BWW Review: DARK MATTER Challenges the Light at Mildred's Umbrella
DARK MATTER is a tight collection of short plays by Don Nigro that create a tapestry of Gothic American portraits lasting just over two hours. Mildred's Umbrella is reviving this production from their back catalogue, and it makes an interesting choice. the company is dedicated to showing and celebrating the work of female playwrights, actresses, and directors. Here we have many women who are either lost, killed, or not sure where they are in the world. It is an aria of alienation and confusion, but one that is nonetheless powerful and moving. For discerning audiences, this is heady and intriguing literary work that gives you much to think about.
All eight pieces vary in cast size and alternate between directors Jennifer Decker and Miranda Herbert Morris. Some of The Acting Company appear in more than one scene, while others only make brief performances in a specific segment. Every moment is highly theatrical, well-acted, and staged smartly given the constraints of technically shifting through eight different landscapes and times. Minimal furniture and screens help move this along, as well as set movers that are as much performance art as functional scene changers. This is provocative theatre designed for an intelligent audience that craves little hand holding or spoon feeding. The language is gorgeously intricate and the situations are engagingly complex.
The cast is sprawling featuring solid talent from throughout Houston. The show opens strongly with Alex Garza having won Bree Bridger in a game of chance in frontier era America. He shows the cockiness of the alpha man, while Bree struggles to find out and accept her fate as a girl who is traded with the property she grew up on. Then we move to a dreamy monologue from a glowing Christie Guidry who revels in her power as a date has to follow her every move in a car. Lyndsay Sweeny provides one of the night's strongest comedic performances in the next segment about a Gothic romance being invented on the spot. She is supported ably by Alex Garza and Cody Landeros. Finally in Act One we get a funny spooky duet about strange forces from Ryan Kelly and Amy Warren.
The second half opens with a kooky spell of a monologue searching for Schrodinger's cat delivered with charm by Arianna Bermudez. Then Lyndsay returns with Christie Guidry and Rod Todd to deliver an interesting debate on pies and art. The evening's climax is a highly theatrical piece about servants delivered by Dabrina Sandifer, Timely Rain, and Arianna Bermudez. Mason Burruss provides the brooding oppression behind the trio. This one works both as poetry and theatre, and perhaps best showcases the intelligence of Don Nigro's word plays and sense of American history. It is haunting in both word and staging. The final monologue is a hilarious ode to a toad given by Rod Todd who turns in a strong comedic performance as well.
DARK MATTER is a complex show that requires the audience make connections for themselves. It is challenging theatre presented by passionate artists who find ways to keep it light enough to be entertaining. This is the kind of piece that Mildred's Umbrella is known for, and it is something they do well.
DARK MATTER runs through April 14th at Studio 101 located at 1824 Spring Street. Tickets can be purchased at http://mildredsumbrella.com/ . Most performances start at 8pm save for the Sunday matinees at 3pm.