Monday, May 4, 2009

Bringing the Laughter Back

Red Noses
Strawdog Theatre Company

When Strawdog Theatre Company picked their line up for their 21st season a year ago, there was no pig flu scare. When the show opened just a few short weeks ago, the words pandemic were not batted around like tennis balls, but it's ironic that their current show is about the black plague in the middle ages.

But there is little that would indicate that this production takes place in the 13th Century. Everyone is dressed in modern casual and often breaks out into well placed contemporary pop songs. This production is nothing but fun - even despite the heavy subject material. The audience enters as the cast is on-stage playing a Strawdog house game called strike ball (a derivative of basketball played with a kickball and wooden boxes). The game is broken up by Master Pestilence, the representation of the death from the plague, and the play begins. But this is done with expert Brecht alienation and we are able to see the story unfold both objectively and emotionally.

The Strawdog ensemble is perfectly used as the band of clowns who we follow on their journey to spread God's laughter to the suffering masses as a way to combat the plague and the persecution they later face at the hands of the church. This is one of the best uses of this ensemble that I have ever seen with each person getting their own little moments in the spot light. A superb supporting cast accompanies them along the way.

The play is designed so simply that the design work becomes profound. Everything has it's place and speaks very powerfully. From the simple costumes, to the checkerboard floor, to the yellow paint representing the plague, not a single gesture is wasted.

When it comes down to it, this production isn't one of those plays that necessarily leaves you emotionally exhausted or that overwhelms you as an amazing night of theatre you've seen. However, the production is 100% solid. You are perfectly aware of how effective the staging is - you never miss a moment. You will understand the story and understand the message the play is trying to convey. I have never walked out of a theatre more satisfied with my experience than I did when I walked out of the friendly confines at their theatre on North Broadway.

I honestly have to say that this is one of the strongest productions I have ever seen by Stradow's ensemble. This is one of those shows that you need to go and see (right now!) to be reminded about what pure and effective theatre can be.

Happy Birthday: Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)

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