BWW Reviews: The Most Twisted Bedtime Story with Circuit Theatre Company's THE ANNOTATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN MUSKRAT
You don't go into a show called The Annotated History of the American Muskrat without some very specific preconceptions. While you may have no idea what the piece is actually going to be about, you know it's probably safe to say that it isn't about to be your standard Tennessee Williams drama. The Circuit Theatre Company's production of this brand new show, written for them by Boston playwright John Kuntz, certainly fulfilled the preconceived notions that filled my head. This show was bizarre and beautiful: a combination of insightful monologues, seemingly pointless chatter, choreographed dance, and many references to medium sized semiaquatic rodents. Honestly, this is a difficult show to write about, as very little of it can be adequately described in words, but I will say that the epic-producing Circuit Theatre and wacky wordsmith Kuntz are the perfect pair.
The production is presented on the Wimberly stage in the Calderwood Pavillion, but instead of proscenium style theatre, the audience joined the cast on the stage, so that the vast, empty theater served as the show's backdrop. I love creative uses of space and being able to see the deserted seats was almost foreboding, setting the uncertain and mysterious mood. The scenic elements, designed by Adam Wyron, consisted exclusively of eight white beds, which were maneuvered and moved around to serve as walkways, doors, cubicles, and more. The set remained smartly barren, save for the beds, as to not distract from the chaos of word and movement. That, along with the go to uniform of button-down pajamas (designed by Corina Chase), gave the overall appearance of a twisted bedtime story, which I thought was an incredibly interesting angle to take.
The true brilliance was in props (designed by Amalia Sweet and Juliet Roll), which were plentiful and seemed to appear out of nowhere, and in the direction. Skylar Fox, who also serves as the company's Artistic Director, must have planned out every moment. Props appeared out of nowhere, full costumes were changed in seconds, and there was never a lull in action or choreography. There was a beautiful juxtaposition between wildly lit and choreographed movement and thoughtful monologues performed by actors on an empty stage. This balance was obviously provided by Kuntz's writing, but Skylar was smart enough not only to utilize it, but to feature it and challenge the audience with the difference.
The script itself, loosely inspired by Captain and Tennille's cover of "Muskrat Love", is funny and smart, but also incredibly dark and willing to poke fun at really uncomfortable topics. I am a huge fan of John Kuntz's work in general and this show reminded me substantially of Hotel Nepenthe, one of his previous works, following a very similar format and tone. Kuntz writes absurd characters and situations that somehow remain relateable and provides opportunities for a large range of actors to showcase their comedic, dramatic, and physical talents. This cast, a youthful, goofy ensemble of eight, worked brilliantly together, flaunting the writing as well as their own personal skills. Circuit, being such a young company, tends to only cast college students, which worked alright for this production, seeing as there was little narrative plot, but in general, I think they could widen their clientele by casting a bigger range of people. But overall, I think the actors performed this fascinating work with grace and a great sense of humor. With scenes ranging from Rebecca played by racoons to Queen Elizabeth II in drag to a full fledged pillow fight (this show must have been a stage manager's nightmare!), you need a versatile and high energy ensemble, which American Muskrat certainly had.
My biggest critique is the length. The piece runs over three hours and takes two intermissions. Don't get me wrong, I was never bored, but at this point, I feel like three hours is too long for any production, especially one without a narrative arc. I know that part of Circuit Theatre's mission statement is that they produce epic pieces, but epic and long are not synonymous. I personally think a lot of the script could be condensed. And in general, when the piece is unusually long or has multiple intermissions, it's a good idea to make note of that in the program. With no warning of the second intermission, I imagine Circuit might have a few cases of people accidentally leaving early. Like I said before, the show is wildly entertaining and I was not constantly checking my watch, but I do think the piece could benefit from some editing.
Despite dedicating a bit more of my evening to the theatre than I had planned, I really did enjoy myself. This show is incredibly specific, but it's my kind of specific. I love disruptive, in-your-face, kind of twisted, high energy theatre, and that is exactly what I got. If you are dying to learn more about the origins of "Muskrat Love", to discuss the uncomfortable intricacies of race, or to figure out just how often Gerald Ford trips over things, then you should take a visit to the Calderwood. And if none of these things interest you, I promise you'll find something that does in this wacky and completely overwhelming production.
Written by John Kuntz; Directed by Skylar Fox; Assistant Directed by Ashley Goverman; Scenic Design and Technical Direction by Adam Wyron; Lighting Design by Christopher Annas-Lee; Costume Design by Corina Chase; Props Design by Amalia Sweet and Juliet Roll; Sound Design by Skylar Fox; Music Direction by Linda Bard; Dramaturgy by Fletcher Bell; Production Stage Managed by Lida Richardson
Featuring Sam Bell-Gurwitz, Jared Bellot, Simon Henriques, Edan Laniado, Anna Nemetz, Justin Phillips, Alexis Scheer, and Allison Smith.
The Circuit Theatre Company's production of The Annotated History of the American Muskrat runs through August 16th at the Calderwood Pavillion at the Boston Center for the Arts. For more information and for tickets, visit www.circuittheatre.com.