Reviewer: Benjamin Champagne
Theatre in the Great Lakes Bay Region is back!
After 11 months without a show, Rogues Gallery opened Thursday February 4th at Pit and Balcony Theatre in Saginaw, MI. The play was written by John Patrick Shanley, famous for winning a Pulitzer Prize for his amazing play Doubt. This was a novel selection by Pit and Director Jonah Conner. The rights were difficult to secure as the play was literally hot off the presses. Shanley penned this during the Pandemic.
Pit does a great job at making it a safe environment. Masks are enforced. Touch-less transactions are made possible throughout. There is limited capacity and seating as they are only doing a percentage of availability. There are still some tickets for sale and it is best to call ahead or search online. Now onto the play itself.
This play is a winner for me. It ticks all of my boxes as a consumer of contemporary art, hip theatre, A24 films, etc. You have two weekends to see it for yourself. The next showing is tonight Friday, February 5th.
All of the vignettes are monologues. This is brilliant writing for so many reasons. Obviously from a technical standpoint and even a moral position, this is the kind of theatre we can produce right now. But also, it emotes the time we are living. Seeing one player on the stage makes sense right now. It weaves through many characters and stories, one at a time. As Conner points out in his director’s note, he is grateful to have actors willing to “explore humanity”, and this is exactly what it does.
The play has a very contemporary feel. There are some references to the virus. Throughout the play are many allusions to touch. The characters are haunted by the touch of another character not seen. This is perfect writing for the year 2020 and 2021. The players each take a turn at interpreting the writings and assessing the situation of what it is to be alone. What is to yearn, or to regret or to have made a mistake.
Or to be duplicated.
Because another theme in all of the vignettes is a sense of loss of self. Or that a duplicated other is in the world. If this makes you think of ghost stories, you are in the wrong direction. It has the air of a bizzaro world. A comedy of errors that is unsettling at times. It is funny. It has several laugh out loud moments in the stories. But occasionally pieces aren’t jokes.
Actress Abby Burgess discusses pulling a black fish from the inside of her abdomens. Some in the crowd laugh and that is good. But I could relate. Through this year we have been forced to perform crude surgeries with the wrong tools, in back rooms we should have never have found ourselves. In another scene she delivers some intense lines about love that truly shine. The plot in that scene resonates with the frequency of contemporary life. She finds out she has been made into a husk by modern technology. She feels she is the shell of a human and must salvage her dignity and her love. It’s powerful writing. And clever. For fans of Spike Jonze’s film Her.
Colorgio Romello has a spectrum of characters to play. Ranging from lover to fashionista. But the stand out is his body language while playing a New Yorker who is comfortable with his own lies. He splays his body openly. It lets us know that truth isn’t in words alone. Truth is found in how we open ourselves and what we admit within ourselves. The writing is simple and effective. The lines he delivered are fun and full of revelry. It is a relatable and humble vignette amidst many complex characters. The clarity makes it powerful.
The set was a bit of a mess and hard for me to understand, but it seemed of little consequence. Perhaps a reflection of the garbled mess of humans on display. The lighting was perfect. Simple, never out of bounds or unnecessary and always flowing with and following the characters. Ditto opens with a dramatic single blue/white light. When the light moves to every corner of the stage in warm yellows and ambers it feels just right. The blue/white light closes the way it came in and it is nearly shocking.
The play ends with a monologue that Amy Spadafore says was written in 18 point Comic Sans, clocking in at 44 pages long. This is truly an achievement for Rustin Myers. He will be quoting this monologue for the rest of his life. This scene has the grandeur we may associate with the playwright. Many big words, large concepts, a complex plot line. The actor and the play itself, the director; everything cumulates to put to rest the idea that there is some better version of ourselves out there waiting, to save us. This is the final statement of the play.
This is it. This pandemic is part of life and is life. This is who you are. This is who we are. Things will change and that is its part. There is determination in the left hand and acceptance in the right hand. And they shake. For more information check out Pit and Balcony’s Facebook Page.
Source: Saginaw Art Museum