Photo by Charlie Winter
This Halloween, AliveWire Theatrics provides a sepulchral journey to self-discovery with You Will Make a Difference, a collaboratively created show more experiential than story oriented. This relentless string of unrelated scenarios offers the most chilling seasonal horror: truly bad theater.
Still, the opportunity to wander through the landmark West Park Presbyterian Church, built in 1889, makes this hodge-podge collection of material somewhat bearable. Conceived and directed by Jeremy Goren, the inaugural A/M/P Resident at AliveWire, the audience embarks on a theatrical adventure, following the performers through several floors of the darkened Romanesque Revival church—from its balcony to the musty basement—in a quest to understand exactly what is happening.
Taking inspiration from medieval pageant plays, the TV show “My So-Called Life,” Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the performer’s own stories, and other diverse sources, You Will Make a Difference, begins when the audience enters the sanctuary: a grandiose set itself. Rather than using the building to the show’s benefit, set designer Sandy Yaklin constructs an amateurish set, more appropriate for an elementary school play. The cast assembles in front of this Tree of Life facsimile and random scenes unfold: a tribal chant penetrates the silence, arms rise, bodies move, and lights flicker revealing silhouetted figures. More posing occurs than acting. Between the cloudy accents and the lack of a viable sound system, dialogue fades into a guttural verbalize. Lighting by Jess Greenberg fares better: Especially fun is the disco-like black lighting of the staircases near the show’s end, which allow the masking tape placed as a trail to reflect garishly.
As the performers finish this first vignette, disappearing in a swirl of song and dance, the audience, led by ushers’ flashlights, moves into a modern kitchen area. Again, performers arbitrarily come and go: a girl lies on the counter, another fiddles with the refrigerator door, someone else looks introspectively at the coffee pot. The silence becomes a long-winded burden, punctuated only by thumping footsteps, or the slam of a pot’s lid. Welcome to the most depressed collection of people in the world. Finally, the actors speak and, for a moment, the glorious voyeuristic pleasure of overhearing conversations sharpens the experience as a variety of characters (husband/wife, high schoolers, lovers) talk about pimples, the expendability of women, weekends, and other sundries. This feeling fades when the banality offers no resonance, no story, and no apparent reason for its utterance.
The remainder of the show takes the audience to the pits of the basement to see performers squirm their way around the peeling paint and the discarded furniture. Next, the gathering passes under a bridge of raised arms to spookily lit staircases to a ballroom area by the kitchen set where performers act like Hyde Park’s soapbox speakers, asking questions such as, “What is the American Dream?” and offering the thoughts of whatever persona captures their fancy. The show ends with a communal meal prepared by Artist/Chef Anne Apparu. After the marzipan candy, a fiddler plays hoedown and waltz music so audience and actors can dance with one another. Afterward, when the usher leading people out was asked: “How long does this go on?” She answered: “Until we drop of exhaustion.” Her line sums up best the You Will Make a Difference experience.
Stephanie Eiss, Tara Elliott, Nicki Kontolefa, Jeff Kitrosser, Laura Riveros, Derek Spaldo, & Martha Frances Liv Williams, Samantha Rivers Cole, Ben Lambert, Claire Lebowitz, Rishika Mehrishi, Courtney Ross, and a rotating group of guest performers
Performances from October 19th - November 11th, 2012
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm