Saturday, October 29, 2011

"The Tragedy of Maria Macabre" - An Acid Trip to the Underworld

By Byrne Harrison

Many people imagine the afterlife as being filled with white, puffy clouds and cute, naked, baby angels.  Not Rachel Klein.  Her vision of the afterlife in The Tragedy of Maria Macabre is a creepy, kaleidoscopic fun house full of menace, darkness, and a fair share of humor.

In this exciting dance piece, Maria Macabre (Abigail Hawk), looking in no small part like a sexy, anime version of Strawberry Shortcake, finds herself in dark and dismal underworld full of nightmare figures - the King and Queen of the Dead (Michael Porsche and Elizabeth Stewart), a trio of skeleton-faced Mariachi (Preston Burger, Ethan O'Hara, and Brian Rubiano), a Ringmistress (Danielle Marie Fusco), a Débutante (Megan O'Connor), and a Clown (Eric Schmalenberger).  At first frightened by the creepy denizens of the afterlife, she becomes enthralled as they tell the stories of their deaths.  Each story leeches away some of her vitality (not to mention the lovely pink clothing that she is wearing), until in the end, she is indistinguishable from the ones who so frightened her in the beginning.

The performances are superb, with each cast member excelling as both actors and dancers (not always an easy feat).  Abigail Hawk is terrific as the naive and somewhat befuddled Maria Macabre.  Watching Maria's gradual, and almost unnoticed acceptance of her new fate is fun and exciting, and Hawk's interactions with the rest of the cast (especially Schmalenberger's Clown) are a treat.

Although The Tragedy of Maria Macabre has no dialogue, it tells many marvelous stories -- the Débutante's fiery death (which featured the best "fire" I've seen - see photo), the murder and betrayal of the King and Queen, and the Mariachis' run-in with some bulls at the Plaza de Toros (spoiler alert: the bulls win).  Like Maria, the audience can't help but learn to like these characters who appeared so odd and unnatural in the beginning of the play.

Maria Macabre contains several features that I've come to expect from Klein's work -- technically proficient dance that incorporates the mechanical movement of clockwork toys (her choreography for the dead is fascinating to watch - at once fluid and jerky, beautiful and disturbing), a disjointed, off-kilter and otherworldly feel to the show, glorious costumes and makeup, and a sly, winking sense of humor that lightens even the darkest moments.  This is why I will gladly continue to attend productions that Klein has had her hands on, be it her own plays/dance pieces or others.

Sadly, this particular production comes to a close on Sunday the 30th, however, since this play has been in development for two years, and has been featured in several different venues, I have no doubt there are more performances in the works.  But if you are free tomorrow, and don't mind getting out in the snow (snow!?!), I highly recommend seeing this current incarnation of The Tragedy of Maria Macabre.

The Tragedy of Maria Macabre
Story by Rachel Klein with Sean Gill
Conceived, Directed, Choreographed, Designed and Produced by Rachel Klein
Associate Choreographers: Danielle Marie Fusco and Preston Burger
Dance Captain: Preston Burger
Stage Manager: Marina Steinberg
Makeup Designer: Anita Rundles
Lighting Designer: Ben Kato
Sound Designers: Sean Gill and Rachel Klein
Costume and Wig Designer: Rachel Klein
Associate Costume Designer: Kae Burke
Costume Builders: Rachel Klein, Megan O'Connor, Stacy Maillet, Ashley Morgan Monroe, Olivia Warner and Make Fun Studios
Wig Assistants: Sara Bender and Jennifer Fusco
Calligrapher: Pak-Kei Mak
Graphic Designer: Sean Gill
Photographers: Michael Blase, Beau Allulli and Bruce Burger
Publicist: Emily Owens PR
Musicians: Borut Krzisnik, the Tiger Lillies, Devotchka, Phillip Glass, the Kronos Quartet, Bernard Herman, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Final performance - Sunday, Oct. 30th @ 5pm
At the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, Between Ave A and Ave B

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