Monday, March 2, 2015

Review: The Wanderer Goes A-Wandering

When a life is cut short, their legacy lives on. In the case of Isabelle Eberhardt, her writings left a trail of stories and tales about a daring women seeking adventure and freedom. In Elizabeth Swados and Erin Courtney's desert infused musical The Nomad, Eberhardt's story is set to music as she navigates a courageous life through the Sahara.
Isabelle Eberhardt was a Swiss explore and writer who spent the majority of her life traveling. On her journey, she found faith, converted to Islam, and found freedom dressed as man named Si Mahmoud Essadi, among many other thigns. Though she died at age 27, Eberhardt had a vibrant past. For a fascinating woman, Swados and Courtney’s telling of her life was mediocre. Journey plays can be difficult, especially when spanning a long period of time. Ensuring clarity in story is essential as the landscape is ever-changing. Without the short program note about Eberhardt, much of her story is lost in storytelling. There is very little dialogue in The Nomad, relying heavily through lyrics. Sadly, some of the lyrics were unintentionally laughable. With an opening lyric, and song being “I Am Dead”, you can’t help but wonder if it’s a joke or not. With many moments falling into this category, the lack of clarity and intent diminishes the power this piece should have. Before Eberhardt goes on her adventure, we learn a bit about her backstory. Courtney and Swados employ a second actress to play “young” Isabelle despite only being ten years minor. While this allowed for some theatricality and intrigue in staging, it was a device that lacked impact.
photo courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum 
With so few book scenes, a clear character arc is lacking. Yet Teri Madonna brought immense conviction to the role. Madonna as Isabelle is an atypical leading lady and yet she was wondrous in the role. What Madonna’s voice lacked in power, she surely made up for in confidence. Madonna was incredibly believable in the role. To play her younger self, Sydney Blaxill didn’t have the authenticity Madonna did. Sure Young Isabelle was filled with more innocence, Blaxill’s desire for adventure didn’t come across as genuine. As Isabelle’s husband Slimene, Neil Redfield did a nice job showing his love for Isabelle. His voice was a nice blend with Madonna’s. On the whole, the ensemble moved beautifully and offered an incredible sound. With such a boom though, another female voice in the ensemble may have been helpful. But within the ensemble there were some featured players including Matthew Bovee and Michael Lapinksy who made their small parts stand out.
Elizabeth Swados directed The Nomad with purpose. She had a vision and a sense of theatricality that brought Isabelle’s world together. Isabelle’s worldly influences had an immense inspiration on the entire design. The fabric filled room by Lydia Fine worked wonders for the staging as it was a source for hiding, color, and shadow, aiding lighting designer Daisy Long immensely. Fine’s other strong contribution was her puppet design of the horse. The creation of the horse was spectacular. The motion in which the ensemble moved as one was stunning. And then suddenly, the parts exploded for choreography and the beauty was gone and all that was left was a head left to represent the horse. Lapinsky did a great job as the horse head and established himself as Isabelle’s companion, able to work solely. It’s unfortunate that such an engaging and stunning idea wasn’t continued throughout.
Telling the story of Isabelle Eberhardt is a fascinating conceit for a musical. But The Nomad wandered to the beat of its own drum, losing steam along the way.