BWW Reviews: Sky Candy's COSMICOMICS Leaves Austin Starstruck
I'm going to tell you why Austin is so cool. One of the many reasons why Austin is amazing, eclectic, "weird", and cutting edge, is simply because it offers all kinds of amazing experiences one wouldn't be able to find in a city of comparable size. One can take in one of many performances simultaneously going on any night. But something that I truly believe is a crowning achievement is the fact that we have some of the most unusual and magical performances one could possibly find in this part of the United States. I never truly realized just how lucky we all are until I was at Sky Candy's performance of COSMICOMICS on Sunday night. Yes, Austin has fine art, opera, ballet, theatre, and symphonic works as many larger cities do, but how often can you find a multi-faceted collaboration of all arts combined in one performance? That is what I was treated to last weekend.
COSMICOMICS is an extraordinary creation, adapted from the stories of Italo Calvino, and fashioned by the talented collaborative forces of acclaimed Austin theatre director Rudy Ramirez and the Sky Candy ensemble. Italo Calvino's COSMICOMICS, a beautiful and unique achievement in storytelling, tells tall tales about creation-magical, fantastical, adventurous stories-but it bases those stories on the findings of science and does not ask that we give these stories our belief, the way that countless creation myths have done over the centuries. In doing so, these stories insist that science and magic are not mutually exclusive and that the discoveries of science can give us meaning and show us miracles through the bridge of our imagination. After a series of workshops earlier this year, the piece was carefully sculpted. COSMICOMICS draws from the aesthetics of silent film, commedia dell'arte and turn-of-the-century circus arts to tell stories of climbing ladders to the moon, the love-life of the last living dinosaur, and why the ultimate answer to the question "Why are we here?" just might be "pasta."
The show opens with lab-coat-donning Julie Moore as a frazzled grad student. With her flurry of scientific lecture papers, Moore's performance is delivered in the proper chaotic manner and with a delicious commedia dell'arte flair. The show then quickly takes a turn, as the various forces in the universe decide to speak for themselves, and we are told the story of the central character of "Qfwfq" through time and space. From the very beginning, one feels transported to a far away land with the perfectly-paired accompaniment of music director/composer Amanda Kitchens. This musical collaboration won me over from the very beginning and set a magical atmosphere that transformed the space with a free-spirited, European-fringe fest vibe. Ms. Kitchen's voice is lush and warm, and she has the visceral presence of French legend, Edith Piaf. She accompanies her gorgeous Italian songs with accordion and is joined by fellow musicians Chris Humphrey, Ian Stewart, and even at one point in duet with fellow cast member Jennifer Coy. You will find that some of the tunes are quite recognizable, while other selections lull the audience into uniquely magical moments within the scene, skillfully highlighting particular aspects of the astonishing aerial dance.
If I've focused so far on the musical aspect of this show, it's because of the importance of conveying how impressive it was to see that the collaborate forces so thoroughly understood the charmingly whimsical heart of their creation. At the same time, make no mistake...despite the whimsical nature of this work, the subject matter couldn't be more serious. After all, we are talking about the creation of the universe and our own world, and it's honestly a bit mind-blowing to see a company so easily marry the gorgeous childlike simplicity of fantasy with rigorous fidelity to scientific history. In the good ole' USA, we tend to forget how we've been fed a particular formula or style of storytelling for decades. It's refreshing to see a performance that breaks from the norm.
Now, let's talk about just how ridiculously multi-talented this cast is. Aside from the incredible feats of aerial dance for which Sky Candy is so well known, the cast is also incredibly talented as musicians, actors, singers, and who knows what else. A favorite moment of mine was when one of the performers engaged in a "dueling accordion" scene with Ms. Kitchens, as the desperate tied-up grad student frantically hopped across the stage. Another highlight was a scene in which "Mrs. Ph(i)nk", played by the charismatic Jennifer Coy, orgasmically announces, "If only I had some room, how I'd like to make some noodles for you boys!"...and so our universe was born.
Adding to the beautiful simplicity of the piece were costumes by Midi Soliz, who's bio in the program simply reads, "I design costumes. I do it for the greatest performers in the world. I've done this forever. I've never worked. I'll do this till I die." Touché, Midi. The entire cast wore uniforms that consisted of brown slacks and sleeveless white t-shirts, with the central character of "Qfwfq" always designated by wearing a brown derby hat...even when he's a dinosaur puppet. Perfect.
Zac Crofford's lighting design beautifully framed the warm, whimsical nature of Sky Candy's interpretation of Calvino's stories, while Ia Ensterä's set design highlighted the marriage of science and fantasy, as all elements of the beautiful dreamlike world flow together seamlessly. Rudy Ramirez once again proves himself to be a powerful force in the world of directing, not only by having a solid understanding of style and nuance, but also as a true inventive artist within the theatre community. I always have great respect for those artists who have the power and intellect to unite the various disciplines within the performing arts community, and Mr. Ramirez is truly a rising star and a great asset to Austin.
Each and every performer in this beautiful show was remarkable, and I couldn't speak more highly of this exceptional company. Sky Candy's COSMICOMICS left me highly anticipating their next venture, and I hope that the Austin theatre community treats themselves to this piece before it closes. Thanks to Sky Candy, I'm a Calvino fan for life. As one character sweetly and innocently asked another, "Do you know who you are?" "Everyone does. I'm a new one."
COSMICOMICS, produced by Sky Candy, plays the Long Center for the Performing Arts at 701 W. Riverside Dr, Austin, TX 78704 now thru June 29th. Performances are Thursday June 26th - Sat June 28th at 8pm with matinee performances on Sat June 28th and Sun June 29th at 2pm. Tickets start at $22. For tickets and information, please visit http://thelongcenter.org/event/cosmicomics/.