Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: The Never Ending Story

By Michael Block

War. What is it good for? Edwin Starr says absolutely nothing. While that may be an exaggeration, there may be a purpose but will there ever be everlasting peace? In Anthony P. Pennino's riveting Drones, Homer's The Iliad gets an update where the war of the play has never ended and continues on and on.
As part of the 2016 Planet Connections Festivity, Drones is a timeless tale that looks at the hardships of war though the lens of the Odysseus and our ever-advancing technology. Written by Penino, the characters are lifted to a new Greece where technological advances in battle have altered how combat is fought. When Od and his men reach a desolate village of Troy, the last remaining civilian causes chaos amongst the ranks. What Penino incorporates into his piece is varying references and ideas of the litany of the wars of the world to discuss the continuity and strife of a never changing philosophy. And it's a well-devised discussion. What was a bit amiss in this production was clarity. Where exactly in time and space are we? Were they foxholes or graves or just actually chairs? It's likely that was the point. But the more questions to ponder, the less the strong moments get appreciated. And there were certainly a number of strong moments. Though there were many false endings that could have easily been satisfying, the one Penino chose may not be the strongest. Ambiguity could have been the right option but nevertheless, highlighting the fear and struggle of loneliness of Odysseus in the final beat was striking.
photo by Travis Chantar
A small playing space to represent the vastness was tough but the six-piece ensemble made the best of the situation. The best of the lot were the Bash Brother duo of Francesco Andolfi and William Hochman as Jax and TC respectively. Andofli and Hochman seemed to ease into the parts with the strongest and most deliberate characterization. They each brought a separate gruff intensity that balanced them as a pair. It's a shame their time was cut so short. When it came to naivety, Jamison Monella as Pat played into the skepticism without dishonoring his position. Monella was a strong mouthpiece for the audience. As Od, Barry Lee Sheppard explored a monotonous dominance in hopes of supremacy. It showed Od's lack of humanity as he is bogged down by the hardships of the situation. With the brazen personalities of Jax and TC, watching Sheppard’s Od try to control them was fascinating. Word are really all you need for control.
Penino sat in the director’s seat in addition to writing. With so many people and objects in such a small playing space, Penino gave himself a challenge but was able to conquer it when he needed to. He used the strength of the natural angle for the majority of his staging, placing the five chairs in a dynamic position. While Penino was able to give a skeleton through staging, the possibility of what he could have done had the playing space been doubled in size is boundless. The little side conversations just didn’t have the impact they could have. Penino was at his best through theatricality, aided greatly by the lighting from Jason Fok. Those little bursts of color broke the flatness of the dry dessert sky.
If you have an opinion on war, and it’s likely you do, Drones is a play for you. Do you need to know the action of the inspired source material? Not necessarily but you’ll have a little more appreciation for what Anthony P. Penino has done.