A List of Epic Proportions

by Marguerite Saxton

For the month of February an evening at the Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre will treat you to an immersive experience: a 65-minute trip into the minds of playwright Duncan Macmillan and director Michelle Milne. In Every Brilliant Thing, the narrator Claire Marie Mannle leads an unsuspecting audience with gentle familiarity, a soft consensual nudge that enrolls ordinary folks in becoming co-narrators in this supposedly one-person show. Though we learn that “suicide is contagious,” we’re guided through farcical absurdity – poignant moments of total surreal accuracy, sobering, convoluted pockets of humor wound within the labyrinth of a life. If space permitted, I’d list a million brilliant reasons to see this play. But here are five:

  1. Theatre-in-the-Round (and round and round and round):

The concentric layout of Mannle’s movement keeps this piece in a groove which guides the audience’s eyes in a continual search around the theatre, peeking at one another’s expressions, wondering where the next scene will be, and guessing what delightful, odd treasures it will produce.

  1. Jazz Music on Vinyl:
Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

There really isn’t a parallel to the nostalgia that vinyl records conjure. The feel of plastic imperfections running under one’s fingertip, the romantic crackling of static perfuming the air, the ritual of buying and unwrapping. The somatic sitting still. Every Brilliant Thing reveals an undeniable reverence for jazz music, treating us to the moody tunes of Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and Ometta Coleman, just to name a few. One even gets the feeling that the music is a scene partner, a dramaturg of sorts; giving history and credence to the already vulnerable unfolding of life.

  1. Levity in Depression:

Mannle performs a spoken dance in this play – a magnetic ebbing of transformation. Depression is serious and haunting, a generational ghost. Even so, our fearless narrator is graceful as she weaves between seven year old sheepishness and collegiate courage. She fluidly reveals years of time passing, mere minutes to us audience, but great leaps of life’s monuments in her story. We are taken along the non-linear way that most people think and feel in, possessing a secret notion that we’re privy to some private experience, the ones we keep close to our hearts and share only with beloveds.

  1. Audience Tomfoolery:

In this performance there are particular analog moments that defy expectation and tickle the edges of conformity. It blurs the boundaries of authorship and audience, projecting Mannle like a circus ringmaster who hypnotizes us through a mélange, a maze of memories. There are disappointments, assessments, and antics: sock puppets and improvised conversations with “Dad” – serious belly laughs injected into an ordinarily down-beaten topic of depression.

  1. Snacks

Didn’t know live theatre included snacks? Well, it does. This one does. Snacks!

This play is a craftfully produced arrangement of intimate and uncomfortable situations. It’s a good way to laugh at something difficult, which we could all use some allowance to do now and then. It encourages us to embrace the difficult and strive for better, while permitting many moments to laugh at the irony of it all.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Claire Marie Mannle in Every Brilliant Thing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Every Brilliant Thing runs from February 7th-24th at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre, located in the Historic Y at 738 N. 5th Avenue. Evening and matinee shows are available. Tickets can be purchased from scoundrelandscamp.org or directly from the box office on premises. The box office opens for ticket sales one hour prior to the show.

 

Editor’s Note: Marguerite has worked with The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre on other productions and as a teacher with their youth theatre program, she had no involvement with this production. All our reviewers work to identify and avoid any potential biases.

The Deeper Meaning of Sports

by China Young

 

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Spoiler Alert: My Life in Sports, a one man show written and performed by English professor Bill Epstein and performed at Scoundrel & Scamp, is not actually about sports. Well, not entirely. I felt as though sports served more as a loom and thread. A tapestry of life experiences is woven before our very eyes. The structure of the story-telling takes on various shapes and patterns as Epstein connects memories through time, using anecdotes and metaphors that often circle back to where they started.

