Dell'Arte's annual Thesis Festival represents the graduating MFA students' transition to the world beyond school — a world to which they will bring the totality of their three-year immersion in theater of place. The four pieces presented are all very different, reflecting the broad range of techniques studied, but all also very much about transitions: between life and death, love and disillusion, childhood and old age, disintegration and reconstruction.
Performances are spread over two nights, with the first two pieces presented on Thursday and Saturday, and the second two on Friday and Sunday.
In Go Below Yourself, Southern belle Susan (Kathryn Cesarz) finds herself unexpectedly dead and, even more unexpectedly, in what appears to be hell. Greeted by a bizarre cast of characters (Melanie Schauwecker, Jesse March, Evan Grande and Janie Pinard), Susan decides she must teach them some manners, which she believes will lead to her atonement and ultimate transfer to a more appropriate afterlife. All the characters are wonderful but on opening night had not quite coalesced into an integrated ensemble. I'm sure this will have been resolved by the second weekend.
Visions of A Crying Girl is a very different piece — no comedic script, no colorful costumes, just two performers (Cleo DeOrio and Jordan Rosin) performing the quiet dance of a dying relationship. We watch with growing sadness the rituals of coupledom descend into mundane, meaningless rote and unfulfilled dreams float away as they try desperately to recapture the magic. With black-and-white costumes and Pierrot makeup, this is minimalist theater at its expressive best.
The word Kedma encompasses both the distant past and the unknown future, the beginning and end of the day, and the turning of the earth, so it is appropriate that the piece is performed outdoors in the round. Extracting maximum interpretive power from masks and movement, Kedma takes us inside the final journey of an old woman (Idit Kischinovsky), weaving together both real and imagined characters from her past (Leslie Castellano and Shawn Wagner) against a visceral soundscape by Maggie Lally.
The final piece, Deshuesadero Suite, is by far the most abstract. Deshuesadero ("untying" in Spanish) is an apt metaphor for this extraordinarily choreographed dance of bodies in search of themselves. Set in a dark space with only a coffin-like box, Alfredo Romero, Carolina Pimentel and Daniel Loyola play with each other's minds as they tear apart and reconstruct semblances of self with the assistance of grotesque masks, giant potato sacks, a suitcase and a small, mysterious container.
In a recent Peanuts strip, Peppermint Patty wonders "Is love a 'now' kind of thing ... or is it mostly hope and memories?" Every one of the characters presented in the 2019 Thesis Festival is, in their own way, wondering the very same thing. All four pieces are sufficiently well-developed and rounded to stand alone; together, they form an arc of interpretation that is well worth two trips to Blue Lake.
The Thesis Festival continues Thursday through Sunday, May 23-26. Call 668-5663 or visit www.dellarte.com.
Perched between two tragic periods in 20th century history was Germany's era of the Weimar Republic from 1919 to 1933. Laid low by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the nation of Germany was in a time of economic and political ruin but it was also a time of cultural freedom that dovetailed with the American Jazz Age of the 1920s. It was a time of sexual liberty and freedom that was yet unseen in Europe, and American writer Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin at the time and documented it in his writings. His works give the basis for the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret, which North Coast Repertory Theatre presents now in what may be their best production so far this season.
Cliff Bradshaw (Jordan Dobbins) arrives in Berlin on a New Year's weekend in the early 1930s, a young American writer traveling through European capitals looking for inspiration. He makes friends in the rooming house belonging to Fräulein Schneider (a sharp Dianne Zuleger) as he teaches English to make some extra money, including from Ernst (Evan Needham), who has a side hustle himself smuggling Parisian goods into the impoverished nation.
But at the center of Cabaret is the titular venue and all that goes on onstage and in the shadows. Ernst tips off Cliff about the Kit Kat Club, a popular Berlin nightspot. "Willkommen" is the opening number of Cabaret and it is a flashy, knockout start for the gender-bending and raucous tone of Tigger Bouncer Custodio's great production. The Emcee of the Kit Kat (Gary Bowman) introduces the dancers of the club and remains the central presence of the show throughout.
Most of the drama centers on Cliff's burgeoning relationship with Sally Bowles (Emma Johnstone), an English singer at the Kit Kat who comes to live in Cliff's room. Johnstone, last seen at NCRT in King Lear, winningly belts two of the play's best numbers, "Don't Tell Mama" and "Mein Herr," and she and Dobbins have good chemistry.
The plum role belongs to Bowman, last seen in Ferndale Repertory Theatre's Chicago, and he's stunning in a role that steals the show and earns it with audacity and rigorous physical work. Director Custodio clearly is in his wheelhouse as the choreographer of the production and all of the Kit Kat dancers do great double duty throughout in creative ways, big and small.
Germany's libertine Weimar Republic gave way to the rise, the rule and the ruin of the Third Reich, and Cabaret's second act is unflinching in making clear what is ahead for its principals and for the nation. For an often fun and rowdy production, Cabaret's final moments drive that home in a moment during which you could hear a pin drop even from the back row.
Cabaret plays at the North Coast Repertory Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through June 16. For more information, call 442-NCRT or visit www.ncrt.net.
Ferndale Repertory Theatre's poppy, playful Mamma Mia! plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through June 2. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.