The Electric PharBROAH PART TWO – the Design and Visual Art Expo 2014
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
As my BFF, The Bad Oracle, told ya, I, Achilles Feels, will be tackling the design side of The Electric Pharaoh. This portion of our two-part, superhero-style (I’m the Robin to The Oracle’s Batman – swoon) review will explore the many design choices made by the extensive team that created the Visual Art Expo that was TEP. I agree with The Oracle that this Vegas style spectacle was lush, sorta like a chemically induced trip down a color palette superhighway. It was an amalgamation of TRON meets the animated version of The Prince of Egypt. Let’s go over the theatrical visual disciplines one-by-one, with a full disclosure of my opinions in each realm. Shall we? Jiggawattz ya’ll! WhooHOO! BEERVOLTS!
Costumes. The spark of the stage. Spearheaded by Naomi Druidoff & Miles Pekala, these glowing, flowing, colorfully textured creations absolutely sung. Conceptually they blended southern gospel gowns, Transformers (armor lead by Matt Beale), and Lost Boys tattered punk-rock chic. Miles Pekala lead the costume LED department and used a large array of technology integrated into the hemlines and details of many garments. This approach helped to reiterate the importance of electricity in the show’s story. I wish the LEDs had fully worked 100% of the time and that the cast more thoroughly rehearsed when the costumes should be illuminated and extinguished… but it worked…it totally freakin’ worked, and oh-my-gawd you guys, they had glowing costumes! Embellishments successfully nodded to ancient Egypt, with hieroglyphic-like contrast and iconic silhouettes. The BROs use a lot of found objects and materials which works well to their advantage financially, but I wonder if some of their texture choices could have been more unified for a smoother visual transition from character to character. Most successful in the costume parade was the transformation of the Pharaoh from god-like stilt-walker to lone desolated exile and the costumes worn by the Dimmers (the lower class on the hierarchy totem pole) Chenzira and Tariq. Flawless.
Puppets. YES, PUPPETS. Early in the show we see the pomp-and-circumstance that is the Pharaoh’s Grande Parade. Included in the procession were four puppet characters (design lead by Margaret Bromilow Peterson) a scorpion, a yeti, a crocodile, and a flamingo. Visually, most successful of these was the astounding Yeti. Jesus, talk about unified color palette, texture, and design. That thing was a-mazing! The crocodile lizard creature was also wonderfully designed and used the puppeteer’s body brilliantly. I get that the colorful, almost cartoonistic aesthetic of these creatures was supposed to be out-of-place in the dystopian type setting, which helped to depict class separation, but (while beautiful) they truly looked completely out-of-place in this production as a whole. Perhaps they could have been more finely tuned to look more integrated into the world of the show?
Set and Projection. Large planes of white by set designer Doug Johnson are like something out of a multi-million dollar European opera. The sparseness covered the gently raked deck of the rectangular performing area while a white backdrop delivers a field of neutrality. This backdrop lends itself as a surface for projections. The simple vignetted scenic elements that come on and off stage to suggest location work just fine, though at times seem unnecessary. Projection mapped surfaces on the white backdrop and the stage floor are used to further indicate setting. Multimedia (direction by Patrick McMinn with video content and animation for the surfaces by Kevin Blackstone) was wonderfully integrated into Johnson’s minimal set. The flowing animations of subtle passing clouds, dust, and particulate matter did tons to convey movement and location without being distracting. All the content was cohesive, clearly well thought-out, and was executed with technical chutzpah and pizazz. I especially appreciated the desert scene during the Pharaoh’s exile and the well-time lightning bolts from Chenzira’s hands (HA-DOOGAN!). The use of projection directly onto the deck of the stage is quite a brilliant idea. I only wish I could see it better. The audience arrangement at the Lithuanian Hall is not positioned to facilitate observing the performer’s walking surface very well.
Props and Practicals. This team, lead by Michael Bull and Jack Sossman, had their work cut out for them. Several of the props were illuminated within by LEDs, some needed to survive extensive fight scenes, others needed to convey the transfer of money and electricity, the list goes on and on and on. Overall the props department was visually VERY successful, but lacked in overall craftsmanship. Many of the fighting weapons bent, flopped, and looked flimsy. One fighting staff broke unexpectedly during the performance. Some items bobbled around, distractedly revealing they were made from items not intended for their conveyed usage. Visually they looked spot-on, except when they were used as props, and then the game was up. #Sigh
Lighting. Chris Allen’s lighting design did volumes to convey setting, but did not adequately reveal much of the upstage action; which was unfortunate, as most of the show happened upstage. I wanted to see the performers’ faces, costumes, and props better and more separation (using a high-angled backlight) from the white backdrop would have been helpful. Chris uses some fun bells and whistles during the nightclub and fight scenes, but again, I missed the details due to inadequately illuminated performers and glare from the front of house LED fixtures.
Makeup, Hair, and Wigs, designed and executed by an arsenal of artists (too many people to list here, #srsly #hairmakeuparmy), looked good from where I was sitting. Most of the heads were covered with stunning headdresses, helmets, or hats, all looking lovely like, so the hair I did get a glimpse at looked just fine. The makeup was contrast rich, tribal in feel, and fit the production using historical nods to Egyptian culture with symbol and an interesting use of metallics.
The (Visual) Bottom Line: PARTY, BEER, DUDES MAKING OUT. WOW! The Electric Pharaoh was crammed full of visual-splosion stimuli. It’s obvious that all the theatrical design disciplines worked hard fo-the-money (well, not exactly, they’re all, incredibly, volunteers). I’m left wondering what the BROs could do if they took all the incredible talent they have and focused it, tight light a laser. It is almost as though each team of artists worked independently, then occasionally checked in with the director for cohesion. Each department, taken out of context, produced astounding work but as a unified vision, director Mason Ross needed to be more of a wrangler-in of ideas and less ringmaster of so many “Woah, that’s awesome!”s. But really, who fucking cares? [No one. -TBO] It took me a few minutes to get on the bandwagon, but I’m so there! The mothertruckers sang their sexy little butts off…and I was entertained, damn it! Don’t go to this show for theatrical conventions. The BROs are way beyond that. And that’s fucking awesome.
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