Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: Geist, I Must Express Was a Let Down

By Kaila M. Stokes

Geist, produced by Horizon Theatre Rep, is a story of soldiers putting on plays by the greats; Stramm, Marx, Kafka, and more. Geist means “ghost” in German and from the description on the website, it seemed to be a promising play. German Expressionism is rarely done probably because most people have bad memories from their High School English classes. Geist started off with the five actors on stage doing nothing…for a while with an old video of warplanes from WWI playing on a three-paneled screen behind them. At first, it was super interesting to see that multitude of media being used in a play set in the WWI era. As the play began, it was hard to follow from the start. Basically, the five actors portrayed characters in five different stories by five different men that didn’t seem to have any connections to one another from what was portrayed on stage.
Geist is conceived and directed by Rafael De Mussa, Mr. Mussa also starred in the play. Wearing all of these hats, it is not hard to see how Mr. Mussa may not have been able to step out of the box and see the underlying issues. Conceptually, Geist is interesting, intriguing and play-worthy. Delivery wise, Geist needed more writing of its own and less of others. Never once was the location, time, or reason for these soldiers being in what one can only assume was a bunker in WWI spoken of. Instead they literally went from story to story and it was hard to follow. If the show started with the actors entering from off stage or down the aisle and all had moments of getting their bearing, speaking about what is happening out there, and connecting with one another than maybe the audience would have connected with the characters too. There was no audience to character connection because there was nothing answered only text that was long and dragged at times making it hard to focus. The first scene thrust the audience into Stramm with an actor as a Jesus figure and the other actors scorning each other for their wickedness. Was this supposed to relate to the wickedness of war? Why was this set in WWI? The second story was by Toller, a German Expressionist writer who wrote many plays from his prison cell. The third story by Kafka was about a guardian of the tomb who had the tombs ghosts haunt him at night. The fourth story was by Benn who was a famous essay writer and novelist in Germany who supported Hitler later in WWII. The fifth story by Schreyer had an intense ending with the characters questioning life/death, mortality, and the meaning of it all.
The cast (Cory Asinofsky, Sean M. Bell, Angela Dahl, Rafael De Mussa, and Adam A. Keller) had some nice “acting” moments. It was impressive to see them connect with the different stories each time even though the connection with the audience was missing. On one hand that is a good thing and on the other it means that they got to an emotional place without cause. There were many moments when shouting would ensue and it seemed shocking or out of place because the audience had no stakes in what was happening on stage. But yet, one has to commend the dedication of the actors.
photo by Richard Termine
The lighting, by Yuriy Nayer, was very interesting. It was dimly lit, which set a spooky tone but old Edison light bulbs were strung up around the ceiling. These light bulbs would flash and flicker in unison with a screeching sound that usually would signify the end of that story and the beginning of the next.  It was the only way the audience knew when one story ended and it added to the assumption that the characters were in a bomb shelter of some kind.  The sound, by Arisiteded F. Li, was also key to the progression of the stories. At times it was a bit too loud, with the audience plugging their ears, as the sounds were so high pitched and long that it was difficult to focus. It definitely took one out of the performance momentarily. Again, the idea was there, but the execution needed to be tweaked. The video, also created by Arisitedes F. Li, was very clever. It allowed the audience to know something about where the characters were and what they were doing. The one huge thing that detracted from that was when one of the characters, played by Rafael De Mussa, referred to the video. It took away from the fact that this unique piece of audio visual entertainment should have just been used for the audience, not the characters. The ongoing theme with Geist is that the idea was there, but the execution was not.
Overall, Geist was not something to see if you like plays that have logical explanations and clear plot points. Maybe this audience member doesn’t love German Expressionism as much as one thought. It could have been/could be great with the implementation of more plot writing, character descriptions, events happening in between the acting out of plays, and the clear establishment of a who/what/when/where/why.