Monday, May 16, 2011

Nearly There: Hotel Cassiopeia presented by Fort Point Theatre Channel

Hotel Cassiopeia
By Charles Mee

Production Design/Concept by Sylvie Agudelo
Stage Direction by Marc S. Miller
Assistant Director, Christie Lee Gibson
Stage Manager, Aaron Cohen
John Crowley: Set construction
Jennifer Hardy: choreographer
Tanya Kutasz, stage manager
Andrew Neumann: composer
Robin Reilly: costume consultant, set construction
Todd Sargent: lighting design
Nick Thorkelson: set design collaborator, graphic design
Douglas Urbank: film design
Daniel J. van Ackere: set construction, photography
Mark Warhol: sound design

The ensemble
Robert Murphy (appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association)
Jake Berger
Mary Driscoll
Silvia Graziano
Meredith Stypinski
Allison Vanouse
Rick Winterson

There are many places that I find myself venturing to all over Boston in order to catch a show. I think that’s probably one of my favorite things about doing these reviews. Specifically, I found myself in South Boston at the Channel Center, a small office/restaurant park checking out the Fort Point Theatre Channel's production of Hotel Cassopeia.  The play was written by Charles Mee, a writer best known for his collage like work in his text for the stage. He is inspired by other works and existing texts to create his own interpretations. The story takes a look into the life of artist Joseph Campbell and his relationships with the various people in his life, including famous celebrities of the time and his family members.  Campbell was known for his assemblage type pieces that were essentially interactive wooden boxes or frames that had bits and pieces of found objects, from a time piece, paper, seashells, etc. Whatever he could use was placed in his art. Not having seen anything like it in person, I was going off on what I had read and seen pictures of. It was very fascinating to see what exactly he was trying accomplish. Mee's play is appropriate to tackle Joseph Cornell's life and relationships, as they both share the common ground of assemblage.

The space where the production was presented laid out a lot of different challenges at first glance. Placed in a art gallery type area, it was clear that trying to put on a show in that space was most likely difficult to stage effectively. The obvious issue was the fact that huge pillars obstructed the views of various set pieces. Though the design was a good one and a great idea, specifically a large city skyline, a giant pillar was standing in the way, preventing a much desired view to see more. Again, this is the space the show was in. As for some other pieces of the set, it seemed it was trying to integrate an Art Deco feel, but never going on to expand on it. It was simple enough with chairs, tables and the like, but to see more would’ve created a stronger world. There pieces that were put in that almost felt out a place but would’ve been other complimented if more was added.  Pieces or actual examples of Cornell's work would've added a nice touch as well. Nothing substantial is needed, but enough to give a sense of his mind. It was nice to see some of it included, like papers and a seashell here and there, but again, it couldve have been pushed further. As for the lighting, I appreciated the use of strong colors lighting various walls of the stage. I enjoyed seeing such a nice blue, pink and turquoise, but there were some black spots that were obvious and often when an actor couldn't find their light, it ended up being distracting. Even at certain times, either of emotion or isolation, it would’ve been good to see more specials or a few other colors thrown in. The designs had started a good foundation but more could've been built upon it. As for the costumes, I appreciated the simplicity and the period appropriate feel of the attire.  The red ballerina dresses stood out for obvious reasons, but they were not only well crafted but worked for the show.

As for the direction, I felt the world that was created was almost an assemblage, much like Cornell's work. I appreciated this choice, especially since the text lends itself to so much interpretation.  However, there were times where I felt the blocking ideas were very strong, but there was almost a lack of intention with certain moments.  I wanted to see Cornell showcased more downstage and often felt he wasn't utilized as much as he could’ve been.  Also, there were few moments where various clips of black and white movies that were highlighted.  As I appreciated the usage of film in a stage production, it felt sometimes shoehorned into this production and out of place. As for the sound design, the classical music was an incredibly nice touch and played well to the more emotional moments throughout. The harsher sounds and tones used were a bit too much at times, though and felt anachronistic, not necessarily fitting in. This doesn't take away from the fact that there so many great ideas integrated into the show, but it didn’t seem like they would’ve worked for this one in particular.

The ensemble pulls of some good performances. Robert Murphy's Joseph Cornell is believable enough as an unsure, quiet, soft-spoken kind individual. He carries the show well and he displays a soft demeanor incredibly well. However, with Mees' text, he doesn't expand and build upon what he speaks about and what he’s passionate about. The relationships he has with others, including his ill brother could’ve been a bit deeper, knowing that he had given up so much in order to take care of him. He does it without thinking, knowing he would never regret the decision. As for the rest of the ensemble, everyone else does a great job in establishing various characters. It was very noticeable that even with different characters; each actor interacts with Murphy's Cornell carefully and are aware of their world. Again, the text creates a wonderful opportunity to take characters and moments to varying levels. I felt everyone did a great job in really taking their time with and understanding the words.  In one moment, the roles of the ballerinas are done beautifully and Silvia Graziano, Meredith Stypinski, and Allison Vanouse create three very lighthearted and sweet characters and are a joy to watch on stage. Everyone does a strong job in creating believable and engaging characters.

Again, this particular production presents a very strong foundation. The envelope could've been a pushed more here and there, but the show stands alone on its own two feet incredibly well. The ART has always been known to do these kinds of shows and Fort Point Theatre Channel creates a staged performance art piece that isn’t necessarily in your face about it. I appreciated that their attempt to create this world was filled with so many great ideas. Even though some worked and others didn't work as well, there was an enjoyable night of theatre displayed, filled with strong moments and performances.

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