Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: Finding Something to Believe In

By Michael Block

Religion is one of those topics that is personally comforting but when discussed out loud in a group, it becomes a hot button topic. No matter the context, someone is going to feel something. And that's ever-present in the New York Neo-Futurists production of Yolanda K. Wilkinson's Bible Study for Heathens. The solo show is a guided meditation of one women's journey through religions and finding something or someone to believe in.
A solo show about faith in the 21st Century, Wilkinson takes the audience on a ride of her life as she instilled her knowledge without preaching. The monologue play follows Wilkinson at a young age to today as she tries out an assortment of Faith's during crucial checkpoints in her life. From Christianity to Born Again to Judaism, Wilkinson discovers at the base there is commonality but no matter what she learns her believes belong to her and solely her. Wilkinson is a spiritually grounded performer. She uses her experiences to bring out the best in her stage persona. She layers in sly cynicism that adds a needed aura of humor into the theme.
But as captivating a performer Wilkinson is, Bible Study for Heathens encountered some roadblocks. Finding the true intent of the piece was a bit blurry for Wilkinson and director Joey Rizzolo. But that may strictly be blamed on the structure of the piece in regards to venue. You could not ask for a more fitting venue for the show. The loft at Judson Memorial Church allowed Wilkinson's voice to echo as the arches of the church were lit. But because there are no true "house lights", the audience was in full glow. And without Establishing a safe space for the audience, there was an overall sense of discomfort in the room. Religion, even in this context, can make someone Uncomfortable and by forcing the audience to partake without an "invitation" can hurt the flow and momentum. It's a general woe of solo shows that just happened to be amplified in Bible Study for Heathens. From a directorial perspective, Rizzolo made the transitions clean and tried his best to utilize the various props into the beat shifts.
Even with the restrictions of space, Rizzolo and his team made some strong artistic choices. The projection design by Cara Francis was a clever mix of fun and evocative. They helped propel the story forward. Sans the house lights lighting from Sarah Livant, did a phenomenal exploring the different looks the space provided. From the black lampshade spots to highlighting the architecture of the space, Livant’s design was purposeful.
Bible Study for Heathens was an interesting story to say the least. Yolanda K. Wilkinson has offered an incredibly interesting theatrical presentation. But Bible Study for Heathens suffered from some avoidable strong choices.