BWW Review: BLACKLISTERS at Brelby Theatre Company
Brelby Theatre calls itself "the West Valley's New Works Incubator."
According to artistic director, Shelby Maticic, the Studio Series is "designed to provide a venue for local playwrights to see their works brought to life in a minimalistic setting. The focus is on the story - the words - instead of production spectacle. The entire team behind Blacklisters has done just this. They've worked tirelessly to breathe life into the words of this original and edgy story, and they're excited to be sharing it with Arizona audiences. No matter where you lean politically, we should all be weary of the idea of censorship and aware of the importance of the arts in our culture."
Before we get in too deep, let's define the term "entertainment." In this critic's view, it is essential that all art entertain. By that, I mean that it must impress into one's imagination a notion that one then holds in the mind. I do not mean, at all, that it must provide mindless diversion.
Luke Gomez' entertaining new play is set in a dystopian nightmare. Totalitarianism has taken hold. Art - and artists - are the enemy. It's rough going. The acting and writing use a clunky, dark, broad brush. What Blacklisters lacks in gradation and subtlety, it makes up for in commitment and passion. The staging is very good - kudos to director Van Rockwell. The production elements are, as promised, simple and spare. This critic found the story, ultimately - you'll excuse the expression - bullet proof.
SPOILER ALERT!! Skip to the end, if you don't want to know details.
In the world of Blacklisters, anything but state-sanctioned art is prohibited. The play takes place in a deep, dark basement that archives illegal art and - suddenly and unexpectedly to the blacklisters themselves - artists.
When one witnesses artistic exercise that explores a world in which free expression is criminalized, one becomes part of the production. It's a device revolutionarily engaged by Luigi Pirandello and, later, Thornton Wilder and others. Blacklisters is not intentional metatheatre, however the play becomes it by virtue of its subject.
The subject is agonizing and, frankly, if I hadn't been there on assignment, I would have left at intermission. The world is dark and ugly enough as it is, right?
Wrong. Blacklisters' second act deconstructs its own world that is determined to control artistic impulse and its conclusions are revelatory, important and necessary.
The Sub-minister of Culture, played by the enormously talented KatiBelle Collins, admits to the play's irresolute protagonist - played by the lovely and gifted Brenna Jackson - that she delves into the archive for personal edification and enrichment. The Sub-minister has an affinity for Tolstoy, and when she pulls out of a drawer a mighty volume of his writing, she discovers in it a forgotten slip of paper. We watch disintegrate to fragments her commitment to the ministry and the entirety of her post-apocalyptic society. Something - we never learn the details, which makes it all the more powerful - connects her to her spirit, her long-buried divine spark. Whatever the mysterious contents of that tiny piece of paper, they are enough to confront her with her own obscene hypocrisy - a revelation that drives her to end it all.
Blacklisters ain't for sissies. It is, however, a vital work by a serious young playwright, produced by an essential young theatre company that must be encouraged and supported. Our survival depends on it.
WARNING: Blacklisters contains extreme, graphic violence and strong language. For mature audiences.
Continuing through March 4th in historic downtown Glendale. Visit Brelby's website for tickets and information.