Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Review: Get Out of Jersey

By Michael Block

New Jersey is more than just Italian mob families and rich housewives and booze-guzzling shore-goers. There’s a rich landscape of mountains and beaches and farms and gardens. Well, itt is in fact the Garden State. Using Jersey as the backdrop, Adam Bertocci transplants the characters of Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a magical place called Stormville. But what exactly is Stormville? Buckle yourselves in for a two-act adventure called Miranda from Stormville, presented by Random Access Theatre at IRT.
Miranda from Stormville is a version of The Tempest that tells the tale of finding the time to get out and break free into the world. Miranda is a young woman stuck taking care of her decaying father, Pops Milano. Pops has a revered reputation in town where any mention of his name garners an immediate reaction. When a tempest of a storm stalls two travelers on their way to Atlantic City, Miranda takes pals Will and Steve in. Along the way, they are introduced to Ariel, a high-spirited caretaker of Pops, and Calvin, a dark and mysterious handyman of sorts. Bertocci creates a mystery that evolves as to what this world is and how these strangers are incorporated into this specific moment in time. Is it a world of fate or is it all a concoction created by Pops? Bertocci’s writing has a sense of whimsy, but with a twist. He offers a fairly accessible palette of dialogue that breaks into a heightened sense of language at times. By staying close to the plot of the source material, Bertocci has allowed the modern themes to feel reborn, despite the characters being weighed down by circumstance in Props game of chess. What’s missing from Miranda from Stormville is a sense of true urgency. A storm is happenstance in this modern world. A mechanic can easily fix the car and the boys can be on their merry way. They willingly trust the words of strangers when their overall objective of leaving is absolutely achievable. Those keys aren’t lost forever. But the source material needs them to remain even if modern logic says otherwise. If the magic and mystery is truly just a ploy to allow Miranda to go on her own way, she needs to have her moral obstacle arrive sooner as her backstory has informed us that she’s given very little thought to actually abandoning her father and running away with her heart. She seems content to being one of those people trapped in redundancy.
photo by Rachelle White
With a lack of urgency in the text, it’s possible for the stakes to rise up if the pacing gets faster. Director Jennifer Sandella allowed the play, like the set, to feel lived in. She focused in on the relationships of the various duos in the show. With so much wonderful character-focused work, the show desired to be brisker and to move from scene to scene faster. With a brave use of space from Sandella and scenic designer Roni Sipp, maneuvering from location to location with many jump cuts forced the scene changes to lag. And not all scene shifts were accompanied by a musical or ambient undertone. Bertocci’s text plays into a world mystery and magic. Sandella did an admirable job navigating the clarity when defining the rules of the world. Establishing what characters know and believe is essential for the audience to follow along. With pieces of furniture and levels to describe specific rooms and locations, Roni Sipp chose a smattering of old and new. One of the more dynamic elements of the set was the usage of items hanging down from the sky. From shades to plants to the skeleton of an umbrella, they helped to fill the space physically and viscerally.
Even as an ensemble piece, at the center of this story is the titular Miranda. Mackenzie Menter has a very ethereal way about her portrayal of Miranda. She had Miranda waver back and forth in her young emotions, seemingly having a change of heart at the flip of a dime. She didn’t quite have a hunger for more which made her move to leave that much more surprising. As the new entity in Miranda’s world, Gabe Templin’s Will certainly captured the odd man out character. He was a stranger in a strange land. As the way in for the audience, Will gets to be our eyes and ears for the unknown. The character processes a lot in this quick slice of life story and makes a discombobulated decision. Now for the magic of the world, Anna Cain and Brendan Cataldo as Ariel and Calvin respectively played on opposite sides of the spectrum of magical and realistic. Cain’s Ariel had a lot of whimsy to her. She took the playful approach without a flourish. Cataldo’s Calvin was the most interesting character and performance. As we learn in the second act, Calvin personified the legendary Jersey Devil. As a Jersey boy myself, my heart desired a reference to this creature lore so the inclusion of this plot point was icing on the cake. With a brooding demeanor and sense of mystery, Cataldo left you wanting more. And that’s a good thing.
Adam Bertocci allows Miranda to be set free at the end of the play. Even being a safe place, the moral of this story is there’s always a time to leave home for a new life and adventure. There is an ambitious concept within Miranda from Stormville that is poignant today. It just needs some tweaking to resonant further.