Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review: Never Forget to Remember

by Michael Block 

I've never really been to Providence, Rhode Island. I've been stuck on an Amtrak train for a few hours right outside the station after striking an Amtrak worker. Not really a great moment. So I've been to Providence, but not really. The kids of Nightdrive are going to tell you about their version of said titular city-town in Providence, RI. As part of the The Tank's Flint and Tinder series, Providence, RI is an ode to the place that many visit and others call home.
Written by Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques, Providence, RI tries to paint the New England hamlet as an "everytown" through playful vignettes that eventually tie together. Whether you know the place by heart, the energetic five-piece ensemble builds a world with boundaries. Though those walls get shattered, especially that fourth wall. Playing an assortment of denizens, and creatures, the cast takes the audience on a tour of the town after spike taping it on the floor of the theater. From there, the play, broken into three "parts", a generous term for acts, feels like a whirlwind. Though the titular location is the loose thread, the overwhelmingly larger event is the town's celebration of the Dog Park Massacre one hundred years ago. It's also jokingly referred to as the 50 After 50. Without a doubt, this piece desperately needs to be edited down with more cohesion and clarity. There are moments and beats that are interesting as a singular vignette but in the big picture, there are hordes of questions that arise. From the family role swapping to the extravaganza that was the third part, what made sense to the creators didn't always shine through for the audience. Fox and Henriques have a unique voice together. Their ability to incorporate humor and poetry kept the piece afloat. It's playful dialogue yet tragically full of itself. As fun and cute as pancakes, lollipops, and making the audience play along in the game on stage, when the show creeps close to a third hour, the message that is trying to shine through gets lost in the clouds.
photo by Christopher Annas-Lee
One of the scribes, Skylar Fox, took on the directorial role. His vision was ambitious to say the least. When it came to staging, it was busy and chaotic, often upstaging itself. Whether it was lost in translation or another body was needed, the boldest and most cumbersome moment was the audience becoming family bit. Late in Part III, we watch the long lost siblings reunite and bring their family along for the ride. With only five performers, the audience took on the role of the family and were brought on stage. The idea was clear yet the execution was fatal. By the third go around, it was obvious the game bring played but the amount of time it took to bring rows and rows of people on stage sucked out all the momentum that was previously established. If you're familiar with The Tank, you know it's a glorious black box space. Fox's transformation of the space was brilliant. The wood paneling on the walls brought a new spirit to the space. What it was supposed to evoke is debatable but nevertheless it brought vivacity before the play began. At first glance everything points to something set in the 70s but the costumes from Corina Chase look like a haggle of hipsters hijacked The Tank. But I suppose it's true, fashion comes and goes and comes back again.
There was immense trust and compatibility in the five piece ensemble. But as a whole, the quintet provided some presentational performances, especially at the start. Imagine a sing-songy Our Town and that's how the show began. Once this conceit was abandoned, each actor brought their A game. Far and away, Zina Ellis was the strongest most well-rounded performers. Ellis’ grounded presence captivated, bringing an allure to her storytelling. Co-scribe Simon Henriques served as the lone male on stage but it was his portrayal as an existential squirrel stopped the show.
There's great promise in this piece. It just needs fresh guidance from a new source that can truly capture the message Nightdrive is trying to convey. Skylar Fox and Simon Henriques were too close to truly bring Providence, RI to all its glory.