Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Review: A Gender Bending Bar Party

Money makes the world go round. Money can tear down people, governments, even countries. In Rise and Fall, a group of convicts, lead by Jimmy Gallagher, set up an ideal community in a bar, but when the money runs dry, the law of the land comes down. Adapted by Ian Storey and the Bread player, Bertolt Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny gets a wild party-like spin in an immersive drinking spectacular at People lounge.
Rise and Fall is a high-energy political satire inspired by Brecht that takes the audience on the run with Jimmy Gallagher and his band of Alaskan outlaws who stumble upon a bar that becomes his new, rule-less perfect society. But when things begin to get out of hand and the money runs out, Gallagher and the rest of the inhabitants must suffer the consequences. Blending the modern age and a whole lot of gender bending, the story is given a new perspective. And it’s weirdly fascinating. The high-speed comedy adds some folk music written by the brilliant songwriter Andrew Lynch that calls upon the themes of the play. With the structure of the play including the company calling out scene numbers and titles and Wild West comic book infused character introductions, Rise and Fall has so much going on it can become overwhelming at first. But when the exposition subsides, the story unravels to reveal something truly powerful. By masking the piece through humor and physical comedy, Rise and Fall allows the importance of the play to settle in. When you’re escorted upstairs for the trial of Jimmy, things slow down and morality takes over. And it’s certainly earned. The juxtaposition of big bawdy humor with humanity offers a strong message.
photo by Rowen Douglas
The fun the company has on stage is contagious. The ensemble is a unit that strives on teamwork. If there happens to be a little snafu, there’s always someone able to lend a hand. Individually, the company offered some strong performances. As Jenny, the high-pitched, fun-loving lady in demand, Kate Gunther sparkles. Gunther is bubbly yet seductive. Gunther’s Jenny is like a mixture of Charlize Theron and Marilyn Monroe, only missing a whole lotta screws. Aside from John Egan and Benjamin Lewis as some screwball sidekicks, the rest of the company explores the world of gender bending. Katie Melby as Jimmy Gallagher finds a way to make the dastardly and vile cowboy alluring, even with penciled on stubble. Melby dives head first into the character and is never apologetic. Andrew Lynch dons a sleek number and black bob wig to create Begbick and manages to offer the same amount of sensuality as Gunther’s Jenny. You almost wished there was a battle of the broads.
With Melby and Eric Powell Holm taking the directing reigns, the duo ensured that excitement was consistent. Even when moments took a turn for the truth, there was still something fun about it. They captured the immersive feeling, bringing the audience into the world as often as they could. But, like many immersive site specific works, the layout could cause some woes. They worked the space as best they can, utilizing the bar and seating area as the playing space. The use of the live music was a brilliant touch and the overall design was smartly executed. By merely using the lights of the space and the occasional clip light, there was possibility for moods and certain looks. The costumes had this country hip aura, marrying Alaskan cowboy with East Coast badass.
The writing is witty and Rise and Fall is a strong adaptation, but finding a way to come out with a bang without plowing down the audience is key. Until you finally catch up with the merry band of misfits, it’s hard to tell what’s happening. I can only imagine what happens to those who started off with a few too many, pre shot. But the premise is promising and you will certainly leave having had a great time.