Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: We Are the Walrus?

"The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things." A line from Lewis's Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass" is shockingly a way to sum up Rady & Bloom's latest theatrical experiment, The Upper Room. The play begins with a girl in a walrus mask giving a monologue, preceded by a plethora of ideas and topics, mixing music and story to tell a tale of the future. The Upper Room is a wild journey of variety.
Set in commune on an island off the coast of Maine, The Upper Room takes a group of idealists as they're forced to question their way of life after one of their own goes missing and the water levels suddenly rise. With an underlying commentary on humanity, faith, and our environment, The Upper Room strays away from theatrical norms to bring a polarizing exhibition like no other. The play with music is greatly aided by the voice and music of Catherine Brookman. Brookman is an artist of great depth. Her unique sound adds a stunning quality to the piece that could only fit in this wacky world Jeremy Bloom and Brian Rady have grown. Brookman, Rady and Bloom all bring a unique vibe with their use of words. The poetry that they give the ensemble is gorgeous. But sometimes the wordsmiths went overboard on heightened imagery. To test the strength of a piece, you have to consider a person walking into the production completely blind, unaware of what is about to happen, never having read a single synopsis or promotional material. I fear that without any knowledge of The Upper Room, they could be utterly confused from start to finish. Sure, they’re bound to appreciate the artistry but clarity is necessary for the full effect.
The ensemble was in sync with one another from the moment they stepped on stage. Despite some characters having more of a prominent role in the story, each individual shined. The standouts of the bunch included the quirky and perfectly peculiar Heather Thiry as Lena, divingsuit wearing Stacy Ayn Price, and the hauntingly grounded Julia Sirna-Frest.
photo courtesy of James Matthew Daniel
Taking on the director seat as well, Rady & Bloom keep the action moving and constant. There’s rarely a moment of dead space. Leaving the architecture of the theater exposed, Rady & Bloom unite the worlds as one. By breaking down the fourth wall from the start, the intimacy of the piece should instantly become communal. What's interesting about the aesthetic choice is it added very little. Had masking or scenic walls been incorporated, it would have had the same result. The New Ohio is a very specific space and using the walls, columns, ramp and all offers a specific message. Beyond the space, Rady and Bloom's set, a concoction of earthly and worldy items and a beautifully constructed raked table and chair set, had some great aspects to it. They individually worked for the moments. But cohesively, you hoped that they would disappear as to not detract from the action when not in use. The costumes, also by the duo, for the most part were spot on to the New England fashion fades. Though a rousing game of New Englander or Hipster is certainly not out of the question. The lighting by Jay Ryan allowed for some stunning images on stage. The use of color made an incredible impact for the theatricality. The sound design by Mark Van Hare, with great assistance from the live music by Joe White, allowed for the atmosphere to be felt throughout. And you can’t help but chuckle after curtain call for the too on-point playing of “I Am the Walrus.”
The Upper Room is a daring piece you have to see to believe. It will either resonate with you, or it won’t. Regardless, the master invention and creativity that Jeremy Bloom, Brian Rady, and Catherine Brookman brought to the piece will certainly be rewarded.