Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: The Cave of Blunders

Selling your soul for a price is an age-old story. From the Devil to Ursula, the device is well-known in literature. Finding a new perspective on this tale can be tricky but many have attempted. In Melanie Rose Thomas’ The Cave: a Folk Opera, Willow tries to pay off her father’s debt by selling her own life to a den of despair where her world gets turned upside down.
A seductive and dark fairy tale, The Cave: a Folk Opera is an ambitious sung-thru story of smoky lust and inescapable intrigue where a young girl is taunted with temptation after meeting a beast of a man who teaches her about true love. Though billed as a folk opera, Thomas’ score is eclectic featuring folk infused with jazz and rock. The Cave, both the place and show, are lost in place and time. The plot is thin and loose. What The Cave truly is is a concept album on stage. Thomas’ lyrics are beautiful but pulling plot from them takes wizardry. For a first time listener, it's hard to excavate the importance of the poetry while trying to make sense of story. Without a plot description to serve as a map to navigate The Cave, you'd be lost. Thomas has a hypnotically haunting score. With few exceptions, it lives in a predominantly moody midtempo world. With a thin plot, generic characters, and repetitive sound, Thomas could afford to cut the excess of material that would turn The Cave into a singular act. From a plot perspective, there were very few surprises. The progression was a bit predictable. Especially with Willow. Willow was the stereotypical fairy tale ingĂ©nue. Beat by beat, she mirrored an infamous princess heroine. From Alice to Belle, Willow brought nothing new to the table. Thomas took some time to explore the lives of the minor characters but, while they may have been partially interesting, their attention detracted from the central story. In this world, they were only useful serving as devices to further Willow's story.
There is a specificity to the world of The Cave.  Despite being a bit on point, Christopher D. Betts and his team achieved the mood of seduction, lust, and darkness. The color scheme was a cohesive red, black, and white. And it was present everywhere. It was a bit on the nose but hey, it worked. The set by Kate Pincus-Whitney featured an intriguing doorway with a beautiful cutout that lighting designer Elizabeth M. Stewart utilized well. Due to spacial issues, the scenic element was smack dab in the center of the space, which would make sense had the band not existed. With the band present, blocking part of the structure, it knocked the symmetry off kilter. The costumes from Jahise LeBouef and Matilda Sabal kept the color scheme in mind with the sexy attire. With Willow’s transformation from light to dark a predictable plot element to being with, doing something more shocking would have been rewarding. Perhaps Willow’s dark side could have been red. At least it would have separated her from the other girls of The Cave as she was the favorite. The direction from Betts and choreography from Amanda Pinto was interesting. Despite the desire to set the piece at the turn of the 20th century, it didn’t quite read. There was something about Pinto’s contemporary choreography that felt forced and uncomfortable. Maybe The Cave didn’t need any dance as Betts musical staging read stronger. The moments where choreography was introduced, the story seemed to falter away. While Betts utilized space well, the use of the microphone was inconsistent. It’s clear that Spring Awakening played a heavy hand in inspiration. The way the microphone and the modern sound was worked into that story was the actors breaking out of character. That didn’t quite seem to be the case here. Firstly, the piece began and ended with Thomas herself on stage singing and then relegating herself to the side. Not only was Thomas outmatched vocally, you kept wondering what significance was to the story. Secondly, Willow and The Master had moments behind the mic. They were inner monologue moments but it wasn’t consistent with the rest of the staging.
With a precise sound that made The Cave, the company had to fit just right. Ashley Coia fit the image of Willow perfectly. She had an ethereal vocal. But she was no match for the voice from Jenisa De Castro, the strongest female vocalist in the cast. Though she was played a duo of supporting roles, De Castro made her presence known. Mark Taylor was rightly brooding as The Master. He exeduded darkness but astonished with his stellar vocals. Taylor has a pure vocal that transcends pop, folk, and glam rock. Though he ended up having little to do, Nikhil Saboo as the Puck-like Edwin brought some intrigue to the stage.
The Cave: A Folk Opera was a bold feat that hasn’t quite found its footing. Hearing the music from Melanie Rose Thomas in concert or listening form should be on your to-do list as the stage version is sadly in style limbo. The Cave: A Folk Opera needs some dramaturgical assistance as well as determining whether to perhaps make it all dance or all staging. For now, it’s lost in the opium den of the Access Theater.