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Review: The Haunted Tune of Nuance Theatre Co's CHAMBER MUSIC

Review: The Haunted Tune of Nuance Theatre Co's CHAMBER MUSIC What is it that makes a person great? Does one succeed by talent alone, or does personality propel them forward? Perhaps it is granted by simply being in the wrong place at the right time. Is it bestowed by others or brought forth from within - is it subjective or able to be judged?

It is true that most of us live our lives before a sort of jury - people who have haphazardly come into our lives and are given the power to define our very sense of being. Teachers, partners, bosses - we are in fact given autonomy, but ironically remain trapped in a life-long hierarchy. Even the best of us - those great women of history whose names continue to be spoken, pioneers of their times who needed little goading to step up and be exemplary - can be made weak when those who once admired them have since withered away.

Within the attic of an insane asylum, in a time and place of little importance and for reasons unknown, eight women of history convene to discuss the business of their lives - shells of people who once embodied greatness, now pieced together by moments of nostalgia and hysteria. When all that was has been stripped away, these women are brought together to determine their fate in the final act - that of survival. The absurdity of the world in which they live forces them to be as they always were, but also continue to spiral further and further down the rabbit hole of insanity - to simultaneously be and not to be.

Chamber Music, which recently concluded performances at the NuBox Theatre in Hell's Kitchen, is a treasure of a drama that pushes aside questions of "how" and "why" and instead forces an audience to confront what it is, exactly, that makes us "real" in the eyes of the world.

Written by Arthur Kopit, directed by John DeSotelle and produced by Nuance Theatre Co, Chamber Music is the latest addition to this group's collection of successes throughout the years. Kopit, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and three-time Tony nominee, wrote the books for such popular musicals as Phantom and Nine. With the mission of creating theater amidst the uncertainty of a pandemic-wracked existence, Nuance decided upon this particular Kopit work as "a project to suit the upturned world." Chamber Music is unique in that it takes our understanding of what is (or was?), and forces us to accept an alternate truth - much like we all have been doing.

The show is an unsettling depiction of an inexplicable reality that compels us to see the familiar in unfamiliar ways; it is as scary as it is oddly comforting. DeSotelle made a wonderful choice with this play as a means of easing the audience back into the profundity of theater - a show which echoes the confusion of our own times, where nothing is quite as it should be.

Eight women, one by one, make their way to the attic - a room which holds as much of the past as their collective lives combined. Ironically, we do not at first know their names; they are listed as a nondescript group of women, distinguished by either their garb or simply by what they hold in their hands. It is soon revealed that these women have made their mark on society: those such as Amelia Earhart, Gertrude Stein and Joan of Arc. But they are not themselves - they are trapped in an insane asylum, brought together by means and reasons unknown to meet week after week and fabricate the details of their lives. Once influential and beautiful, once strong women in control of their destiny, they are now puppets who hop along on strings controlled by some unknown force, compelled to believe that their lives hold meaning. Or are they not actually these women at all - are they simply patients in an asylum who yearn for power and personal grandeur where there is absolutely none to be found? We will never know. Review: The Haunted Tune of Nuance Theatre Co's CHAMBER MUSIC

Whatever the case may be though, the audience bears witness to this particular meeting, in which Susan B. Anthony questions what are they to do about the impending attack by the men's ward. Is there actually an attack - is there even a men's ward? What follows in their quest for an answer is nothing short of spectacular - spectacular in the sense that we become witnesses to the utter breakdown of life, but hardly that of the soul.

Through one simple act, Chamber Music has the unique ability of grabbing hold of the audience and refusing to let go until the very end; even after the proverbial curtain has closed, the unsettling feeling that courses through your body remains intact for quite some time. This play is too profound to be merely entertaining; it is instead utterly captivating. It compels people to think, to revel in the uncertainty of it all that doesn't simply distract us for an hour or two; it has the power to alter perception and bring forth all sorts of existential fathomings about what reality truly is. Combined with DeSotelle's vision, this is EXACTLY what great theater is supposed to do. Nuance has produced some truly wonderful shows in the past, and I've been fortunate enough to see many of them, but Chamber Music is exemplary. How beautiful it is for this group to find such unbridled release, such freedom of emotion in a play that hits so close to home - as though all the anger and hurt of a pandemic-ridden world was suddenly thrown out into the crowds with a clear message in tow: theater is back with a much-welcome vengeance.

Everything about Nuance's Chamber Music is praiseworthy, but I must point out the acting. The John DeSotelle Studio provides Meisner-based actor training, and this show was a collaboration of many who have already completed the two-year conservatory. Each actor's talent is one of the major things I took away from this show. I don't think I've ever seen such raw emotion on stage - such an in-the-moment presence that emanated from each character clear as day. When I mentioned before that this performance was captivating, the efforts of each actor truly went beyond that - as though they have always lived these lives, but brought such a fresh bout of pain and suffering to emphasize their words and actions. My greatest kudos go to all who graced the stage during Chamber Music: Emily Rosamine DeSotelle, Judith Feingold, Karen M. Hoffman, Chanel Karimkhani, Mickey Pantano, John Rearick, Natalie Streiter, Tah von Allmen and Joscelyne Wilmouth. Truly a wonderful job, all of you!

Review: The Haunted Tune of Nuance Theatre Co's CHAMBER MUSIC Credit must also go to all those great people behind the scenes:: Matthew Imhoff (Scenic and Lighting Designer/ Technical Director), Matthew Lott (Costume Designer), Dori Levit (Assistant Director/Stage Manager), Michael Green (Assistant Stage Manager), Haulston Mann (Fight Consultant), Janice Orlandi (Movement Choreographer) and Ali Basalyga (Promotion).

Performances of Chamber Music were held at the NuBox (located at 754 9th Ave.) from September 17th-26th. Produced by Nuance Theatre Co and directed by John DeSotelle, this production marks the return of the company's live performances. Please be sure to check out a list of upcoming shows and classes by visiting https://desotellestudio.com/.

Next time you'd like to see a show of true quality and value, please give an off-off Broadway theater like this a chance - you'll be amazed at what goes on within the confines of a small theater.

Photo Credit: Angela Manfredonia

Regional Awards


From This Author - Kristen Morale

Kristen was born and raised in Brooklyn, and is a graduate of both Saint Francis College and Hunter College, with degrees in English and Musical Theatre. She enjoys going to any show, from com... (read more about this author)


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