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A Vast Wreck
Richard Caliban's press release describes his play A Vast Wreck as "Peer Gynt crashing into Our Town". Lacking the poetic grandeur of the first and the humanity of the second, the result is what Thomas Hobbes described as "nasty, brutish and short." Only the cast and direction keep one from adding not short enough.
With make-up and costumes that combine commedia del arte and early 20th century German decadence, director Dara Weinberg's acrobatic blocking keeps the violence symbolic and lightens its dark sadism. The story follows the trail of Peer Gynt, here called Peter Gibbs (Mark McClain Wilson) from a childhood of physical abuse by a monster mother (Gabby Sanalitro) and everyone else he meets. He falls in love with Knockout (Claudia Choi) whose industrialist mysoginistic father (Stephen Alan Carver) offers him a job but the price for job and daughter is Peter's heart. Here the play is interrupted by Grace Eboighe playing a character called Playwright who saves Peter's heart. It's as good a cop-out as any.
Although the play is performed without intermission, Playwright also announces Act Breaks. In Act 2, Peter falls in love with Solveig (Rebecca Rhae Larsen) and announces his life is solved. In the next breath, he decides there's too much going on in the world for him to stay home and throws himself, with equal levels of corruption, into the worlds of politics, art and religion. In Act 3, Peter comes home but, true to the playwright's vision, there's no happiness in this "Our Town". The town he scornfully derided as "drowning in a dream" is now bubbling in a caldron of brutality and boom-boxes.
The one-dimensional misogynism dilutes the play but Dara Weinberg's direction, which practically choreographs it, reinforces Theatre of Note's reputation as an exciting cutting edge house. Wilson finds Peter's pain and passion, which is all that's on offer in the script, and the supporting cast punch up their one-dimensional portraits with admirable vitality. Sanalitro is an unforgettable image as Aase and Larsen's delicate grace makes her an ingénue par excellence. Carver ranges with authority from small-town Doc Gibbs to greedu people-hating Daddy.
Erin Brewster's mimalist set design consists of two stepladders and a handful of chairs which the actors transform into set elements. Millie Chow's costumes are brilliant, both in interpretation and color. The exqusite pinpointing of Dan Jenkins' lighting design infinitely expands NOTE's tiny narrow playing space.
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