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After the Flood
by Rich See
Rorschach Theatre's world premiere of After The Flood is an interesting intersection of East meets West and the imprint this meeting leaves upon the psyche of its hero, Ethan Brooks, and the colorful cast of people who surround him on his artistically spiritual adventure. Written by Randy Baker, who is also one of Rorschach's Co-Artistic Directors, the piece, which was in workshop in December 2002 was recently given a public reading at last fall's Kennedy Center "Page to Stage" festival. Now After the Flood is part of Rorschach's 2004 season, which is focusing on the art of storytelling. It's an interesting play within a play and a terrific introduction to the beautiful artistry of Malaysian shadow puppetry -- Wayang Kulit.
The story revolves around Ethan Brooks (portrayed with understated nerdiness by Jason Lott), a child of expatriate American missionaries who grew up in Malaysia. Having left his foreign home to attend college in the States, he has now returned to conduct research for his thesis paper. In reality, and unknown to himself, he is really searching for his own identity and his place in a world where he has always felt he never belonged.
Director Jeremy Skidmore and Puppet Choreographer/Co-Director James D. Hart have pulled together an admirable cast and crew to bring After The Flood to life. It's obvious a great deal of work and creativity have gone into the production and the payoff for the audience is great. The only complaint is that the show is 2 hours and 40 minutes long. Baker needs to tighten up the character development and the dialogue. There too many rambling moments and extended dialogues that simply rehash the same point which was previously made. This would help his two main story lines -- the search by Brooks to find his emotional/spiritual roots and the budding love story between he and his childhood friend Alice Morrison (played by Anne Bowles). The chemistry between Lott and Bowles is both believable and touching to watch as their romance takes its first budding steps.
Lighting Designer John Burkland makes the most of the performance space at Casa del Pueblo on Columbia Road in Columbia Heights. The space, housed within Calvary Methodist Church, adds to the whole atmosphere of the production and Burkland's lighting adds shadows to the vaulted ceiling, which flows nicely with the theme of dueling light and shadow worlds that is played out on the stage. The atmospheric lighting he has created for the puppet portions is wonderful.
David McKeever's original sound design and composition is direct from the night markets of Kuala Lumpur. Capturing the street life, as well as the romantic appeal of the land, his music blends traditional Gamelan music and Malaysian streetscapes, with his own compositions. Thus there is seldom a time when the stage is completely quiet, so that you truly are immersed in the Malaysian world.
Costume Designer Debra Kim Sivigny's puppets are really the centerpiece of the show. Their forms capture the traditional spirit of Wayang Kulit while giving a modern interpretation to this ageless performance art.
Set Designer Matt Soule has created a minimalist set that flows from one scene to another. The three shadow puppet screens, which flank the back areas are incorporated into the set, so they never distract from the action occurring on stage.
Aside from the well cast Lott and Bowles, other standouts include Frank Britton in dual roles as puppet master Tok Baku and Ethan's friend, Devon. Paul MacWhorter, Meg Taintor, and Joshua Skidmore energize the puppets as the King, Lady Sita, and the Fool. Keeping adults captivated with a puppet fairy tale is no easy task and they've succeeded greatly. Scott McCormick's monster is appropriately gruesome, while his Monsieur de Monkey is humorously Disney-like. Jennifer Knight excels as Jelita, the quietly composed wife of missing puppet master Tok Baku. Portraying her concern for her husband's safety, while also honoring the culture's intense code of emotional privacy, is a fine line she gracefully walks. Franklin Dam and Al Twanmo fill out the cast, Twanmo as the extremely taciturn, peanut eating Yusuf and Dam in a variety of roles, most humorously as the Rod Stewart-singing Ibrahim, who picks Ethan up on his way to "K.L." (Kuala Lumpur).
Though the script could use a little more fine tuning, all in all, this is a wonderful addition to Washington's growing base of locally written, produced, and premiered theatrical works. Something we should all support and encourage!
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