Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: The Tramp Speaks

By Michael Block

Charlie Chaplin is a staple of the lexicon of Hollywood. Possibly the most well known and influential icons of the silent movie era, Charlie Chaplin was a complex persona. In Don Nigro's mesmerizing The Chaplin Plays, not only does Charlie speak but Nigro asks life's toughest questions to ponder.
In hopes of not spoiling the excitement of The Chaplin Plays, Don Nigro's piece is billed as a double feature. The first half of the evening is Charlie alone on stage joking his way through his life and career, calling attention to the little things we may not have known. By the second piece, Charlie is joined on stage by Anastasia. Is she a psychologist or is she actually the Siberian Monkey Goddess? The second half of the play is a crisis of identity as the person we've grown to know may not actually be who he says he is. Talking in the riddles of life, The Chaplin Plays forces the audience into their own perception of self-reflection. The Chaplin Plays is not what it seems on the surface and that keeps the excitement brewing. Though the second part went on a bit too long through repetition, what Nigro does bring to the stage encapsulates the enjoyment and potential of simplistic theater. And that's also thanks to the sublime direction of Lori Kee. Kee took the necessary steps to honor the person while making The Chaplin Plays stand on its own. The big twist doesn't feel forced and Kee and her players earn every beat.
photo by Al Foote III
If The Chaplin Plays will be remembered for anything it's an impeccable performance. Hips out, back arched, feet spread, shoes on the wrong feet. Ivette Dumeng did her homework to create a seamless characterization of Charlie Chaplin. Opposite Dumeng was Tatyana Kot as the precocious Anastasia. Kot’s performance was rooted into the psychological mind games. In a sense it was a bit uncertain, but the uncertainty is what made Dumeng's Charlie unravel.
The barebones style of the performance allowed the individual beats to shine. With the theatrical nature of Kee's text, lighting designer Gilbert Lucky Pearto played with color and it was just right. It allowed for variety in the best of ways. It permitted for Kee's theatrically in staging have its own personality. With just a little projection, the video by Peter Mychalcewycz of Dumeng doing Chaplin was a loving touch that paid homage to the era. Combined with the intricacies of Andy Evan Cohen’s thorough sound design. Cohen pulled the exact sounds from cinematic to the thematic.
The Chaplin Plays is one of those theatrical events that will leave you beyond satisfied. This was a team effort but Dumeng deserves a little bit of extra love. It’s a performance that’s bound to be discussed.

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