BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops

November 3
3:05 PM 2012

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of PopsIt is the mission of The Catastrophic Theatre to destroy audiences with impressive and unique theatre. Unfortunately, the World Premiere of FLEAVEN only destroys audiences by sending them out into the world wondering what was missing. At 27 years old, I thought maybe it was not living through the Disco era that left me benumbed by the performance. However, it's disco era vibe pastiche is fleshed out with 90s inspired rap beats and cultural references from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Furthermore, my parents' eclectic tastes in everything pop-cultural ensured that I had a strong understanding of many things I did not live through. So, simply put, that wasn't it. The problem was that despite laughing out loud at a few outlandish and genuinely humorous moments, I simply was not moved in any emotionally tangible way. From beginning to end, I felt no emotional connection to this Grinchian tale? (Think of Grinchian as being similar to Faustian, but with Dr. Suess' Grinch.)

Miki Johnson's FLEAVEN utilizes flashback, flashback within flashback, Dr. Suess inspired rhyme schemes, Disco, and early 90s rap to expose the audience to a place where: "The mall is the town. The town is the mall. The mall is a disco mall." We are introduced to Heaven, an ambiguously gendered character, who is ruthlessly tormented by Flame, a masculine figure that also terrorizes the whole mall/town. We come to understand the root of Flame and Heaven's problems started when Heaven quit being the electronic drum kit player for Fleaven (Flame and Heaven's disco band) and began playing the electronic drums for Denim Shorts, another Disco group. Denim Shorts' success angered Flame further, and he sought revenge against the band with a Japanese sword. Heaven, spared by the blade, was given an ultimatum to join Flame again or Flame would have Heaven canned from all future jobs.

FLEAVEN's plot is wholly predictable, which could be accredited to using Dr. Suess' infamous Grinch parable as its structure. However, unlike Dr. Suess' Whos and Grinch, none of Miki Johnson's characters leave a lasting impression on the audience, nor do they develop enough beyond caricatures to really allow us to relate to them in any fashion. Instead, the audience is able to laugh (maybe even reminisce) at the follies of Disco fashion, Diet Rite, taking antibiotics "for FUN!," and the simplicity of early rap beats. Yet, like a flashback on Seth MacFarlane's FAMILY GUY, when it's over it's just over. Other than noting a smile and a pocketful of laughter there is nothing else to take away from the experience.

Upon entering the performance space at The Frenetic Theatre, the first thing the audience sees is the detailed and well produced set, designed Laura Fine Hawkes. On the downstage, right corner of the space is a detailed mall map that is filled with traditional and stereotyped mall storefronts. For a bit of fun, many stores on the map would have never existed in a mall at the same time (i.e. PacSun and Sam Goody Music Store). Other nice touches on the set were realistic looking replicas of escalators, bright colors made dingy over a period of disuse and/or misuse, and graffiti. The whole set had a once-glorious, now dingy feel that created a wonderful ambience for the production.

Kirk Markley's lighting design is moody and atmospheric. It utilizes vibrant, colored washes to distinguish Flame and Heaven. Additionally, he uses lighting to help the audience at least have some semblance of the mention they're expected to have during a particular scene.

As the full cast takes the stage in Heaven's first of numerous flashbacks, the fantastical and whimsical costume design by Kelly Switzer delights as well. She has expertly captured 70s Disco fashion and 90s hip-hop fashion. Each piece is brilliant and evocative of the character that wears it, ultimately binging a layer of life in the characters that the script itself does not.

Direction by Jason Nodler ensures that the audience experiences the piece in its entirety, as he keeps the short, roughly 70 minute, performance ambling towards its finale. On the downstage left side is a list of three elements that serve to structure the plot. While the 2nd section was lit, the show does unmercifully slow down, almost to a complete halt. The tale of the breaking up of Denim Shorts becomes a laborious story, and when it finally climaxes the audience is more than ready to move on. It is during this section, or scene, that Heaven begins a flashback within a flashback and the novelty of the concept begins to wear thin. The saving grace is when the monotony of this section is broken-up by a seemingly random inclusion of a story about Seven's dead bird, which is acted out by a woman dressed as the bird and dancing around en pointe in roller-skates. Jason Nodler and his assemebled and very skilled cast simply do the best they can with a flat and trite script.

Tamarie Cooper's choreography is fun, exuberant and energetic. She utilizes the levls on the stage to create busy dance scenes that are eye catching, keeping the audience busy as they look around to see all the moves.

As Heaven, Kyle Sturdivant, leans on his ability to make priceless facial expressions and his awkward comedic timing to engage the audience in the production. This same shtick made him unforgettable in The Catastrophic Theatre's production of Tamarie Cooper's DOOMSDAY REVUE, but is not enough to save this show.

Noel Bower's Flame is funny and irreverent. However, due to a lack of characterization in both script and performance, I simply do not understand how his Flame ever came to be such an imposing figure. Certainly, it is clear that he is a bully, but how his character ever intimidated anyone is a true mystery.

Seven, played by Troy Schulze, is a good sidekick and confidant to Heaven. He impressively spends the entire performance on skates, allowing the audience to recall ROLL BOUNCE and the ideation of the Roller Disco. It's a nice touch that is never explained or rationalized in any way and the character is never really given the opportunity to be anything more than Heaven's trusty lackey, leaving Seven underdeveloped as well.

The rest of the cast completes visual pictures during the performance. Their characters like the characterizations remain flat and stilted glimpses into clichéd and stereotyped personas as well. For example, Daniel Adame's Hairspray is a vato cholo caricature with DISCO emblazed across his chest in Old-English text, an unbuttoned and sleeveless plaid shirt, and baggy pants.

The music in the production is written and directed by Joe Folladori. It is not memorable in any way, and is truthfully almost nonexistent in the production. The only purpose the music seems to serve is to show the audience that the fictional bands in the play actually did create something. Also, the Disco-esque Indian Summer song feels like it was inspired by or even ripped off of from FAMILY GUY's Hippie-esque parody "Noble Indian Chief." It utilizes similar patterns of sophomoric and culturally stereotyped humor for similar effects. The styling of the music and the lyrics are different, but the conceits of the songs feel about the same.

FLEAVEN, fun for a few giggles and smiles, fizzles instead of pops-neither elevating the audience to Heaven nor subjecting them to hellish Flame. The biggest culprit of the evening is that the show's writing simply does not ever affect the audience and robs them of an experience. The concept sounds exhilarating, fresh, and edgy, but never seems to be fully realized by the author. Likewise, the cast and crew seem to be fully committed to the production, but Miki Johnson's play cannot get beyond frivolity and simply trying to be entertaining for entertainment's sake. Dr. Suess taught his audiences something and made them feel something; this show utilizes his style but completely forgets to affect us.

The Catastrophic Theatre's World Premiere production of Miki Johnson's FLEAVEN runs through November 17, 2012 at The Frenetic Theatre on Navigation Boulevard. For tickets and more information, please visit or call (713) 522 – 2723.

Photos by Anthony Rathburn.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Cast of FLEAVEN at The Catastophic Theatre.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Cast of FLEAVEN at The Catastophic Theatre.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Noel Bowers as Flame and the cast of FLEAVEN.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Troy Schulze as Seven and Kyle Sturdivant as Heaven.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Cast of FLEAVEN at The Catastophic Theatre.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Noel Bowers as Flame and the cast of FLEAVEN.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Kyle Sturdivant as Heaven and Noel Bowers as Flame.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops
Troy Schulze as Seven and the cast of FLEAVEN.

BWW Reviews: Emotionally Flat FLEAVEN Fizzles Instead of Pops

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