Review of Luna Stage's 2015-16 season
By Patricia Rogers
Luna Stage continues to offer provocative and thought provoking productions, and I have been lucky enough to see most of them this current season. Here are some of my thoughts on Tall Girls, A White American Hero and Thrill Me: A Musical About Murder...
The East Coast Premiere of Tall Girls
I saw this in the beginning of October. What I remember the most is thinking about females in our society and how the generations before me lacked the ability to live freely. Always having to make a choice between their authentic selves and societal norms. These themes were cleverly veiled behind a group of young women passionate about playing basketball.
Tall Girls, directed by Jane Mandel and written by Meg Miroshnik brings us to the Dust Bowl in the 1930's, where money, men and apparently basketball were hard to come by.
The play featured a familiar face, Emily Verla who starred in last season's Tar Beach. She plays Jean, a seemingly straight laced, and determined young woman coming into town. She was leaving her hometown and a lifestyle she vowed to escape from, the common housewife. She refused to settle for it as she moves with her cousin Almeda.
In the midwest, due to people migrating after the Dust Bowl there was no basketball presence in their world. The only actual basketball in town was an old flat one that Almeda, bless her heart, still practiced with. Also because of the religious presence, athleticism in women was frowned upon.
Almeda was the aggressive one, with the most passion towards basketball. She wore overalls, braided hair and saved money so that she could always chase her dream of playing basketball. She made the choice.
Haunt Johnny was interesting to me because as the only male of the play, I waited for the moment he would turn into the bad guy. Will he try to sleep with Jean or Lurlene? What was he hiding and did he really want to help these girls play basketball? He ended up being the good guy and did try his best to get them to the championship.
Cheryl Katz writes,
"I was also impressed by how Meg actually wove the physical game of basketball into the theatrical narrative of the play."
Then there is Inez, who has to struggle between providing for her family and being a part of the team. Puppy, quiet and uptight but from a family of means. Lurlene, more mature than the other girls who talked a good game about her scandalous adventures.
Meg's fast paced language, and watching the girls actually play basketball always kept the stakes high. The girls learned basketball skills for the production and it was thrilling to watch. As always the set was designed masterfully to feel like you were in the middle of nowhere or "Poor Praire", and in the stands of a basketball court.
As my mind with crazy with literature and films I have studied in some of my classes in college I did enjoy watching the characters develop. The acting was well done and I believed in every young woman to get what they wanted. But course in that time period it was one of the hardest things for women to get everything they desired.
And with the context room, we are able to see the state of feminist movement, basketball, athleticism, and america during the Dust Bowl in the 1930's.
White American Hero by Erica Bradshaw
I make a point of seeing the shows at Luna, Cheryl personally invites me too. White American Hero was a lab for Erica Bradshaw. A one woman show about her life that really hit home with me.
Erica talks about what she identified with growing up as a hero. And in this, it presented to me, the complexities of people's personalities and who they identify with. Erica, a Black lesbian who grew up in the 80's talking about being a white american hero or the archetype she aspired to as a kid.
She talked about being looked at differently because of how she talked, and being referred to as an oreo. I think has time goes on race relations and identification may never be "black and white". You are going to meet a black woman who grew up watching the sterotype of her people on tv and learning that was who she did not want to become. And at the same time being a proud black woman.
It was a huge step for me to hear this woman's life story, and to be honest see a woman come into her own. I did not get a chance to meet Erica after the show but I made sure to contact her to thank her for sharing her story. I am excited to see how far she goes.
Thrill Me, A Musical about Murder
This was the most recent I have seen and maybe one of the more disturbing at Luna Stage. But like, in the best way. I was intrigued because it was a musical about murder for the holiday season. I had to fit it in as tickets were being sold out every night, I caught the last minute added matinee a couple Saturdays ago.
The story brings us to the adaption of the Leopold & Loeb murder trial. This particular tale of twisted love, and crime has been adapted numerous times and performed all over the world. Including a favorite of mine, Rope by Alfred Hitchcock. However seeing it as a musical was it like nothing I have seen before.
Cheryl Katz writes,
"Deep down, aren't we secretly intoxicated by the notion of giving in to our more destructive impulses, breaking conventions, and satisfying all of our appetites?"
