The Pretties – Off Beauty
A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
I’m sitting here, staring at the computer, trying to figure out exactly how to approach a review of The Pretties at Glass Mind Theatre (an adapation of The Orestia by Ann Turiano). I think the easiest way to put it is that I didn’t respond to the piece. I’m sure that there is good in there [And many MANY other reviewers have pointed out the good, just saying. You can see a couple of their reviews linked to at the bottom of the page.- TBO] but I don’t think I’m the person to really see it. And that sucks because, though I may come off as TBO’s resident mean girl, I do not say things out of spite and I do strive for thoughtful criticism. The show just wasn’t for me. Not this time.
First of all, Glass Mind is producing in The Copycat Building. You may know it as that broken down looking artist collaborative/warehouse just north of Mt. Royal Avenue. It’s charmingly bohemian (prices going over a thousand dollars for studio spaces, however, are decidedly not). It also smells a bit like piss and is hotter than Hades in the summer, so I was #blessed to catch a relatively cool day in August. I walk into this building, with the fear of a Tetanus infection from accidentally snagging my arm on an exposed rusty nail (which actually happened once, shityounot) lingering around my brain, to take in The Pretties.
According to Wikipedia, The Oresteia is a trio of Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, dubbed the Father of Tragedy. I will admit that I had to look this up, and will say that you will most likely have to as well, because I had a really difficult time following Turiano’s adaptation of the already complicated and excessively dense work (If you thought you had a dysfunctional family, try reading Greek drama and you’ll find your world is all Sesame Street and rainbows). This brings me to the root of my issues with the production: A. I was physically uncomfortable and B. I mostly had no idea what the hell I was watching. I like to think that I’m an intelligent individual. I’m capable of following, and even enjoying, non-linear, conceptual theater. But there were a lot of factors working against GMT here: loud fans had to be on to circulate the hot, stuffy air which drowned out the already low-decibel actors, a non-traditional cross between tennis court style and 3/4 deep thrust staging, dialogue that switches between ye olden tymes and modern daye for no apparent reason, time jumps back and forth in an already hard to understand story, etc., etc. I wanted to follow it. I really did. And I tried. Truly. And I failed. Truly.
Because I had such a difficult time really understanding The Pretties I feel like I can’t really summarize the play. I could regurgitate the Wiki for you, but you can look that up yourself (and I say again, you really should if you want to make heads or tails of any of it at all) and, anyway, that wouldn’t summarize this play. I get that Turiano wanted to make real people out of these epic characters, especially since women have traditionally gotten the shaft on the Greek theater front. But I got so frustrated trying to follow the, you know, actual action that it became hard to care about motivation. [A note: Achilles requested a synopsis of this work from GMT to aid in his interpretation and understanding of the piece but never received it.-TBO] And I’ll eat my goddamned hat if any of the people who saw this play knew what the fuck was going on prior to looking it up on their smartphones afterwards. The characters so infrequently referred to each other by name that I couldn’t even consistently decipher who was who. So, what I’d like to do is critique the work as something that happened in a space to be viewed by an audience, sort of Staged Performance Art. Here are some things to see: a dead deer-shaped daughter, some weird cave people who are complete trouble-makers, a big bad man with a huge cock hanging out of his roman robes, some archery, occasional stomping and clapping, and a bit of royal jealousy, rape, and incest. I think. It was a lot to take in for one evening. The running time is about an hour forty-five with director Lynn Morton insisting that “The audience can sit through a two-hour movie, so they can sit through an hour forty-five play.” God help you if you have to pee, because to get to the bathroom you’ll have to walk across the stage during the performance, perhaps dodging around actors attempting to deliver lines [Exciting! – TBO].
All of my confusion isn’t to say that there were not things that I enjoyed. I particularly dug Sarah Weissman and Trustina Fafa Sabah, as The Furies (which I originally and hilariously misread at The Furries and was slightly disappointed when they didn’t sport big, fluffy tails). These two did this cool thing with dialogue overlap that was lyrical and hypnotic. They were organic and tribal, their characters and physicality blending perfectly. Their stage presence was impeccable. Beautifully done and, for me, the stars of the production. I also got into Erin Boots as Artemis and Electra, she was equal parts shrill and airy (though I wished I could understand her dialogue a little better). Clytemnestra (V Lee) rather overdoes it with the screaming, I’d dial that back a little for a venue that’s so small. Paris Brown’s Iphigenia has a lovely voice, and her movement is intriguing, but she seemed to have trouble settling into the character. Dana Woodsmon’s Agamemnon-of-the huge-cock looked kind of bored but her fro-hawk hair was killer fab.
Set design by Michelle Datz looked like something out of an 80’s music video. Lights (Chris Allen) were fine, I could see the performers and it all looked okay. Music (also by Chris Allen) choices were eclectic, all over the board. And oh, dear, the costumes (Anna Platis and V. Lee) were a bit honey no. If you’ve seen one bloused bedsheet for Greek historical drama you’ve seen them all. The problem is really that they are pretty unflattering, a shame with the wonderfully diverse and beautiful bodies I saw on display. Some of the sheets still had that tell-tale grid of packaging creases. Makeup, however, (Samantha Trionfo) was phenomenal, especially on The Furies.
BOTTOM LINE: I’m really surprised at the overall experience of The Pretties by Glass Mind Theatre. In the past TBO has loved the work of this team but this go round, I was disappointed. Maybe you’re smarter than I am. If you are, and you want to try this, my advice is to look the story up first, have a couple of drinks and try to find a character arc to keep yourself engaged. I can’t help but feel that there were missed opportunities here and that it didn’t have to be so alienating. Better luck next time, at least for me.
Running at Glass Mind Theatre until August 23rd
Email Achilles Feels at firstname.lastname@example.org
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