Saturday, June 09, 2012

Akarui [Bright]

AKARUI [Bright] confounds at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland Public Theatre’s mission is to raise consciousness and nurture compassion through ground breaking new, adventurous work. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan, the theatre challenges audiences mainly strong works. Included in the winners have been this season’s ANTELBELLUM, and past offerings such as DARWINNI, THE COMUPPANCE OF MAN, BLUE SKY TRANSMISSION: A TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD, and INSOMNIA THE WAKING OF HERSELVES. Some other offerings have confounded more than excited.

Unfortunately, AKARUI [Bright], which closed the 2011-2012 season, tends to fall into the less than successful offerings category.

The overly long and over-staged work transports the viewer to a rave cave (scenic designer Todd Krispinski’s effective metal scaffold set) at the supposed end of the world. Akarui, a disk jockey, spins songs that summon the lost and the desperate to examine their transitions.

Yes, all things are in transition. Transsexuals, transition from one gender to another. The dead find themselves in the nether world after their demise. Those who commit crimes against others are caught changing as their guilt develops. In evolutionary terms, fish transition from swimming to crawling to standing erect humans. The butterfly is the result of a transition from being a larva. Scientists develop theories and change as their successes and failures mount.

These are all situations which writer Jen Silverman rolls out in AKARUI. These are the images that director Raymond Bobgan places before the viewer.

Silverman’s writing is often poetic. She proposes that until transgender people complete their process of transition, they are only “half done.” That people “climb out of their nightmares.” And, “you slap girls but you punch boys.” Her script is filled with allusions and metaphors. These often combine to make the obvious abstract. Though the author’s concept is clear, the continued repetition of the same idea, makes for a long sit.

The same could be said for Bobgan’s staging. The oft repeated stomping choreography, drumming and chanting just became too much after their original impact, stretching the production to a tedious level. A combination of editing of both script and actions would have aided to make this a more audience-friendly production.

The cast includes some excellent performances. Beth Wood as Baba Yaga, the doctor/witch, James Alexander Rankin as Joshua, a youth brutally killed who finds himself in the nether world, and Molly Andrews-Hinders, as DC, who is transiting from female to male, show understanding of their roles. David Aguila’s transition from fish to human is visually mesmerizing. The chorus carries out Bobgan’s intentions well.

Benjamin Gantose’s lighting and Michael Roesch and Raymond Bobgan’s sound designs work well.

Capsule judgement: AKARUI [Bright] brings to an end another theatre year for Cleveland Public Theatre. Though a challenging concept, the play and production just didn’t have the same positive effect as some other offerings by CPT.