. The story and concept is unlike any I've seen before, yet it is something you could imagine being very real. I don't want to give anything else away, because you just have to see this amazing production yourself! Props to everyone at Fugitive Kind Theater!
MATTHEW FAULS says "loved it" · June 12, 2013
The Fire Room is an inventive, highly modernized, cutting edge, in your face, sharp piece of artistry. It's such a great and fresh idea. The show itself reminded me of the story "Dante's Inferno" but more contemporary. I applaud the actors, design team and director. MASTERFULLY DONE! Amazing and stupendous work done by all. It was a very selfless cast of actors whom constantly stayed in the moment, played actions, and tried to keep the momentum going. One piece of criticism that I had was the use of the other three women, although effective and creepy, they didn't add too much to the play, nor did they take away. I think this goes into making a stronger bolder and cutting edge choice with them. They were interesting entities but also didn’t seem to have a strong reason to be onstage the whole show.
Congratulations on your success! Amazing work!!!
FATIMA PULCHERA GRATE says "loved it" · June 15, 2013
A star cluster in The Fire Room, no wonder it was so ... hot. Top-notch talent like, Rachel Grate, Sage Howard, Mercedes Manning, Jim Senti, Jason Vande Brake, Marissa Moses, Amanda McRaven and Meghan Brown should be placed on a throne. Fugitive Kind FK "Finest Kind", I am your FFL (Fan For Life)! Love and peace!
TYLER SEIPLE says "loved it" · June 29, 2013
FULL DISCLOSURE: I know, love, and have worked with many of the artists in this show. I also know, love, and have worked with many of their unearthly talents and sensibly human habits over the years. It would be as easy to shower praise on these beautiful souls as it would be to harp on their foibles. That being said: BY ALL THAT IS HOLY, SEE THIS SHOW. Fringe is nearly over, this show closes tonight, I take full responsibility for not leaving my apartment sooner, but this show must and should and will be seen, and the Fringe cast is, by far, the best embodiment this text could hope to find. Meghan Brown's script is rich and luscious, moving and incisive, witty and unutterably sad. The setting is ingenious, the exposition minimal and deeply felt, and the story unfolds so simply, so beautifully, that Ms. Brown achieves in an hour what lesser writers fail to do in 13-episode seasons. I hung on every word, I thrilled with the actors in their discovery of a potent and comfortable poetry, and I got chills as the text twisted and turned in ways both surprising and completely human. Ms. Brown has a mighty voice, one that hints at an ability to communicate the human experience, onstage, with a mastery that seems increasingly rare (especially in Los Angeles). This play, brief though it be, will be performed long after Fringe 2013 dims its last light.
The words blossomed and twined and exploded in the hearts and bodies of an unbelievably capable cast. Mercedes Manning is captivating as Meredith, exploring with simplicity and depth the implications of eternal love. Jim Senti is a powerhouse as Charlie, a virtuoso of pathos and comedy that moved the audience to laughter and tears in equal measure, cutting deep with honesty and vulnerability. Jason Vande Brake’s J.W. was profound and powerful, daring and courageous in his ability to share a love that transcends the afterlife. Sage Simpson’s Eunice was beautiful, earnest, equal parts determination and desperation. Rachel Grate’s Administrator not only wonderfully fulfilled the structural needs of surreal transitions but also illuminating the stage with an effervescent optimism hitting up against the tragedy of innocence. Marissa Moses’ choreography as she, Maricella Ibarra, and Sena Ramirez moved about this version of Limbo created a living atmosphere, unobtrusive but permeating and watchful. I thrilled to see so many honest, true, and totally connected performers on stage, and the result was an uninterrupted journey through an unforgettable story.
Amanda McRaven’s direction brought this production to apotheosis, and it’s impossible to imagine a better incarnation of this text under any other hand. The space (designed to perfection by Jeanine Ringer) was filled dynamically and intimately by the actors, and Ms. McRaven demonstrated her supreme understanding of spatial relationships and physical sculpting through the fluid and sensual space the performers created. Performances were direct, powerful, epic, and deeply felt without allowing for histrionics or showmanship. Ms. McRaven told a transcendent story with precision and specificity and a rich humanity, with room for levity as well as passion. Her inclusion of Aaron Beaumont’s luscious sound score (both live and recorded) enhanced Karyn Lawrence’s lighting design and Rachel Stivers’ costumes, nudging the audience with nuance and subtlety, creating an infinite sweep of locations in the small Actor’s Company space and no need for anything but the simplest production value.
THE FIRE ROOM is a theatrical experience as it should be, captivating, reflective, moving, and intimate in a way that only live performance can be. This play sets a standard for Fringe fare, one that is difficult to match but well worth the effort. Congratulations and thank you to Fugitive Kind for bringing this beautiful experience to life with love, care, and total commitment.
