Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: A Tail of a Tale

photo by Hunter Canning
We live in the digital age. And in this digital age comes new rules and traditions that seem to have shattered old ones. Such is the case in Christopher Oscar Peña’s a cautionary tail. The story follows Vivienne, a young Chinese girl, who decides to disobey the traditions her mother bestowed for a life of her own. Her choice leads to a tangled web of misfortunes that results in her darkest secrets revealed on the internet by her scorned brother.
On the surface Peña’s script is rich with thought provoking ideas but the execution is a bit muddied. There’s a lot going on. Tradition. Love. Cyber-bulling. Revenge. Etc. All of the themes are present but because there are so many, they all seem to equal each other out. The play jumps from realistic to fantasy at the drop of a hat. It’s seamless if the goal was to create a fairy tale like story, which I’m not sure was the intention. The second the mysterious Traveling Salesman offers deals with our characters, the play took a turn for the strange. For the most part, the play allows for three intertwining plot lines. Vivienne’s, Luke’s, and Tin’s. Vivienne and Luke have a connection. They’re siblings. Tin’s only connection to Vivienne and Luke is he speaks at her graduation. Besides the fact that actor also plays Tiger, the figure representing tradition, Tin’s story could be eliminated and the play would still make sense. The play is divided into three acts. Act I is the present action, Act II is the nightmare-like world Vivienne gets transported to, and Act III is the future. After all of the action and excitement of the first two acts, Act III lacks any amount of impact and punch. It only serves to show the consequences of Vivienne’s and Luke’s actions. Additionally odd is the casting choice of having The Traveling Salesman double up and play Jack, Vivienne’s boyfriend in the future. The Traveling Salesman is such an important character in the previous acts, the connection between the two characters was lost on me.
Despite the problems with the script, the performances were strong. Cleo Gray as Vivienne offered a multi-dimensional take a conflicted young woman. Tony Vo was strong as Luke, bringing heart to the determined young brother. His two sidekicks, Brandi and Koren, played by Madeleine Bundy and Bonnie Milligan, were great, but it was Milligan’s multi scene-stealing moments that kept things exciting. Stephen Stout gave an understated yet sublime performance as Kaelan. The ensemble as a whole was exciting to watch, offering a number of high-octane dance sequences.
Benjamin Kamine did a nice job directed what he was given. It’s not an easy piece of theater whatsoever. Jonathan Cottle’s lights and David Meyer’s set transformed the space into something outstanding. Especially for Act II.
a cautionary tail is a rough around the edges but deep down, maybe with some tweaks in the script, has the potential for a great night of theater.