Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review: Aided By Visual

By Michael Block

Brian Quijada has upped the solo storytelling game in his beat-infused narrative recounting a tale of identity. Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre, Where Did We Sit On the Bus? by Brian Quijada explores his journey as he tries to piece together who he is.
In this nearly ninety-minute play, we hear Quijada's beautiful use of language accompanied by live beats and music as he proves he's an effortless entertainer. Where Did We Sit On the Bus? takes the audience on an intimate journey through Quijada’s struggles as a child of color and frames his piece through questions of race and culture in modern history. It's a revealing story that taps into Quijada's core. And yet he seemed to lack an emotional connection. That's not to say he didn't feel something, but there was a sense of neutrality that emanated to the audience. Quijada is a very "matter-of-fact" narrator. His focus is on the musicality of his words. Sometimes it gets in the way of a genuine demeanor when he opts for something crisp, clean, and calculated. No matter what, Quijada was engaging, and shined brightest through his musicianship. He possesses a skill that not many have: actually being a multi-faceted performer. Unfortunately, his skill set didn’t translate into the writing. Quijada’s text lacks bearing. There is a bit of a bookend, but the journey in the middle is wonky.
Despite an okay script, Where Did We Sit On the Bus? is a great production. Hands down, the visuals carried this show from start to finish. For a solo show, the technical advancements were mesmerizing. Director Chay Yew tightly choreographed the piece, which moved Quijada fluidly through the space and the stories. The white, diamond floor from scenic designer Angelica Borrero-Fortier was the perfect canvas for the extraordinarily marvelous projection design from Liviu Pasare. Sure, it’s not the first time it’s been done, but Pasare’s decision to project onto the floor and not onto the wall allowed for some striking designs that paired well with Diane D. Fairchild’s precise lighting. Yew ensured that there was something to focus on visually in case the story didn’t resonate.
You have to wonder if the production had not been what it was, would Where Did We Sit On the Bus? have had the same effect as the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s production had? Likely not. But credit must be give to Chay Yew and his design team for elevating Brian Quijada’s play.