BWW Review: Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Hlubny's THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
Said with a heavy heart, the amount of violence found in this world is growing. It may be in the traditional sense, where people act against each other with malice in their hearts; it may be something we hear about but cannot understand the magnitude of. It can exist as a couple's dispute, quelling beneath the surface as discordance when all that is desired is peace. To say that we don't understand or relate to some form of violence would not entirely be true, though; in our own way, we can understand the unrest in a person's soul or the feeling of powerlessness that leads to greater conflict. It is much easier to think about something when living on the outskirts; it is now made even easier to understand why certain people are called to action, and what kind of catalyst brings this about.
With dialogue written by Alexis Roblan, Director (and choreographer) Lauren Hlubny takes this idea of violence and molds it into something theatrically beautiful with her play Thoughts and Prayers, produced by Danse Theatre Surreality and now in performances at TADA! Youth Theater. From beginning to end, Hlubny chronicles this story of violence through abstract storytelling, where words are hardly as significant as the intent behind them; perhaps the time for words has long ago passed. Through the power of dance, set to the growing roar of three saxophonists and three violinists, a young couple finds themselves at the crux of violent acts - acts that are abstract in their telling but quite clear in their message. Whatever a person's interpretation (as I'm sure there were many), Hlubny takes the violence experienced in today's world and tastefully brings it to her audience's attention in a visceral and poignant light - using dialogue that is not spoken and seeing thoughts not as stagnant things but as harborers of change.
Thoughts and Prayers is a masterfully orchestrated conglomeration of all that our world is made of, coming at you with ferocious force. Meant to represent everything from gun violence, personal tragedy and natural disasters, the emotion here is raw, simplified and primal as to be understood by everyone who otherwise may have little reason to become involved. A story told through the powerful silence of dance and the cacophony of musical voices, Dana and Felix have a lighthearted conversation about starting a "vlog" to help people with their compost questions. Their discussion is then steered in the direction of conflict present in their neighborhood - perhaps one that is gentrified, and where violence is not as prevalent but still spoken of with worry. Their discussion is seen as a way to help others, maybe in the only way they know how to.
Dana then expresses her concerns about not being more involved in the community, where the black-owned coffee shop they frequent is the only exposure they have to the diversity around them. The exact same dialogue is spoken three times, each time in a different cadence to match the different form of violence encountered. Dance and musical interludes are integrated throughout the production to demonstrate how divided the people on stage become, whereas at the start they aided each other in their individual forms of expression. Branching out into a larger scope, musicians and actors vie for power in the battle of activists and Congress, striving for change through this young couple that find themselves as forbearers of change at one moment, then trapped in the chaos happening around them. The noise of people who (as the show's title suggests) struggle between "action and complacency" is now a structured enclave of unique differences that send quite a powerful message.
In a time when men and women strive to be equal (Dana actually lifts Felix onto her back in a feat of strength) and individuality is something to be marveled at, we are still so human at our core; we cannot help but be shaken by what we cannot control. Yet, Thoughts and Prayers conveys to us the idea that we can, indeed, do something about it.
By simply observing for the show's full sixty minutes, it is clear how much effort went into this production. From its unique presentation and unorthodox method of bringing unique talents together in an incredibly clever way, Thoughts and Prayers is a powerhouse of a performance that can appeal to everyone (even if a political focal point is not something you actively seek). With beautiful moments of dance and poignant music - the kind that gives you goosebumps and provides moment of drug-inducing calm at some points and adrenaline-powered strength at others - by composer Thomas Giles, this show is one of the most well-rounded I have seen in a long time. When do you see musicians battling it out with each other through played dialogue, or a show that in general that can express so much thought in so few words? Where an audience member can go through the different types of violence and disasters with a shaky yet ever present sense of hope at the show's end - hope that people will ultimately make the right decision for the greater good?
Personally, I was so impressed with the versatility of everyone on that stage; if you aren't able to make a socio-political change, these actors and musicians give reason enough to want to become like them; sometimes, that simple inspiration is all you need, no matter what form it comes in. Thoughts and Prayers is such a powerful, well crafted production that brings so many different perspectives to the table, including those behind the fourth wall. It is a true representation (with that extra touch of drama) of what we, as people, have the potential of experiencing - and even greater potential to become a catalyst of change. It is a commentary on race, class and circumstance that (as mentioned before) tastefully brings what plagues our world to a tangible light - a light that must shine through the blood-stained walls through our efforts to make them clean and pure once again.
Kudos to a wonderful cast and crew who made Thoughts and Prayers possible. Emma Factor hones her many skills as Dana, portraying her own strength through beautiful moments of dance; I only wish that I could move like her! Thomas Giles also plays Felix, and both these amazing talents are joined by six incredible musicians: Sergio Munoz, Charlotte Munn-Wood, Lena Vidulich and Manami Mizumoto (u/s) comprise the strings section while Guy Dellecave, Josh Lang, Galo Morales and Ivan Arteaga (u/s) round out the saxes. Credit must also go to Assistant Director/Assistant Choreographer Kyra Hauck, Scenographer Luther Frank, Costumer Taylor Barnett, Production Stage Manager Lida Rubanava and all those not mentioned who helped in bringing this show to the stage.
Thoughts and Prayers began performances at TADA! Youth Theater (located at 15 W. 28th St.) on September 19th, and will continue thru September 29th. Ticket prices range from $15-$65, and can be purchased here. The remaining performances will be held on September 26th, 27th and 28th at 8 pm, and September 29th at 3 pm.
Photo Credit: Cathleen Marie Thérèse Parra