Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Review - Forest Maiden (New York International Fringe Festival)

Review by Byrne Harrison

Forest Maiden should be a much better production than it is. Nina Morrison's play about the adventures of a Maiden (Sharla Meese) captured by a Knight (Brenda Crawley) who is forcing her to attend an annual Marriage Ball hosted by a gay Reality Show Host (Jamie Pizzorno) where the Prince may or may not choose a bride is quirky and whimsical, but also manages to provide thoughtful discussion on race, gender, and sexuality issues, and any number of other philosophical topics. Divorcing these issues from everyday life and putting them in a story that seems more suited to children's theatre (or mythology, since much of it takes place in the Underworld) only makes it that much more effective.

The main problem lies in Morrison's direction. She directs loosely, allowing the actors to set the pace of the piece. While these actors are good, left to their own devices this way, they have a tendency to insert too many pauses in their dialogue - not Pinteresque pauses that bubble with unspoken text, but pauses that interrupt the natural flow of the dialogue and sound like the actors are unsure of the next line, making the play seem longer than it is. This is most noticable when the main three actors (Crawley, Meese and Pizzorno) are conversing. It happens less when just two actors are interacting. It doesn't happen at all when Caroline Oster (playing Queen Mary May, the Prince's mother) is onstage. An actor with an amazing ability to be totally in the moment, her scenes with Crawley, Meese and Pizzorno are the most immediate and enjoyable of the play.

Meese is charming and funny in her role as the Maiden with the elf-dyke girlfriend. She has a fresh-faced charm that is undeniable. Crawley is good as the earthy, working-mother Knight. Pizzorno gets the most laughs of the evening as the Host of the Reality Show. Bitchier than Carson Kressley and Stacy London combined, he never strays into stereotype.

Rounding out the cast are Katherine Wessling and Melanie Girton Hewett as Scroll Turners 1 and 2, two puckish sprites who vex the other characters throughout the play. Their roles seem to consist almost entirely of improvisation and prop play (wax lips, candy cigarettes, and celery play a large part). While some of their improvisation is good, a little bit goes a long way, and a lot of it pulls focus from the other actors. It's worth noting that their improvisation ceased during Caroline Oster's monologue, and though they were still present in this scene, they allowed the focus to stay where it should. A little more of that, especially during expository scenes, would have been appreciated.

All that said, there are some excellent moments in Forest Maiden. Zöe Woodworth's video design for the animated/filmed sections of the play are terrific. Jimmy Helvin's costumes, especially Queen Mary May's gown, are outstanding, and assuming this production has the general financial issues that most festival/Off-Off Broadway productions have, he did amazing things on a shoestring budget. And speaking of Queen Mary May, Caroline Oster is making her NY debut in this production. I hope we will see her again.

Forest Maiden
Written and Directed by Nina Morrison
Art Direction and Video Design by Zöe Woodworth
Costume Designer: Jimmy Helvin
Lighting Designer: Paul Jones
Lyre Design & Construction: Nina Kyle
Lightboard Operator: Mark Hodgman
Fight Choreographer: Brian Morvant
Casting: Jamie Askew
Authorized Company Representative: Erin D. Coffey
Iowa Production Team: Carrol & George Woodworth

Featuring: Katherine Wessling (Scroll Turner 1), Melanie Girton Hewett (Scroll Turner 2), Brenda Crawley (Knight), Sharla Meese (Maiden), Jamie Pizzorno (Host of Reality Show), Caroline Oster (Queen Mary May)

HERE Arts Center - Mainstage Theater
145 6th Avenue

Sat 15 - 3 PM
Sun 16 - 6:30 PM
Wed 19 - 7:45 PM
Thu 20 - 4 PM
Sat 22 - 8:30 PM

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