Actors, Super Heroes and Shakespeare: SPIRITS TO ENFORCE Reviewed Pt. 2
More Thoughts On the New Youngblood Production
There’s no doubt that Youngblood Theatre is taking a few chances staging the somewhat inaccessibly strange Spirits To Enforce. A show that fuses Shakespearian drama with the superhero genre may come across to many as something of a bastardization of both. As executed by Youngblood, however, the play comes across with a striking clarity that really plays-up the unique qualities of theatre in an intimate, studio theatre production.
SUPER HEROES ON THE SMALL STAGE
The idea of having super heroes in a small-budget production theatrical production conjures campy images of Adam West in grey sweat-stained tights. Youngblood’s Spirits To Enforce illustrates some of the range of possibilities that intimate, small-budget theatre offers the super hero genre. A quick glance at the characters:
Tess Cinpinski as The Silhouette: Youngblood co-founder Cinpinski continues to show a remarkable amount of talent in a very subtle role. The character she’s playing helps establish the overall mood—there’s a malaise amongst the heroes as they’ve just put away their biggest threat . . . and The Silhouete is sullen . . . her costume seems much more enthusiastic than she does . . .and Cinpinski is very subtle about her overall lack of enthusiasm. It might not even have been all that apparent on a bigger stage, but Cinpinski seems to know she doesn’t need to emote much to get the mood across.
Sarah Zientek as the Bad Map: On first glance, the character is little more than psychologically imbalanced, but there’s a real kind of chaos about her perpetual disorder that seems to effect things pretty profoundly. Zientek has a disorienting charm about her in the role.
Kyle Gallagher-Schmitz as Fragrance Fellow: Gallagher-Schmitz is one of the younger members of the cast. A sophomore at UWM, he shows a good deal of promise here as a guy with olfactory manipulation powers. The ability to emanate any kind of scent may seem kind of odd, but the character’s presence calls attention to sensory capacity rarely appealed to by any art. Interesting.
Daniel Koester as The Pleaser: A man capable of making people feel good through force of will alone must be extremely daunting to have to play in an intimate setting, but Koester tackles it with admirable poise. Koester’s nice guy presence adds an interesting counterpoint to some of the darker nervous tension in the play.
April Paul as Memory Lass: There is quite a bit of Cute in the production and Paul is responsible for a fair amount of it. The fact that it never gets overly grating is quite an accomplishment on her end. One might think that a person who can remember everything with presumably perfect clarity would be a little bitter. Paul makes the overall good-natured personality of the character seem authentic.
Grace DeWolff as The Page: Nearly graduated UWM student Grace DeWolff is a lot of fun in the role of one of the central two anchors of the call center. DeWolff has a charm about her as The Page that serves as part of the emotional center of the play. She carries herself with a very approachable kind of authority in the role. Exactly what she’s doing here is a bit difficult to define, but she doing a great deal at the play’s thematic center.
T. Stacey Hicks as Ariel: A talented actor with a great deal of experience in actual Shakespeare plays, Hicks adds a functional gravitas to the cast that anchors the whole thing beautifully. That Hicks is able to do this—that he is ab le to play Ariel without any form of costuming is really, really impressive. The dialogue that the playwright has Ariel speaking goes a long way, but the fact that Hicks is ab le to convincingly come across as Ariel clean-shaven with short hair in modern business casual attire is . . . well, it’s just really, really impressive. Hicks’ performance here makes me miss Milwaukee Shakespeare—an experience I haven’t had in a while . . .
Cathlyn Melvin as The Ocean: Melvyn holds down a her end of the Cute quite well as . . . the Ocean. Precisely which ocean is irrelevant. A large, unforgiving body of water could’ve theoretically been playe3d quite differently, but Maher chooses to make have the ocean take the form of a cute, young woman with a very poetic sense of dialogue. I know I’ve seen her in plays at UWM before, but Melvin really makes a strong impression here.
Adrian F. Feliciano as The Untangler: Talented UWM alumni Feliciano plays a man who waxes poetic about nots and other entanglements. The Untangler ends up coming across as one of the more interesting characters due to Feliciano’s simple, straightforward delivery of dialogue. With the character’s philosophy being as evidently bizarre as it is, it would’ve been all too easy to deliver the dialogue with campy excess. Feliciano plays it very reserved, cleverly avoiding this.
Mike Loranger as the Intoxicator: A hero whose power lies in intoxicating others could’ve been overplayed as well, but relative newcomer Loranger, like Feliciano, is pretty reserved. Playing the roles as straight ahead drama allows the comedy to come out in subtle textures and shadows.
David Rothrock as The Tune: Nothing beats a catchy melody. The Tune is a dashing sonic guy who can . . . well . . . the really cool thing about Rothrock’s performance here is that it explores an aspect of the super hero genre concisely enough that it amplifies the universality of it . . . how people only see you for what they can get out of you . . . the tenuous romance between he and Memory Lass is really touching . . . and surprisingly deep considering how quickly and convincingly it establishes itself even though Rothrock are and Paul are on opposite ends of the stage and never actually meet face to face onstage.
Dustin Schmaus as the Snow Heavy Branch: Shmaus is another new actor. His character seemed a bit like a recurring surrealist joke, but he carries it pretty well. Much of the subtlety that there may have been in his performance was lost on me, he was the furthest actor from me. (I sat almost directly across from Cinpinski on the other side.) This brings up one of the few problems with the poduction:
Sit too far on one end and you’ll miss things going on at the other end . . . and those in the middle probably have a similar experience . . . crammed with a great many details, you’re inevitably going to miss quite a lot . . . and this is definitely a play I’d like to see again . . . but the proximity to the actors brings tiny little faults in the performance into sharp relief. As the script isn’t written to include every detail of every conversation going on between everyone onstage for the entire length of the play (which would be a complete headache all the way through the show) the overall experience of the production has to fuse together. The attention of the audience should flow effortlessly from one end of the table to the next . . . and with the audience being as close as it is to the actors, it’s very difficult to feel the overall gestalt of the piece. One ends up getting lost in the details and the reality of the piece gets lost in the details as they haven’t been written into the script to be continuous enough to feel completely authentic. If all this sounds like it’s splitting hairs, it IS. This is an amazing show. I loved it. Like anything, it’s flawed. And putting it into perspective, the show ends up feeling at certain angles like ninety minutes worth of exposition. It’s all being talked about post-hoc . . . or not . . .the brilliantly ambiguous timeline of the play fuses past with present with future, so we’re getting one, big Greek Chorus explaining everything. It’s hypnotic.
The Shakespeare angle is pretty heavy throughout . . . as Cotey said, it’s integral to Spirits To Enforce, which ends up being a very exceedingly good modern sequel to The Tempest: one of Shakespeare’s most original works. What makes Spirits such a good sequel is the fact that it stand alone as well as it does. All too often a sequel of any kind is an attempt to make a good sequel . . . not a good standalone work that happens to follow-up on the success of an original. In crating a modern continuation of the story that brings the premise into the modern world, Maher has created a post-modernist fusion of ancient poetry and modern atonal, atune-al music. Philip Glass and Jack Kirby meet Shakespeare with a few hints of something even more interesting . . . a really, really fun show.
Youngblood Theatre’s Spirits To Enforce runs through May 9th at the Miller & Campbell Costume Service on 907 South First Street.