Audience: Michael Shapiro
An alternately gripping, desolate, and funny look at the life cycle of a New York relationship, brought to life by three notably talented dramatic actors.
Exploring a relationship through flashbacks and post-mortem isn’t a new idea, but the attention to detail and sheer performance talent here make this play distinct. Scott Langer’s story is dense with the true-to-life rituals and nuances of a relationship, carrying us to its giddy heights and despairing depths. The narrative feels distilled from real life experience, but is dramatized into vignettes that make it relatable for outsiders. I was drawn into world of the story from the first moment.
Performances are believable and rich with personality. Langer’s haunted and brooding male lead is nicely complemented by the alternately giddy and desperate counterpoint from costar Ashley Fountain. Though Sam Quinn’s best-friend-with-his-own-issues has only a brief episode on stage, he feels as real and fleshed out as the two principals.
A classical tragedy set in a superhero universe that’s both familiar and distinct, vividly rendered through choreography and stagecraft. A mediation on the dangers of both envy and forgiveness. Watchmen meets Othello.
What I liked
Crafts’ familiarity with comic book tropes allows him to offer a convincing alternative to the familiar populations of D.C. and Marvel. The Tattered Capes world contains analogues of heroes like Superman, Quicksilver, and Batman, presented with the same balance of self-aware comedy and forthright sincerity that characterizes the best graphic novels. Funny without ever becoming self-demeaning, Crafts’ world is the backdrop for a tragicomic tale of love besieged by insecurity and hunger for power. Constantly shifting between humor and darkness, the storyline’s morality tale leads us down a path we’d never infer from the whimsical prologue.
The story would be effective on its own, but is made startlingly vivid by Corey Lynn Howe’s visual concept and Soda Persi’s choreography. A minimalist set is defined by movable walls that can double as scenery or screens for shadow acting. Heroes and villains tense into martial poses, flip, clash, or roll gracefully across the set – their gymnastics sometimes abetted by unobtrusive “shadow” actors in grey. We accept the visual language immediately and start to forget that the shadows are there. Aided by larger-than-life sound design, we start to imagine the impossible forces that the stage motion suggests.
The cast embraces the sincerity-amidst-comedy comic book duality, letting the grand personas feel natural without being overly naturalistic. Travis Joe Dixon brings nuance and humanity to the misguided hero/husband M-Pulse, whose journey is designed to give us a progression of conflicting emotions. Joanna Mercedes wonderfully conveys a mixture of strength, earnest idealism, and the heartbreaking vulnerability the forms the core of the story.
Supporting cast are excellent as well, giving humor and nuance to familiar tropes, and acknowledging their own foibles while never disrespecting comic book tradition.
The intelligence of the narrative, commitment of cast, and strikingly imaginative physicalization together make the story utterly absorbing despite the modest size of Studio/Stage. The word “immersive” is thrown around a lot in theater; here, world building and performance create deeper immersion than interactive gimmickry ever could.
What could be improved
The dark narrative may not emotionally resonate with every audience member. There’s sometimes an ambiguity about whose story is being told, making us feel like an outside observer of events, rather than a constant rider in a protagonist’s head.
While the action sound design is superb, the spartan set cries out for more audio ambience to establish locations like a city block, restaurant, or secret headquarters. Some moments feel awkwardly quiet and dry, detached from a sense of physical locale.