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Performance Review:

"SEASHORE," TriArts, Inc. at Chopin Theatre

BY LUCIA MAURO

Various aspects of art and design converge in TriArts, Inc.’s production of "Seashore," an original performance piece conceived and directed by puppeteer Andrew Park at Chopin Theatre. Yet, although the desire to merge multifarious forms into a work addressing timeless themes of reaching adulthood and expanding one’s horizons, the show struggles to mesh into a cohesive whole.

Its different genres, including an oratorio-based chorus and puppets, do not smoothly flow into one other. Each scene, therefore, exists in its own charmingly absurdist universe in which characters and stories seem tossed out more as a diversion than a meaningful illumination of this hour-long work’s potentially potent metaphors.

TriArts, however, deserves credit for its commitment to transcending conventional theatrical forms. "Seashore," which tells the story of a field mouse who sets off on a journey to the ocean, is peppered with familiar images from parables, myths and fairytales, including the story of Icarus’s wax wings melting when he flies too close to the sun; a motley band of dwarves; and a serpent who’s serious about her operatic singing career.

The endlessly engaging Allison Latta stars as the humble mouse guided through an ominous forest and a cat’s lair by an astonishing a cappella chorus adept at opera, jazz and American shape-note folk songs. In fact, the vocalists alone are the main reason to experience this industrious, albeit flawed, experimental theater effort. Justine BonDurant, Jason Bowen, Robert Coleman, Ruta James, Rebecca Glass, Vicky Riego de Dios, Abby Rowald, Suk Song, Daniel Velazquez, Stacia Wagner and Owen Yen – in addition to playing multiple roles – soar beyond the stratosphere with their otherworldly voices.

However, it is also the thunderous and thrilling quality of their singing – led by music director Scott Williams – that ultimately towers over the little mouse’s courageous plight. The booming, ecclesiastical-tinged music (which would feel right at home in films like "The Robe," "Excalibur" and "Gladiator") overwhelms the story at the same time it aims to illuminate it. Chopin Theatre’s lower-level space further exacerbates the music’s overpowering bombast.

Troy Fujimura’s quietly fantastical, homemade-looking sets, lighting and puppet designs, further complemented by BonDurant’s understated costumes and Imma Curl’s resourceful props (like the serpent puppet’s battered suitcase/stage), convey the production’s aims for imaginative simplicity. But there needs to be a balance between the rapturous vocals and richly basic story; otherwise, one threatens to annihilate the other.

TriArts also may want to retool some of the work’s more cliched moments, particularly the clumsy scenes between the Mouse and her father (Coleman). Blowing dust from an ancient tome and referring to the story as "very old" is more hackneyed than quaint. And the cat-mouse seduction scene could be more original in its approach and smoother in its execution.

One of "Seashore’s" most revelatory scenes is the brilliant shadow-puppet account of the ambitious stone cutter, whose greed turns him into a rock (only to be chipped at by other stone cutters). The gentle revelatory nature and bittersweet humor of this section should be applied to the rest of the production. In addition, while reminiscent of a Lewis Carroll story, "Seashore" is interspersed with mere hints of ironic characters. TriArts could push the edgy envelope more while toning down the volume of its glorious but domineering vocals.•

TriArts, Inc.’s production of "Seashore" runs through May 26 at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division. Tickets: $15. Call 773-866-8082 or log onto www.triarts.org.

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