Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy – Some Chinese Fake Out
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
I’ve got to give it to Baltimore Annex Theater: it ain’t dull. Prior to the performance on Thursday night, director Evan Moritz came out to gab a little and spill the new season which will include a version of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (to be performed in a restaurant across the street), Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, a play based on a 1970s soap opera parody, The Magic Flute by Mozart and an opera based on a Gertrude Stein story called The World is Round. It’s not exactly Arsenic and Old Lace again is it (IS IT VAGABOND). This stuff doesn’t always work but it what Annex does is almost always ambitious and creative and for that, a fucking round of applause. Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, I’m pleased to say, is no exception. Adapted and directed by Evan Mortiz as “A Modern Bejing Opera” the show is loosely based on the Chinese opera of the same name by Guo Tai Gong. I warn you in advance: Mortiz doesn’t waste a whole lot of time on exposition, he just kind of throws you into this and lets you sink or swim in terms of following the plot. I’ll give you some Cliff’s Notes: Tiger Mountain is primarily the adventure of the great PLA reconnaissance team soldier, Yang (Sarah Jacklin) who infiltrates a gang of bandits lead by the villainous Vulture (Maria Radulescu) to take back a local mountain and free the people of fear (the original has an obvious pro-Communist boner, no wonder it was one of the eight model plays allowed to be performed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late sixties). Sarah Jacklin as Yang is great, she’s cool and a little scary with a wild edge that strays just a skosh towards the dominatrix, especially in one scene where she literally whipped her way across the stage. Be still my heart. Maria Radulescu’s throaty-voiced Vulture was also excellently intense, convincingly suggesting you wouldn’t want to meet her coming at you the wrong way on Baltimore street (also awwwwwwwesome eyebrows on that chick). Jonathan Jacobs had some swell moments as Chief of Staff, swooping in quite handsomely, every inch the hero. The pixieish Ren Pepitone was appealing as Pao, a young girl who also functions as a kind of narrator. Notably Pepitone has the best voice of the lot (some of them struggled a little with the atonal vocals, Jacobs especially seemed to be straining). My favorite was Ishai Barnoy’s Luan Ping, a rolling-eyed little wuss who is the bandit’s whipping boy and who is the first to turn on everyone. I liked Barnoy in this Spring’s 4 By Chekov at Fells Point Corner. I liked him again here where, among a determined and committed yet slightly unpolished cast, he shines and actually seems just a little like a ringer. Sarah Lamar and Kris Hanrahan made me laugh every time they were onstage (they even died funny) as their bandits were DEF channeling the hyenas in The Lion King. And Leeann Monat has a hell of a crazy laugh. The look of the thing was just great. The costumes (design by Anna Tringali) are kind of like an early-nineties Oliva Newton John exercise video crossed with kids playing superhero with just a pinch of space alien tossed in. Oh, and they all appeared to be made out of pink and purple felt. It somehow works, don’t ask me how. The set (design by Claire K. Brooks and Victoria Spain) is simple, consisting mostly of a large tree painted white with projections thrown up onto it to suggest leaves and snow and so on. For once, I thought the projections were nicely done and actually seemed integral to the show instead of being tackytacked on at the last second. What really, really, really, makes it all work and come together, though, is the sound design by Lyndon Cordero. It was absolutely mind-blowing. I loved it. His bio says it was composed from all sorts of things from rolling dice to throwing darts. It’s engrossing and fucking weird, keeping you on your toes and engaged with it the entire time. Best part of a good thing.
BOTTOM LINE: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy is wild and cool (cultural appropriation side-eye aside, a’course). It’s an unexpected concept greatly enhanced by a wickedly innovative fresh ‘n’ fun sound design. You might not always know what exactly is going on but it all seems very urgent and exciting and like something you want to look at. It is. I dug it.
Running at Baltimore Annex Theater until June 8th.
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