CINDY MARIE JENKINS says "liked it" · June 14, 2013
Fringe is the time when I find new artists to follow the rest of the year. Otherwise I just stay in the same cycle of trusting who I know and rarely taking chances. Right after I had the pleasure to interview this group group on Bitter Lemons*, I reserved my seat. They have a great energy, they know how to describe the work that interests them without bashing all others, and they're game to try anything. That's the impression I got from The Fire Room as well. I don't think they intended for the weather to match their locale, but otherwise the space felt great for the piece (echo and all). Here is why I will follow them (and it's a similar reason to Will Play For Food, Naomi Bennett and Four Clowns). Fugitive Kind. Live. Theater is on their programs, and everything they do and say creates an experience that takes advantage of being live. That room transported us and also somehow acknowledged they were telling their story FOR us, without that being a conceit.
The first few minutes make you guess at where we are, what’s happening, why are two people dressed from different time periods caressing? Then a reunion goes wrong, and for a few minutes so does the play. I don’t have any idea why the character of Meredith makes a specific choice in that scene, and they almost lost me. The story quickly returns to its path, though, and worth the wait.
Something about the three Administrative Assistants and live music place a fine point on the world of the play, one I greatly appreciated. This may have been part of their connection with the audience. We don’t often see detailed ‘background’ work on stage, and sometimes we can use a little help to understand the world you create (don’t get me started on how stupid it was to cut the Chorus from the film version of “Sweeney Todd”).
I honestly didn’t even know there was live music until the end (I sat on the opposite side of the crowded theater as the musician). I wasn’t sure I liked the Administrative Assistants until a few days later. They were not distracting, they were not telling, they were simply existing, doing their work and somehow inviting us into a strange place.
Most people throw up a projection screen to show place. Fugitive Kind takes the time to actually create a world and consider it from a few points of view, enhancing it with elements only found live.
So days later I find myself not thinking about the story itself, which was fine, but my gratitude for their devotion to create an experience.
ANONYMOUS says "loved it" · June 28, 2013
A supremely lyrical work that is in turns heart-wrenching, laugh-inducing, and thought-provoking, The Fire Room will captivate you from the moment you enter the room. Meghan Brown has crafted a wonderfully unique story that contemplates the personal heavens and hells of romantic relationships and envisions how those here-and-now encounters continue to resonate into the afterlife. Amanda McRaven's superb direction and a fantastic cast bring the poetry on Brown's pages to life with a show that rages (sometimes literally) with kinetic, soulful energy. Altogether, a powerful and beautiful thing to witness; save the $14 you'd otherwise spend seeing the summer's (sadly) lackluster blockbuster flicks, and see this live theater experience in Los Angeles that you won’t soon forget.
BRIAN PRISCO says "loved it" · June 21, 2013
In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mola Ram reaches slowly into a sacrifice's chest and pulls out his still beating heart. In the remarkable production of The Fire Room, writer Meghan Brown manages to do the same to the audience. Only she hold the heart up to the light, lets it feel the sunshine, and then kisses it warmly and pushes it back into your chest stronger and better. It's poetic yet punk rock, lyric yet laugh-out-loud, and fearless, dynamic, and touching. Only a hour long, the fugitive kind builds an entire magical purgatory with its own set of rules and then spins a wistfully simply and yet richly complex narrative. I hesitate to call it a love story, because that so dismissive and simplistic, but it is that. A romance , told with spirit and sass, and outstandingly performed by the vibrant cast. I was still reeling at the end. Such a phenomenal production and an absolute must-see.
TOMMY KIM says "loved it" · July 01, 2013
The play opens with a monologue by “The Administrator,” a sprightly office manager of purgatory (Rachel Grate), recounting Dido’s mythic story. The love-tortured Queen of Carthage, whose unrequited love from Aeneas drives her to self-immolation, installs the thematic concerns of the play, as The Administrator’s assistants (Maricella Ibarra, Marissa Moses and Sena Ramirez) cull through stacks of messages from the dead.
The play exists in transitional space, in a sort of bureaucratic love-purgatory, where the paradoxes and ironies of love materialize into beautiful and sad and funny scenes between characters whose cosmic longings converge into the humanly particular. There are the manic appetites of Charlie (Jim Senti), who obsessively wants Meredith (Mercedes Manning), a girlfriend from his youth who has her own longings for both the masochistic chaos of Charlie, and the gentle earnestness of J.W. (Jason Vande Brake), a boiler-room worker whose blue-collar lyricism in the end wins over Meredith. But she is torn. What this play does so well is exist in this stasis, a timeless space mixing eras and generations, where our desires damage ourselves and others in the name of love, wanting not just moribund-predictability or restless-excitement from a lover, but all of it. Characters such as Eunice (Sage Simpson), a Jazz Age dancer who moves and speaks authentically to ragtime, wants J.W. badly, but as she is spurned because of J.W.’s love for Meredith, she wants freedom from love’s tyranny, in the end simply sloughing this whole madness of love, but not without coaxing an authentic response to love from J.W., the contradicting rage that is so coalesced with tenderness. The love triangle rotates with precision between all of these characters resulting in shuddering laughter and tight-lipped tears.
