Posted by cschultz on Mar 31, 2009 in Theatre Reviews
Brilliant! the Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla by Electric Company Theatre is visually spectacular, as long as you’re sitting in front of the stage. Brilliant! plays at the Belfry Theatre from November 11 – December 14, and is a potentially stunning account of Nikola Tesla’s rise and fall from fame in the mid-20th century.
Most associate electricity with Thomas Edison, but Brilliant! illuminates the story of his lesser-known rival, Nikola Tesla, played by Jonathan Young. Directed by Young’s wife, Kim Collier, the play begins at the end of Tesla’s life in 1942, after he dies destitute and the FBI seizes his files. The story then rewinds to Tesla as a young man in Budapest 50 years earlier and follows him as he immigrates to the United States. The narrative then moves chronologically, as Tesla gains fame as the inventor of alternating current and wireless communication, then descends into madness and solitude. The people who originally applauded his achievements eventually abandon him.
This is the first time that Brilliant! has been produced in Victoria. It was originally mounted at the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 1996 and only 45 minutes long, and has also been staged in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since it was first produced twelve years ago, Brilliant! has doubled in length and expanded from a cast of four to a cast of nine. While I didn’t see the original version, I can’t imagine the play being nearly as successful without the additional time and actors.
Young’s embodiment of Tesla is outstanding. He portrays the madness and ego of Tesla realistically and sensitively. The ensemble also deserves credit, as the five supporting actors played multiple parts, including pigeons. They were completely in sync as choreographed FBI agents and as tap dancers in one of the more entertaining scenes, called the Battle of the Currents. In this scene, Edison, played by Anthony F. Ingram, argues that direct current is better than Tesla’s alternating current, and he does it all to a song and dance number titled, “Be Direct With Me, Darling, I’ll Be Direct With You.” Tesla counters that with a powerful tap number, with one of the cast members playing the violin on stage left.
The lighting and multimedia aspects of the play are what the majority of audiences will look forward to. They don’t disappoint and are surprising and memorable at times, as long as you’re within appropriate sight lines of the action. Understandably, the Belfry can be a tough theatre to stage a play in, but I was sitting in the front row on the right-hand side of the balcony, and missed most of an entire scene because of where I was situated. The scene was modeled after a silent film, with titles projected on a large nylon ball at the front of the stage. From my viewpoint, I was unable to read the titles and completely understand the action. Some audience members giggled throughout the scene, and I wish that I could have appreciated the choppy movements and yellow-hued lighting that made the scene look like an old film.
I was also unable to see when actors entered underneath me on my side of the stage, and I can imagine that the folks on the other side of the theatre felt equally ripped off. These staging annoyances made me feel as though the production would be more appropriately mounted in a larger theatre with a larger audience.
That said, the set design was interesting, simple, and appropriate. It consisted of a screen and four steel girders made to look like the bottom of a tower. The screen opened and closed to allow for the entrance and exit of characters and props. It was also simple enough that it didn’t take attention away from the action. I was especially impressed by the scene changes, which were seamless. The simplicity of the set allowed for the passing of time and various locations to occur.
Brilliant! is certainly an impressive production, and I’m sure that most audience members will be satisfied with the special effects and impressive choreography. I’m not sure what I expected, but I left feeling as though Brilliant! is still a work in progress. I was entertained and impressed by most aspects of the production, but I wanted more, maybe even just to see the entire play.
From November, 2008.
Posted by admin on Nov 18, 2008 in Theatre Reviews
Have you ever watched a movie with your folks, only to discover that it’s full of raunchy humour? As much as you try to keep a straight face, somewhere in the middle, you let out the most horrifying snort of laughter. Even worse, so do your parents. For the average theatregoer in Victoria (think white hair and walkers), seeing Legoland at the Phoenix Theatre might be uncomfortable – it’s certainly not a night out at the Belfry. But for the twenty-somethings in the audience, this demented play is full of jokes about what makes us who we are.
Legoland, written and co-directed by Jacob Richmond, is Atomic Vaudeville’s ninth mounting of this hilarious satire of consumer culture. The play has won plenty of awards, including Critic’s Choice in Vancouver and Victoria, and Best New Play at the Toronto Summerworks Festival. The show runs as the UVic theatre department’s Alumni Series until the 19th, and delves into the minds of Penny and Ezra Lamb. The pair are teenaged siblings who take the audience on a bizarre journey from the hippie commune where they grew up, to Legoland, the world outside.
When Penny and Ezra are police-escorted home for faking seizures at Wal-Mart, the cops discover that the commune is actually a large-scale marijuana grow-op. The kids are sent to boarding school, where Penny struggles to fit in. That’s when Penny discovers 7-Up, a boy band not unlike the Backstreet Boys or N Sync, and falls in love with one of their members, Johnny Moon.
Celine Stubel and Amitai Marmorstein are completely synchronized in their portrayal of Penny and Ezra. The acting is so refined that it’s no wonder the two have starred in dozens of productions of Legoland, and one of the many reasons why this play works so well. This is absolutely necessary considering the fact that the dialogue and action are fast-paced. While it’s hard to believe that the actors are not actually siblings, Marmorstein outshines Stubel as the drug-pushing younger brother with his puppet shows and nihilistic philosophies. Although Stubel’s character drives the narrative and plays the heart-breaking innocence of a 16-year-old exquisitely, Marmorstein provides many of the belly laughs.
Technically, there were a couple of bumps in the production the night that I saw it. At times, the lighting was a concern. Puppets drifted in and out of spotlights that were intended to punctuate the action. At times, characters deliberately wandered in and out of the spots, but this was not always the case with the props, and lessened what could have been an effective use of spotlighting.
Costume changes were also rough. Because the hour-long play consists of one long scene and no intermission, the characters need to make use of what they have. The set is made up of a desk, two chairs, a projection screen, and a puppet stage. Marmorstein does many of his costume changes behind the desk, and in one instance, I missed a large portion of one of Stubel’s monologues because I was distracted by Marmorstein changing.
The technical glitches are tiny flaws in what is actually a gut-busting adventure. The play uses plenty of multimedia and props, and small malfunctions are to be expected. My biggest concern with using media on stage is always, is it necessary? I was delighted that the projection screen at the side of the stage was used to its full advantage. There is even a scene where Penny talks about her idol, Johnny Moon. As she is speaking, Penny travels behind the screen, which projects a large photo of him on the moon. Her shadow space-walks over to Moon’s shape, and she cups his face from behind the screen.
If I could seriously criticize anything, though, it would be the crowd. There were times that I roared with laughter while the rest of the audience barely let out embarrassed chuckles. Part of the fun for me was anticipating the other audience members’ reactions, and I understand why so many of them didn’t appreciate the humour. Legoland is intended for a younger audience, and most of the jokes are geared towards my age group – boy bands, McDonald’s, gangster rap. There’s even a Jeffrey Dahmer bit that made me wonder if I’d going to Hell for laughing.
Regardless, there were enough ironic twists, physical comedy, and consumer culture jokes to leave me satisfied. Don’t be fooled, though – Legoland is not a heavy-handed commentary on capitalist society, and if you know anything about pop culture, you’ll laugh.