Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: The Parody of the Opera

Thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, The Phantom of the Opera and theater have a special relationship. Like the silent film before it, the musical has almost become the iconic adaptation staple of Gaston Leroux’s novel. Taking a stab at Leroux’s work in a new form takes ambition and a brilliant concept. Inspired by the novel that has already spawned various incarnations on film and stage, John Patrick Bray’s Erik explores The Phantom of the Opera in a very odd manner.
In Erik, playwright John Patrick Bray uses the Phantom and his pals to satirize humanity as the real freak show. Using such dark source material to satirize takes skill and a clear vision. Erik was borderline parody in presentation. You can’t help but laugh, and not for the reasons the piece intended. With such drastic styles in acting, design, and direction, like the set, Erik was a patchwork of execution. While on paper, Bray’s script may have had a vision but it was the execution by director Jerrod Bogard that made it muddied. First and foremost, the use of a puppet as Erik the phantom was a brazen choice that did not translate aside from being something interesting to utilize. Figuring out the reason why The Phantom of the Opera and a freak show were brought together is unclear. With no real explanation on the link, Bogard played the parody card as asked but it just didn’t translate. Some of his actors played a stylized over-the-top while others were more straightforward. With lack of cohesion, the satire was lost due to poor execution.
photo courtesy of David Anthony
Playing the ingénue Christine, Montana Lampert Hoover was a wonderful damsel. Get her an audition for the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera and she’ll likely book it. But in this production, she didn’t reach parody. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Bryn Packard found a wonderful parody for Raoul. Packard was the handsome fool who pines for the woman who runs for him. Samantha DeSimone and Chris Behan as Meg and Josef tread the line between freak show and source material but their moments read as bits rather than plot. Matt Pepitone as the Detective is a tried and true comedian is the funniest on stage as he investigates the mysterious murders.
A carnival-like atmosphere sets the mood as soon as the audience walks in. And moments before the show is set to start, a barker irritates the audience. And continues to do so during and after the show. Tar Ben-Dor’s aggressiveness may have been the most drastic reason for separation between him and the rest of the ensemble. With Ben-Dor as the first to greet the audience, he sets the tone. His tone doesn’t fall into the mission of the rest of the piece which may be a factor for the lack of consistency. In another piece, Ben-Dor’s barker would be great, but his choices didn’t match the parody of the piece.
Erik puppeteer and designer Kevin Peralta did a great job giving life to the skeletor-phantom. The set design by director Bogard was a patchwork of fabrics and flimsiness. The poor location of the single set was due to a lighting unit, though the restraints of the festival may be to blame. The lighting design by Jak Prince and sound design by Ian Wherle aided to the atmosphere, isolating the two specific worlds. The costumes by Antonio Consegra certainly evoked the period quite well.
Though there are hits throughout alluding to the theme of beauty and the freak within, shining the lights on the audience is daring, yet alienating. Erik is certainly a piece that will be polarizing. Whether it succeeds in its mission, that’s the big question.