Like the previous two productions I have talked about, seeing a mix of passion, love, murder, and all come together like that with attractive, self proclaimed supermen, made you look even deeper into yourself. Although you are watching two psychopaths move further from reality while quoting Niche, you can somewhat relate to the two of them, whether you want to or not.
I have been on either end of the game called a relationship, the ones that are all about one ups man-ship and proving which of the couple really has the power or control. Being the partner who yearns for the validity of their love from the other and then knowing the other side of never really wanting to get caught up in love, due to fear of vulnerability.
After the play ended, I felt like I was leaving this small world that was Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb's relationship in 1920's Chicago. I was coming up for air, it was so intense. Paired with the usual amazing set design and the witty lyrics and powerful voices of Joe Bigelow, and Dean Linnard.
This story was so good, and such an experience to watch I do not want to spoil too many moments so that you can catch this any way you can. The context room I attended after the show gave you a look into the time period, crime in Chicago in the first quarter of the 20th century, and the numerous adaptions of the their love story. You were able to take photos in 1920's garb and talk to the dramaturge.
Here is what's showing at Luna Stage next month for the season:
New Moon Reading Series at Luna Stage Theatre
Monday, January 11 7:30pm
Chris Marshall has just been cast as George in Mt. Laurel Community Players' production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He invites Zach, the young, Black actor who's been cast as Nick, over for a drink to give him some actorly advice - and possibly to kill him. Whatever works. When the production's Martha and Honey show up uninvited, they find themselves caught in this play about a play (within a play?) tackling deadly issues like race and, perhaps even more dauntingly, community theatre. This ferocious comedy asks questions about how we view stories about race and the not-just-color blindness that many have when trying to talk about it.
The Brother's Size by Tarrell Alvin Mccraney
February 4- March 6 2016
In the Louisiana bayou, big brother Ogun Size is hardworking and steady. Younger brother Oshoosi is just out of prison and aimless. Elegba, Oshoosi's old prison-mate, is a mysterious complication. A world that begins in ritual, evolves into a tough and tender drama of what it means to brother and be brothered.
"The greatest piece of writing by an American playwright under 30 in a generation or more." - Chicago Tribune
Directed by Christopher Burris
Talkback Schedule: February 7th and 18th
Tarell Alvin McCraney is best known for his acclaimed trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays: The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water, and Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet. They have been performed at McCarter Theater in Princeton, The Public Theater in New York, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, at a trio of theaters in the Bay Area: Marin Theatre Company, ACT, and Magic Theatre, as well as the Young Vic in London (Olivier Award nomination) and around the world. Other plays include The Breach (Southern Rep, Seattle Rep), Wig Out! (Sundance Theatre Institute, Royal Court, and Vineyard Theatre - GLAAD Award for Outstanding Play), and American Trade (Royal Shakespeare Company/Hampstead Theatre). Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where he is an ensemble member, will produce the world premiere of his commissioned play, Head of Passes in the spring of 2013.
Tarell was the Royal Shakespeare Company's International Playwright in Residence in 2009-2011, where he co-edited and directed the Young People's Shakespeare production of Hamlet which toured throughout the UK and was presented at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. He is the recipient of the prestigious Whiting Award and Steinberg Playwright Award, as well as London's Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright, the inaugural New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award, and the inaugural Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.
He is a graduate from the New World School of the Arts High School, the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, and the Yale School of Drama. He is a resident playwright at New Dramatists and a member of Teo Castellanos/D-Projects in Miami.
Read more of my reviews here: www.masconsumption.com/lunastage
And be sure to visit www.lunastage.org
About the Writer
Patricia Rogers, #ValleyGirlNJ lives in New Jersey's Valley Arts District. The native New Yorker works as a writer, blogger and community activist. Starting Masconsumption Media in 2012 she has been passionate about capturing the stories of the vibrant up and coming Valley Arts District neighborhood through her blog, zine, events and more. She blogs for Jersey Indie, Luna Stage, Hat City Kitchen and offers many creative media services. Visit her blog www.masconsumption.com and keep up with your favorite Valley Girl on her social media @zine_editor (Twitter / Instagram / Snapchat).