The entire gang did a fantastic job, from the ethereal choreography (Marissa Moses), to the producing (Sena Ramirez), to the music (Aaron Beaumont), to the directing (Amanda McRaven), to the set, costume and lighting design (Jeanine Ringer, Rachel Stivers, Karyn Lawrence). And of course Meghan Brown’s writing is sharp, funny, and felt.
There was one moment when Charlie tries to explain his actions that had unwittingly hurt Meredith as “Just what humans do.” ‘Tis where I lost my shit. The play enacts this type of human folly with humor, with exactitude, with love. The artists of THE FIRE ROOM take our small acts of love and transmute them into something eternal, worthy of the timeless setting and themes housing these characters. I left feeling as if I experienced the full scale of being human—like the characters, I felt elated and melancholy, excited and terrified of love’s possibility.
NAOMI BENNETT says "loved it" · June 29, 2013
Lovely and haunting, movement beautifully integrated with the textual storytelling. I can't wait to see more from this company! And one of the most intriguing set designs I've seen at the Fringe!
MICHAEL FRANCO says "loved it" · June 29, 2013
Loved the show. Well staged and well acted. Stand out performances by Rachel Grate and Jim Senti. A perfect fringe show for a steamy afternoon. :)
BOB LEGGETT says "loved it" · June 30, 2013
This was an amazing work of art, from the set design to the pre-show staging, all the way to the stunning climax. I loved everything about it (except the lack of air conditioning in the building), especially the brilliant direction of Amanda McRaven. This is a must see!
TIMOTHY J. MEYER says "loved it" · June 23, 2013
A superlative slice of Fringe. I was only fortunate enough to catch one show this year and I doubt I could've chosen better. With inventive production design, excellent performances across the board and solid, understated direction, it's the writing that absolutely shines here. With imagination, humor and poignancy, Brown portrays an wholly original depiction of the afterlife I wanted to explore for more than sixty solitary minutes. Highly recommended.
ANONYMOUS says "loved it" · June 20, 2013
If there was a medal for theatrical bravado how I wish I could pin this medal on the cast and crew for giving so selflessly of their talent and love in bringing to the stage Meghan Brown's creation, The Fire Room. It is a beautifully composed hallmark of Brown's plays. Director Amanda McRaven, the cast, and design team skillfully preserves its linear construct with all it's prismed complexities, while surprising the audience with spontaneous humor and seductive choreography. It's magical. So it was on a lazy late June afternoon in a little theater up a little alley somewhere in the city of angels. My wife and I were party to something very special. Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! To you fearless actors! One more encore!
ANONYMOUS says "loved it" · June 23, 2013
I feel inadequate when attempting to describe the magic that is "The Fire Room". It is a roller coaster ride of sensuality, dialogue and humor that left me in tears.
JOE KAUSCH says "loved it" · June 17, 2013
A well-executed, surreal tale that will have you laughing one minute, holding back tears the next, and possibly laughing and crying at the same time (if you're capable). Meghan Brown's The Fire Room presents a version of the afterlife that is both tragic and allows for endless possibilities--but only if those possibilities are allowed to grow. As it seems, in death (as in life) no one is done climbing the ladder of understanding, and if you're not willing to be patient and keep climbing, you'll stay stuck at the bottom--possibly in bureaucratic hell.
Amanda McRaven's direction also presents the story in an interesting and complimentary light. The cold, dark, and lonely confines of death blanket the audience from the moment you take your seat, and the atmosphere envelopes your senses, casting you into the depths along with the characters, but allowing for gasps of laughter, joy, and closure.
Just a pleasure to from beginning to end.
ANDIE BOTTRELL says "loved it" · June 23, 2013
This is one of those moments when your heart aches at the beauty and eloquence that is live theatre- and how real life will never measure up to the poetry, the lyricism, the magical movement and eloquent honesty that is explored and released in this innovative story. Then, there is the embarrassment of emotional riches, highs and lows, that you are forced to experience whilst crowded and rubbing up against your fellow audience members as they live through their own personal, yet communal, experiences. I arrived at the show exhausted and not entirely sure I would be physically able to make it through- and then it began, and by the end I felt that not only had my mind and body woken up, but my spirit was also awoken and re-energized.
KYLE WILSON says "loved it" · June 25, 2013
I'm a little biased since Meghan is a member of Fell Swoop Playwrights, but The Fire Room is lovely. It's full of elegant staging and language and strong storytelling. It's both easily accessible and wildly imaginative. This production is a distinctive addition to The Fringe and one of the more theatrically adventurous shows I've seen in the festival.
DAN AMERMAN says "loved it" · June 26, 2013
So creative, poignant, and funny...
EZZIE HUSEIN says "loved it" · July 01, 2013
I went to see The Fire Room with my boyfriend, and he is not someone who gets excited about live theater. After seeing this play, though, he went out of his way to recommend it to his buddies. I was moved to tears several times, but I also laughed a great deal. I'm looking forward to seeing many more of Meghan Brown's amazing works.