The simplicity of the direction and production design by Bryan Rafael Falcón and the sincerity of Epstein’s delivery of the dialogue drew me in with a comfortable warmth that felt like I was 8 years old being told a folk tale by my grandfather and hanging on every word. Now that I think of it, the play starts when Epstein is 8 years old, so perhaps that was the intention all along. I found it to be a very effective way to draw people in, although at times I did find myself drifting simply from the soothing tones of the narration. Still, I was very impressed with the production and how the concept of sports, whether literal or metaphorical, took me on a journey that touched me profoundly.  

The thing I appreciated the most was Epstein’s reflections on the relationship between sports and the “construct of masculinity.” We all know that there seems to be this unspoken “romance” between men and sports. Not all men experience this of course, and not all people that experience this are men, but somehow society has created this construct of “boys play sports” that this production explores a little more deeply and with a self-awareness that is appreciated in a time where constant social examination and re-evaluation is needed. Epstein does a fantastic job capturing the essence of the time in which he was raised, amplifying the understood gender norms, racial inequality, and his privilege of being not only a white male, but also his father’s son. He discusses, at times, how sports, or sport-like behavior, was how boys established their pecking order. In his Author’s Notes he states “Virtually the only live and unrehearsed programming still on network television, the subject being discussed, endlessly, on twenty-four-hour talk-radio stations across the country, the section of the newspaper most men turn to first, sports are a powerful and influential narrative formation, one of the crucial ways that American men construct identity.”

We all saw this truth during the NFL “taking a knee” controversy, which, as you’ve noticed, has disappeared as quickly as began (maybe because it’s off-season, or maybe because those that were “offended” by it have moved on to other asinine battles… but I digress). My biggest fear is that sports is to America what the games of the Colosseum were to Rome, a tactic to distract the poor from their poverty in the hopes that they would not revolt. I don’t dislike sports, and played them for many years (before theatre took complete reign of my life), but I believe they have the power to keep the masses complacent just as they have the power to fuel the “masculinity complex.” Although he used some derogatory language on occasion, and I hate giving him the “product of his time” pass, I wasn’t terribly bothered by it because it was made clear that that was in fact the past, and not the present, and I believe and embrace the social evolution of which we are all capable. If we don’t know where we came from, we can’t possibly accurately assess where we are.  

There were several other lovely elements of the production. The space is lightly littered with a baseball bat and glove, eventually a coat rack with a jacket to signify Epstein’s scholarly career choice, and even a pair of ballet shoes to represent Epstein’s late wife, but to also remind us that dance is another sport that significantly impacted his life. The use of projections offered environmental settings, magnification of text, and the creation of emotional atmospheres. The subtle sound effects enhanced those atmospheres, as did the simplicity of the lighting. Epstein includes references to Tennessee Williams in his Author’s Note, describing memory as “dimly lighted” and “poetic” and “seems to happen to music.” The design team, comprised of Bryan Rafael Falcón, Josh Hemmo (Projection design), Connor Greene (Production Design Associate), Brian Graham (Lighting Designer), and Tyler Berg (Sound Design), manage to capture that description of memory within the intimate performance area with skill and artistry.  

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Bill Epstein in My Life In Sports. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Though I could call out this production for is male-heavy team (Stage Manager Marguerite Saxon being the only female name listed) and focus on the voice of yet another white man, the content of the work gives me faith that these men understand the privileged patriarchal patterns society perpetuates. Besides, if they are engaging in the creation of theatre, they have likely broken from the “construction of masculinity” imbedded in a “life in sports.”

My Life in Sports plays at Scoundrel & Scamp Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. For tickets call 448-3300 or visit scoundrelandscamp.org.

After Centuries, the Damsel in Distress is Finally Given Her Voice in Eurydice

Kate Cannon and Adam Denoyer in Eurydice. Photo Tim Fuller

Adam Denoyer as Orpheus and Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

by Betsy Labiner

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s Season for Scoundrels is off to a strong start. Their opening production is Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, which reinterprets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by turning the focus away from Orpheus and onto Eurydice. Knowledge of the myth isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for seeing and enjoying this play, but personally, I found it fascinating to have the source material reexamined, challenged, and given nuance.

