The Electric Pharaoh- Let Tesla Boil
A REVIEW THE BAD ORACLE
Here’s what this review won’t be: this review won’t be a critique on how well the BROS throw a party. The BROS throw a fucking GREAT party. To party with the BROS is to party with the cool kids. I know it, you know it, the whole school knows it. Here’s what this review will also not be: an overview of how successful the BROS are at pumping their specific aesthetic. This is for two reasons. One is that it would be pointless, as everyone knows the BROS are goddamn flawless at pulling off their “Vegas by way of a dirty needle” thing. They are like that challenge that pops up on every Project Runway season where the contestants get a dumpster full of toenail clippings and somehow manage to pull off making floor length Yves St. Laurent couture gowns out of them. It’s honestly incredible, probably exhausting, and I can’t think of anything to say except that it consistently blows me right away. The other reason is that like the BROS themselves, this review would get real big. So, I’ve decided to split this into two features. Achilles will be doing the other, where he will more fully review the design and technical execution of Electric Pharaoh. Anyway, I didn’t go to see The Electric Pharaoh: the Design and Visual Art Expo. I went to see The Electric Pharoah: the Stage Show and that is what this review will be about. The BROS are in the unique position of constantly being in danger of upstaging themselves. All of their spectacular spectacular can sometimes take priority over the basic building blocks of, you know, actual writing and actual acting. Does that happen with Electric Pharaoh? Yes and no. The book, as is, admittedly, the case with most operas, is a skosh on the weak side. It’ll be pretty comfortable for most fans of sci-fi or fantasy genres; if you’ve ever read or seen The Hunger Games, 1984, Firefly, Waterworld, Blade Runner, Battle Royale or, you know, The Bible, you’ll be familiar with the arc. A terrible thing has happened to the world. The sun has disappeared. In response, humankind has formed a new society in the city of New Memphis, an ancient Egypt rework with a twist: in the absence of natural light, electricity has become a prized currency. There’s a sub-class of people called Dimmers that work to harvest this electricity and run it to the pyramid, where Pharaoh (Amanda J. Rife), a seven-foot-tall masked enigma, holds daily rounds of volt worship that resemble nothing more than an orgy/dance party. Law and order is kept by the guards, the tron-porn looking Uraeus (Brian S. Kraszewski, Terrence Pope, Alexander Scally). The opposite of Dimmers are the Luxies, the upper-class, who are allowed to take “papayrus”, an acid-like drug, to induce powerful trances. At the beginning of the play, a mousey Luxie girl, Amunet (Danielle Robinette), has hooked up with two Dimmer boys, Chenzira (Jon Dallas) and Tariq (Corey Hennessey). Chenzira and Amunet have a little flirtation going on, but Chenzira’s main concern is his sick mother back at home and his amazing, secret superpower – he can create precious electricity with his body, somehow. This ability marks him (of course, there must always be one of these) as the savior of his kind. In light of their new hope, the oppressed class begins to fight back and rumble about uprising. Eventually there is no choice and the trio storm the pyramid to have an epic showdown with Pharaoh. I found it nice that the BROS, who have had some issues with representation, show their ability to stretch and mature in the form of making the emotional core of this story the relationship between Tariq and his (male) partner, Million (Derek Vaughan Brown). Their explosive chemistry, genuine connection and poignant storyline keeps the whole thing from being all spark and no bite. [It would have been a bigger breakthrough, of course, if Tariq and Million had been allowed to be the heroes of the story, instead of being regulated to the sidekicks, but you know, all in good time.] First things first. Hennessey is a rock out, cock out, real deal, jaw dropping, mothertrucking star, baby. He turned a technical difficulty into a moment that melted my panties (literally, they are now attached to my skin, I should probably go to the hospital). His Tariq is a funny, brooding, belting, filthy angel of music. He fucking owned that stage and he took no prisoners. Holy cats was he good. This is not to downplay the other performances, several of whom were shockingly on point. Jon Dallas has the first big show-stopping solo, “Electric Dreams”, and he killed it. He’s a force, indeed, a surging current. His voice is warm and alive, even a bit raw and purposefully painful, especially in the beginning, when his character is so vulnerable and unsure. My favorite song in the show was a slayer metal duet between him and Hennessey, “Jailhouse” (of course, that might have been because, though I applaud the BROS for stepping outside of their comfort zone of heavy dickrock and occasionally going to a dancetrance, electronic place, they’re still most successful when they stick close to home, musically). The feline-bodied Brown makes the suave Million a sexy-as-shit Bowie with just the right amount of Prince around the edges. “Power in the Dark” the Hennessy/Brown jam, was a highlight of the second act furrsure. Robinette had some achingly real moments as the less-than-self-assured Amunet but, unfortunately, her character didn’t have the breakthrough I was hoping for. Her voice has a pleasingly interesting rasp to it, though Mr. “I’mOperaTrained” Feels tut-tutted about that edge, saying that she might be using the wrong side of her vocal cords and perhaps doing some injury to herself. Achilles Feels, ladies and gentlemen, stage mother to us all. Eric Poch chews and spits the scenery as the hilariously loud and torture-happy Esper, Pharoah’s right hand man. And Matthew Casella pops up as the one-scene Fariah, Amunet’s stuck up daddy, making an impression and cutting a figure. I have a feeling that Mason Ross was less a director and more of a ringleader of the approximately one million people and elements that make up these shows. Ross has some moments of greatness (some of which are exceptionally subtle, both Achilles and I loved a chilling, short scene near the end, when Pharaoh walks across the desert) but that ol’ demon, pacing, was a problem. The transitions seemed to take a looooooong time, even with a huge stage crew. He may have wanted to tighten that up and focus on which ones were really, truly, needed.
BOTTOM LINE: A BRO show is never a disappointment and The Electric Pharaoh is no exception. I craved something more than pageant extravaganza, though, and, for the most part, I actually got it. Amid all the glitter pants and nipple strobes, there is a surprising amount of power to be found in the music and performances. I don’t have to tell you to see this show, because everyone is already going to see this show. I can say, though that while you might scream your fool head off for the flashing lights and 3-D shocks, you’ll stay for the irresistible and really real talent. I am not joking, bitch. BROS are pushing it. If they pushed just a little bit further, if they buckled down and focused up on making their talky-talk as good as their wail, they might become unstoppable. And what a world that would be.
Stay tuned for The Electric Pharaoh PART TWO by Achilles Feels!
Running in Baltimore at Lithuanian Hall until October 26th
Email The Bad Oracle at email@example.com