BWW Reviews: Suddenly Absurdist in Imaginary Beasts's LOVERS' QUARRELS
In Imaginary Beasts's mission statement, they refer to the art they create as adventurous, non-traditional, and for an eclectic public. I have seen few shows that adhere to their company's mission statement better than this one. This weekend, I attended Imaginary's Beasts's production of Lovers' Quarrels, a fairly unknown Moliere piece, and have to say that adventurous and non-traditional hit the nail right on the head.
The show itself is fairly Shakespearean in plot, revolving around mistaken identities, confused lovers, hidden marriages, foolish sidekicks, and overbearing parents. While at times preposterous (as is the case with most of Moliere's pieces, the show is a farce), the play is written with a sense of realism in mind. Imaginary Beasts chose to completely ignore this fact.
I will say that this production is directed brilliantly. Under the leadership of Matthew Woods, the piece is choreographed down to the most minute of details, with absolutely nothing overlooked. The characters are constantly in motion, moving with precision and intricate planning, working off each other's bodies with acrobatic ease and utilizing various bizarre props ranging from bouncy balls to animal masks. It all had an abstract, commedia dell'arte, almost dada feel to it, with non-realistic movements and a constant air of dance. At no moment was I bored watching this production. That being said, I had absolutely no idea why it was happening. As far as I'm concerned, nothing in the text suggests anything absurdist, so I did not understand why it was presented as such. As I previously mentioned, Imaginary Beasts is not a company to do things traditionally, but it seemed like the abstract concept was forced onto a non-abstract text.
Aesthetically, t was beautiful. The set, also by Matthew Woods, was otherworldly, with the floor and set pieces painted with blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The entire room was filled with different colored lanterns, casting changing shadows throughout the space. It was all incredibly playful and dreamlike. Costumes, by Cotton Talbot-Minkin, were appropriate to the time period, but with a colorful and clown-like twist. Some characters had white painted faces, but I never figured out the difference between those who did and those who did not. Sound design, also by Mr. Woods, was my favorite, with a wild collection of pieces, ranging from the muppets' Manah Manah song to classical violin. It set the mood brilliantly and continued this aesthetic of seeing the world through the mind of a child.
There were some very strong performances, especially impressive when tackling such a stylized piece. Most of the actors performed in an over the top manner, but did so in a way that was clearly intentional and specific, fitting the farcical style of the piece. Favorites were Cameron M. Cronin as Mascarille, the bumbling and endearing sidekick, and Joey C. Pelletier as Albert, the extremely overprotective and nervous father.
My only other critique comes with confusing casting. I have seen Imaginary Beasts's productions in the past and notice that they like to dabble in gender blind casting, which is a very unique and not often seen choice. And I believe it can be very interesting when utilized correctly. This show, however, centers around a female character that is disguised as a man. So not only were there women playing men, but a woman playing a woman playing a man. This was incredibly confusing as an audience member. I think that gender blind casting can be a really cool choice, but that it should not be used in shows where the focus is specifically on gender, especially when it is about gender confusion. It was not clear.
I left this production pretty conflicted. For the most part, I had no idea why the piece was as it was, which left me feeling a bit disconnected. But I cannot forget how well directed, performed, and produced it was. This cast and production team chose a concept and ran with it, providing a dedicated, specific, and incredibly fun piece that I very much enjoyed. I just had no idea why.
LOVERS' QUARRELS by Moliere; Translated by Richard Wilbur; Directed by Matthew Woods; Costume Design by Cotton Talbot-Minkin; Lighting Design by Kevin Semagin; Scenic and Sound Design by Matthew Woods; Set Construction by Deirdre Benson and Michael Underhill; Puppet Construction by Caroline Rose Markham and Beth Pearson; Stage Managed by Deirdre Benson; Production Assistance by Michael Chodos
CAST (in alphabetical order): Bryan Bernfeld, Erin Eva Butcher, Michael Chodos, Cameron M. Cronin, Lynn R. Guerra, Will Jobs, Amy Meyer, Beth Pearson, Joey C. Pelletier, Anneke Reich, William Schuller, Melissa Walker
Imaginary Beasts's production of LOVERS' QUARRELS runs through April 19th at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. For more information, visit www.imaginarybeasts.org.