BWW Review: A Look Back at THE VELVET SWING by The Umbrella Collective
As a first time audience member at Bryant Lake Bowl and Theater, I didn't know what to expect as I walked into the building and didn't see a theater. As I finally found and walked into the theater, I was greeted by a pianist telling jokes and playing a merry tune, I didn't know what to expect. As I was presented with a play about the famous Evelyn Nesbit, where she's played by five actors, I didn't know what to expect. I was happily surprised by all unknown expectations.
The Velvet Swing, which was produced by The Umbrella Collective, played April 5-27, 2019. If you didn't already know, the play's title is a reference to the play's subject: Evelyn Nesbit. There's a certain image that made her famous; her being a sex symbol, on swinging high on a velvet swing. Nesbit was a famous vaudeville performer during her life after being caught up in 'the crime of the century", where Nesbit's husband shot her former lover to exact revenge. The crime sounds like something from a cheesy romance novel. But, The Velvet Swing showed there was much more than that, particularly on Nesbit's side.
The way the play went about finding this new angle was to take a story tainted by historical reference and opinions of men, and look at it through a contemporary lens led by women. Through this lens, The Umbrella Collective was able to wonderfully tell a story that seems all too prevalent today; a story of women's voices being silenced and women's opportunities being diminished to only what men decide. There was definitely more to Nesbit than a swing and a vaudeville show. The Velvet Swing really delivered on telling Nesbit's story this new, and more accurate, lens.
I think the element of the play that was the most effective in telling this story was the fact that the role of Evelyn Nesbit was shared with five female actors. They told Nesbit's story in direct address, throwing on hats and scarfs to emboy other characters, and telling the audience exactly what was going through Nesbit's mind. This not only was extremely effective, but also gave each performer a chance to shine. They also worked so incredibly well as an ensemble, it seems a crime if I tried to point out one or two of them that "shined brighter". They all were talented and balanced. And I cannot give each performer enough praise for how well they captivated my attention and served the story so well. So, to Meredith Kind, Natavia Lewis, Antonia Perez, Jessie Scarborough-Ghent, and Mickaylee Shaughnessy, I admire you all in your storytelling and applaud you. And I must give a special mention to Michelle Hernick, as the pianist and music director, giving the play a musical tone that perfectly matched Nesbit's life.
The Velvet Swing played Bryant Lake Bowl and Theater April 5 - 27 and if you didn't get to see this play, you truly missed out. As I walked out of the theater, I was given far more than what I expected. And if someone only refers Evelyn Nesbit as "the girl on the swing", I'll tell them there's a lot more to her than that.
Photo Credit: Kelly Huang