Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Astounding World Premiere At The A.R.T's OBERON - "The Shape She Makes" by Susan Misner and Jonathan Bernstein

My personal track record is rather spotty when it comes to really appreciating "Experimental Theater." While I like to tell myself that I am open to new ways of telling stories, at the core of my being I guess I am a bit of a traditionalist.  So when I read that the new show at A.R.T.'s OBERON, the World Premiere of "The Shape She Makes," is a fusion of movement, dialogue and music, I was not quite sure what to expect.  What I did not expect was to be blown away by the creativity of this piece and by the gut-wrenching emotional impact in this beautifully crafted and told story.

What is "The Shape She Makes" about?

"An ensemble of ten fuse movement and dialogue in this intriguing world premiere theatrical hybrid that explores the continual impact of childhood experiences on our adult lives as Quincy, a precocious 11-year old seeks to understand what she’s inherited from her absent father and neglectful mother. Featuring music composed by Julia Kent and Son Lux."
Co-Creator of this piece, Susan Misner, pictured below with Sean Martin Hingston, explained to dramaturg, Fiona Kyle, part of the thinking behind the creation of this fusion piece:

"It takes us from a nightclub to a schoolyard as we follow stories of precocious young Quincy and undervalued substitute schoolteacher Ms. Calvin.  Quincy's bright personality is coupled with a mathematical mind that perpetually investigates the world around her as she searches for clues about her absent father.  Ms.Calvin, overweight and tethered to her aging mother, strives to accept herself while struggling to make a change in her life.  Misner, also the choreographer of "The Shape She Makes," began this play's journey by asking, "Can people truly change?"

The action of the play unfolds using a combination of dance movements that flow from gestures that take place in normal conversation and interaction, and then are stylized, underscored with the music written by Julia Kent and Son Lux.  Several moments stand out in terms of how creatively the movement elements are used to enhance the telling of the story.  Ms. Calvin struggles with food addiction.  There is a scene in which several cast members represent a refrigerator that keeps opening to entice Ms. Calvin to come inside and gorge herself on the contents  The moment is breathtaking.  In a similar vein, Quincy's father makes a brief visit to her after many year's of absence.  During this sequence, his struggles with alcohol are portrayed with a pas de deux that involves pushing and pulling, fleeing and retreating.  It is a very graphic depiction of the powerful pull of addiction.  During this same sequence, he is forced to choose between his love for alcohol and his love for his daughter.  He chooses booze, and his cradling of a bottle as he might have cradled an infant child is heart-rending.  That scene in which he must choose is an emotional watershed in this piece.

As the arc of Quincy's story begins to intersect with the arc of Ms. Calvin's story, things begin to fall into place for the audience.  Mathematics and calculation are leitmotifs that run throughout this piece. Both Quincy and her father are mathematical prodigies, two of only eight people in history to achieve a perfect score on the Brackstone Test.  Yet they have a very difficult time mastering the calculus of living.

Under the direction of  Jonathan Bernstein and the choreography of Ms. Misner, the troupe of actors and dancers, listed below, are breathtaking in the mastery of their craft and the ways in which they use their voices and their bodies to bring this complex story to life. The music and projections move the narrative along seamlessly.

I sat near a very seasoned theater critic, who has a reputation of being very hard to impress. This person was as deeply moved as I was by this piece.  The rest of the audience concurred, bringing the cast back for a second series of curtain calls.

Make some calculations and find a way to get to the OBERON before this show closes on April 27.  This is one of those rare "NOT TO BE MISSED" works of art.

Susan Misner and Seán Martin Hingston
 in #TheShapeSheMakes ART.

The Creative team
Conceived bySusan Misner
Jonathan Bernstein
Music Composed byJulia Kent + Son Lux
Choreographed bySusan Misner
Written + Directed byJonathan Bernstein
Scenic DesignSara Brown
Costume DesignSarah Cubbage
Light DesignDan Scully
Sound DesignM. L. Dogg
Projection DesignDarrel Maloney
Music SupervisionMary-Mitchell Campbell
CastingTara Rubin Casting
Stage ManagerTaylor Adamik
Michael Balderrama,
Mary Cavett,
 Nina Goldman
,Deidre Goodwin,
Seán Martin Hingston,
Benjamin Howes,
Susan Misner,
Sydney K. Penny,
 Jermaine Maurice Spivey,
Finnerty Steeves
Additional staff
Assistant DirectorSarah Johnsrude
Associate ChoreographerMary Ann Lamb
Assistant ChoreographerJaime Verazin
Assistant Stage ManagerCatherine Agis
Associate Sound DesignerElliot Davoren
A.R.T. Production DramaturgFiona Kyle
Voice CoachJeremy Sortore
Production AssociateRuth Lichtman
Production InternsKyra Atekwana
+ Joey Longstreet
 + Sam Moore
Tara Rubin Casting
Tara Rubin, CSA
 Eric Woodall, CSA 
Merri Sugarman, CSA
Lindsay Levine, CSA
Kaitlin Shaw, CSA
Scott Anderson

This work will run at the OBERON through April 27.

American Repertory Theater - The Shape She Makes

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