Friday, August 25, 2017

"Day 9, Shows 24 & 25: TheatreEddys Goes to the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival"

“Day 9, Shows 24 & 25: TheatreEddys Goes to the 2017 Fringe Festival”

Francis Poet

“Can the soul of a man be trapped in the body of a woman?”  

With that one-line question typed into the world of the Internet, a young person from Alexandria, Egypt born in the wrong body form and now seeking refuge in a non-welcoming England receives the answers and the support from a global sea of male and female faces who know first-hand the resounding answer is “Yes.”  From every continent and both countries brimming with freedom and those hounded by oppression, men and women tell this man-in-the-making their stories of transition from former sexes (“Listen, can you hear us?  … We are you … We understand”).  Their typed words and sent pictures provide him enough hope to continue his painful journey to be fully the male he had always known he was even as he was growing breasts, having his first period, and watching (with distress) his hips spread.

Francis Poet scripts the true story of the young man who extraordinarily takes to the stage for the first time to portray himself in the groundbreaking Adam, a play that journals Adam Kashmiry’s painful, persistent, and proud journey to acquire the male body that finally matches his inner being.  Mr. Kashmiry has the presence and wherewithal of an actor long accustomed to the stage while also bringing the honesty, believability, and emotional depth that only the person who has lived this story can tell it.  

His now-male Adam is accompanied in this traverse by a female-in-body Adam who plays Yin to his Yang, the counter argument to his propositions, the doubts to his hopes.  Neshla Caplan has an uncanny, physical resemblance to Mr. Kashmiry, with it being difficult to believe they are not actually twins.  Each is achingly and beautifully perfect in proceeding together through the often excruciating and frightening pathways that finally lead to the female half fading away.  Each also plays a variety of other persona, from Adam’s doting mother to a lesbian co-worker who has the hots for the female form of Adam to a monster department-store manager who likes watching lesbians kissing and likes better brutally raping one of them.

Once out of Egypt where a non-forgiving father wants nothing more to do with his too-butch daughter and a male-dominated society has no room for anyone crossing traditionally defined roles of men and women, Adam seeks refuge and asylum in Great Britain.  The 500+ days of many rejections while cooped up in a small room with no income or near-by family or friends are almost more than his two halves can physically and psychologically bear.  But survive Adam does, with the voices of the transgender world reaching out to give him advice, solace, and hope.

Beyond the incredibly authentic and moving performances of these two actors, an entire creative team has produced a theatrical event that is astounding in every respect.  First and foremost is the scenic design of Emily James (who also created the costumes).  A raised surface of various-shaped glass-like tiles form a surface that hides many aspects of a set that pop out in a variety of ways to help tell Adam’s story, forming a metaphor for the inner parts of him that remained hidden so long inside his former female form but which  cannot remain concealed all the time.   A sea of discarded, white, manakins’ body parts eerily pile themselves under the raised platform while a screen behind shows story-enhancing projections designed by Jack Henry James.  Ms. James’ glass-tiled set truly comes alive through the magical and mood-defining lighting of Lizzie Powell while the sound design of Garry Boyle brings realities of setting that the imaginative set leaves behind.  

As if the story of Adam Kashmiry is not inspirational enough, director Cora Bassett adds a crowning, never-to-be-forgotten climax by seeking the help of Leonie Rae Gasson in producing and conducting The Adam World Choir.  With Adam standing triumphantly mid-stage finally the man he always knew he was, scores and scores of voices sing in harmony a message that brings tears to every eye in the audience and every sitting person to a standing, cheering position.  

Adam is a play whose time has come, is in fact a play long over-due — an authentic story of what it means to be transgender, of what it takes in courage to become transgender.

Rating: 5 E


Irvine Welsh and Don De Grazia (Book); Laurence Mark Wythe (Music & Lyrics)

Paul has a crazy and exciting idea for his music class:  Each student writes a song whose composer is not to be identified and is to be performed by another student who chooses the title in a lottery.  Wilder still, what if teacher Paul invites a former student and the now-famed rap star Sean O’Neill to judge and award $5000 to the winning singer?  So what if singers may have to sing genres, styles, and even words out of their liking?  This is hard-nose show-biz and career-shaping learning at their combined best.  

And besides, what a great premise for Creatives, a musical darkly funny but hardly humorous in its total telling, penned by Irvine Welsh and Don De Grazia and scored with lyrics by Laurence Mark Wythe in association with STL CityWorks ford the Chicago Theatre Workshop.

Once Sean O’Neill (Tyler Fayose) is introduced and raps/sings with a overly loud voice almost as large as his strutting ego, Eric (Vasily Deris) and Jennifer (Martina Isibor) step forward to proclaim “Game On,” each with a voice that soars and sets a standard for the numbers to follow — a level of excellence overall met and even exceeded among this fine cast of singers.  The full cast challenges with robust singing and choreography the “Bullshit” they see in their ego-inflated guest judge before finally names are drawn to perform the songs they were earlier assigned by lottery.  

While each brings an impressive talent to bear, Omar Baroud as Luis particularly shines as he shoots for notes that land so on target to be stunning.  His solo of “Vampire Love Story” only gets better as its composer, Jessica (Maggie Ward), joins in duet with a softer, mysterious essence that balances his more clarion vocals.  In fact, each vocalist’s assigned number is contrasted by the composer’s voice joining in at some point; and the differences in personality, approach, and tonality brought to bear result in intriguing numbers that tell their own stories of the individuals involved.  Jay Cullen as Jeremy, Zoe West as Sheila, and Alice Carey as Ashley round out this cast, with each bringing a voice that rings in unique and often fabulous ways.

The contest proceeds but more is going on in this classroom of mixed races, genders, gender preferences, body shapes, and economic backgrounds than just a music class and contest.  Relationships past and present (and some in the possible making) and an association between two people present that one of them has no idea exists soon bring more suspense and tension beyond just who will win the grand prize.   All comes to a surprising, even shocking head in a production superbly directed by Tom Mullen and musically directed by Tamara Saringer.  And along the way, fourteen new songs representing genres wide and varied make for a rousing, compelling Creatives.

Rating: 4 E

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