Director Claire Marie Mannle points out the peripheral role traditionally played by Eurydice in the story: “Usually the myth of Orpheus is seen from the viewpoint of the man, Orpheus, and his heroic but tragic journey. His wife Eurydice has little influence in the original versions of the myth. This play takes a chisel to that and breaks it open. It is all about Eurydice, her choices, her journey, her voice. Eurydice’s voice starts and ends this play.”* In modern pop culture studies, we’d essentially say the original myth engages in “fridging.” The term “Women in Refrigerators” was initially coined by writer Gail Simone in regard to comic books, and it refers to trope in which female characters are injured, raped, killed, or depowered – women that are, more often than not, victimized in order to catalyze a man’s story or character development. Essentially, in the original myth, Eurydice serves as a plot device and is fridged in order for Orpheus’s story to unfold. Not so here.

Mannle foregrounds Eurydice, played by Kathleen Cannon, from the outset. She has the first dialogue, is subtly placed in front of Orpheus, and is immediately charming. Everything about her is vibrant and engaging, constantly calling the audience’s attention back to her even as Orpheus rhapsodizes about his music. Orpheus, played by Adam Denoyer, is initially something of a harder sell as a character; he is distracted and inadvertently dismissive of Eurydice, though his love for her is evident even in his moments of apparent self-absorption. As the play progresses and Orpheus sinks into despair, Denoyer’s performance becomes more and more compelling. His pain is palpable, and stands in stark contrast to Eurydice’s delighted engagement with (re)learning and experience in her new realm.

Cannon’s Eurydice is literally a spark of life in the underworld. Eurydice’s confusion is matched by her determination and exuberance, and she literally glows against the muted backdrop of the underworld. In addition to Cannon’s captivating performance, the costuming, designed by Allison Morones, is another success in this manner, particularly in its interaction with the lighting and set design (Josh Hemmo; Jason Jamerson). Hemmo’s lighting shifts between a yellow-orange spectrum for the living and a blue-green tint for the dead, with characters in the underworld dressed in dark or muted tones. Eurydice’s red dress and hair stand out in the underworld, markers of her liveliness and vigor despite the circumstances. This is juxtaposed with the costuming and lighting of her father, played by Bill Epstein, on whom a grey suit and white lighting serve to make him much more intangible and ephemeral when not actively next to Eurydice. 

The Stones, played by Julia Balestracci, Leah Taylor, and Gretchen Wirges, were another delight. Their haughty disapproval for much of the play is heightened by the sound effects used on their voices, making them resonant and even more forceful. Their reactions both offer comedic asides and heighten the tension, particularly in moments such as when the Nasty Interesting Man walks onstage and each woman’s posture pulls taut. The Nasty Interesting Man, played with smarmy malice by Ryuto Adamson, offers both laughs and anxiety, as Adamson continually reasserts his power and revels in the control he exerts.

Kate Cannon leads the cast of Eurydice. Photo2 TIM FULLER

Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Mannle’s production gives Eurydice life and depth, making her a real person to be loved and grieved. For Mannle, this is crucial not only in terms of our understanding of the characters and their stories, but also to reassess our own stories and those of the people surrounding us.  “It seems vitally important (perhaps now more than ever) that we tell old stories with new voices, voices that struggle to be heard,” Mannle explained. “I think it is critical that we amplify the voices of women and voices of people that have been historically marginalized and listen to them so that we can build a better world. Hopefully, this performance offers something to continue that conversation.”

Eurydice runs through October 28 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets are $28 general admission, with discounts available for students, educators, and patrons under the age of 30.

Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by phone at 520-448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before each show. The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre is located in the Historic Y, at 738 N. 5th Avenue.

*Quotes from Mannle are sourced from promotional materials provided by the Theatre.

 

Editor’s Note: Betsy Labiner is a box office assistant at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. While she had no input or involvement with the creative process for this production and reviewed this play as she would one at any theatre, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.