BWW Reviews: The Stella Adler Welcomes the Telling Tales of Earthquake Survivors from Down Under in MUNTED
Munted/by Victoria Abbott/directed by Katharine McGill/The Stella Adler Theatre/thru July 27, 2014
A short and sweet informative narrative directly from the mouths of earthquake survivors comes to fruition in Munted (A New Zealand slang for 'busted, destroyed, ruined'). In the wake of the devastating 6.1 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand February 22, 2011; Victoria Abbott and Jackie Shaw created Bare Hunt Collective to document the stories of the earthquake's aftermath. Utilizing the hours of taped interviews, Abbott fashioned the conversations into its current 70-minute presentation. Abbott, Shaw, and Frith Horan winningly play five different Christchurch townsfolk each. All that differentiates these fifteen people--various regional New Zealand accents and different body posturings.
As directed by Katharine McGill, the pacing never ebbs with surprisingly quick changes of characters, and not necessarily involving change of actresses.
This New Zealand import parallels Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project in many ways. Both dramas composed of interview transcripts of those affected in the consequences of horrific real-life tragedies (Project dealing with Laramie, Wyoming's hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard in October of 1998). Both very successfully mined the humanity, humor, and exposed emotions from recorded dialogues. A major difference between these two theatre pieces--The Laramie Project utilizes a much larger cast to portray multiple interviewees, with actors portraying the men and actresses playing the women. Munted's cast numbers only three--albeit, a very versatile three. Not sure if the character being male or female matters in most Munted segments, as the stories don't seem gender-specific.
Despite being impressed by the versatility of the three actresses to switch from one person to another, I feel the important message of this piece would be better served with a larger and costumed cast of both actors and actresses.
Would love to see Abbott in her delightful teacher portrayal for an entire show without the theatre device of having to limn more than one character in a single performance.
Barebones, un-credited technical elements included coffee mugs strewn around the set (to represent destructive disorganization?) and overpowering background music and newscast audio that tended to drown out the projecting-to-the-back-row actresses. Possibly, instead of the coffee mugs, piles of discarded clothing and profession-suggesting props could be left around the set. Then each actress could casually pick up some pre-set items out of the pile to use as indication of the character's line of work -- a policeman's cap, a grocer's apron, a journalist's microphone. The only identifying article of clothing used-a knit cap effectually designates Shaw's portrayal of a young guy named James. The only singling-out prop employed-a stuffed dog that complemented the baby-talking of Horan as the little boy (or girl) Alex. Tossing the dog signaled the transition to Horan's next role.
These three actresses (with their melodious New Zealand accents) will charm you, while enlightening you of an actual event. Now isn't that what good theatre's about? Educating through entertaining? Yeah!
Photos by Tim Nuttall