by DICK KEREKES
In any critics life there are red letter nights. The production of “ELEGIES”, presented October 17-19 at Pangea Live was one of those.This is an after the fact review, not by choice, but since 5 & Dime is a nomadic group with no permanent theatre home, they cannot always obtain a location for 2 or 3 weekends.
This play written in l989 by Bill Russell was inspired by the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and confronts the ever present epidemic of HIV/AIDS head on.
As an audience we met 31 people who have died from HIV/AIDS who each came center stage to a microphone. Under the sensitive and perceptive direction of LEE HAMBY, an impeccable cast and crew spin a startling emotional epic on the human ability to face adversity. If we did not already know it, we learned that HIV/AIDS, does not discriminate who it affects. There are many straight victims, from prostitutes and drug addicts to persons who contracted the disease from a blood transfusion, an unknowing partner or a medical mishap.
Given the subject matter, you would expect a punishing evening of theatre, instead because of the absorbing performances and it became a powerful and provocative theatre experience. The entire cast sat in chairs on the stage or in front of it. Four performers came to chairs in center stage then individually advance to tell their story.
Six songs composed by Janet Hood, are interjected after 4 or 5 of the monologues. Not just a detachable adornment, the music became an intricate part of the event. The six singers, CHRIS ARSENAULT, DREW BROWN, OLIVIA CHERNYSHEV, SADIE LA MANNA, ZONNETTA MARIE, EMILY SUAREZ, JOSH WALLER AND JUAN UNZUETA gave performances that were truly heartfelt and authentic.
Although it was written in l989, the playwright obviously has done some updating. One monologue had some comments about Tiger Woods and his ex-wife and the golf club incident. Another very poignant message AIDS in Africa. As young housewife, Nonkosi (KENYADA WILLIAMS) expressed rage against the do nothing politicians as she related the story about her unfaithful husband who gave her the virus, then died, soon to be followed by her own death.
Several monologues were well placed to give the audience a bit of light respite from the death stories. As an audience we appreciated the change of pace and found them, even with the humor, to be in the spirit of the piece.
BROOKS ANNE MEIERDIERKS as Joanne, when learning she was infected, went out and did her favorite thing, shopping, using her credit cards. This segment moved on to the song “Spend It While You Can”. CURTIS J. WILLIAMS as Joe, is upset because the panel his friends are creating for him on the Quilt, is not fabulous enough. BLAKE OSNER as Roscoe, was the most costumed as an over the top drag queen.
While all the songs were good, the two I liked the best and apparently so did the audience, was “Celebrate” featuring Juan and Zonnetta in a vocal sing off. Unzueta also sang the closing number, “Learning to Let Go” and was joined by the other singers and the entire cast in a rousing finish that was staggering in its effect.
Director Hamby, who is very costume conscious, had the cast wearing their personal clothing and that in some cases reflected their station in life. (Example, an accountant worn a tie, a business woman an appropriate dress.)
In reading the excellent playbill, there were many actors I have seen in other plays. There were many I was seeing for the first time. When you have a cast of some 40, as a critic, I expected some performances would not be up to par, but such was not the case. Each performer approached their particular part as if they were the leading actor, and displayed flawless timing and emotion.
LAURA PEDEN was the Musical Director on the keyboard with MICAH DAVIS on the Guitar. The behind the scenes staff included KAT MCLEOD (Stage Manager), CRAIG LEAVITT (Production Manager), CARL VORWERK (Lighting Design) and BRIAN GRANT (Production Assistant).Kudos as well to STACI GRANT, for an excellent playbill that much have taken hours to assemble and included all the actors and production staff.
The marvelous cast, in alphabetical order included: JULIE ANTON, RYAN ARROYO, CHAZ BACK, SARA BISHOP, SUSAN CARCABA, JAY COBIAN, SOMMER FARHAT, KATIE GILE, EVAN GOULD, CYNDI GRUBBS, RHODIE JACKSON, TIMOTHY JEFFERSON, JARDYN LAKE, RITA MANYETTE,LAURA MAULDIN, SHAWN MEHARG, BROOKS ANN MEIERDIERKS, GONZALO MEJIA, ALLEN MORTON, BLAKE MICHAEL OSNER, STEVE PEANO, ISOM STEVE PHILLIPS, E-ROCK RASMUSSEN, KEVIN ROBERTS, ABIGAIL SAENZ, MICHAEL KEATON SMITH-KELLY, JOSHUA TAYLOR, DAVE ALAN THOMAS, CURTIS J. WILLIAMS, KENYADA WILLIAMS AND TIFFANY WRIGHT.
I Left the theatre, like the audience, very moved by a production that was filled with skillful performances. Bravo, 5 & Dime.
ELEGIES for ANGELS, PUNKS & RAGING QUEENS
by DICK KEREKES