Impassioned Embraces – Call it a Play
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
[Disclaimer: The Bad Oracle does not normally review plays in December because we’re busy getting ready for The B.U.L.S.H.I.T. Awards in January (Don’t know what that is? Go here.). But the press release was sent to us for this when it opened in November and we accidentally missed it and we really wanted to review it and we don’t need rules where we’re going, so. Here ’tis.]
John Pielmeier’s Impassioned Embraces is a unique one. Rarely does a playwright have the balls to draw such explicit parallels between the performance of the stage and the performance of the daily. Makes sense, though. Most of the conflicts of both rehearsal and life revolve around people yelling at one another for not lying well enough. All the world’s a stage, Pielmeier asserts, and all the men and women merely lunatics. His thirteen (well, fourteen, one was smartly cut) vignettes look for the brutal kernels of truth hidden inside of all our bullshit. Critics try to find them onstage, lovers on the pillow and eulogists for the paper, and all for the same reason, too – performance review. I’m making this sound like some kind of slog, but it’s really, really not. It’s actually hilarious. The comic constructs that wrap around the tragic truths of jealously, revenge, fear, embarrassment (and many more) are delicious, pointed and oh so fucking funny. The fact that they are funny is due, of course, to Pielmeier’s skill, but also to the moxie of the cast and the sharpness of the direction by Lucia A. Treasure. Fuck, it’s so nice to see a director that understands a fucking build. It’s not easy to keep the momentum up through thirteen pieces, in fact, that’s thirteen chances for the whole thing to go flat, but it doesn’t. The builds, both internally in the vignettes and through the entire work, keep you watching and holding your breath for the next punch. Treasure employs her cast flawlessly, too, it seems that each of them is built for their star turns. Jacob Budenz goes from a Warholish Peter Pan to a trembling Joker in what seems a blink of an eye in “The Backer’s Audition”, embodying desperation to a hysterical T. The black-eyed Scott Burke is arresting, standing in for the fear of the voice in the dark in “Sado-Monologue”. Martin Kasey, while more understated than some, is nevertheless a priceless nervous wreck in “On Forgetting” (death is, of course, performative too, it’s just not your performance). V Lee is the victim of her own sad story in “Emotional Recall” pushing the pathos so much that it maybe? might? be real. Mackenzie Smith digs alienation as she becomes a literal talking head in “Mondo Vee-Day-O” and Emily Classen is simply stirring in her passion and fire in “My Life in Art”. I have never actually seen a monologue of the like of Jonathan Jacobs’ in “Acting Olympics”. It’s so silly, so extra, so well-done and expertly timed. I laughed so hard I cried. But it’s the cast as an ensemble that truly shines. They do an indescribably perfect thing where, instead of just waiting around for the next time they get to come on, they draw strength from each other’s performances to make the entire thing this crazy fucking crescendo. And when Pielmeier strays just a hair self-indulgent (most notably in “My Life in Art” and “The Backer’s Audition”) Treasure is there to keep any maudlin inclinations firmly in check. The tech, directed by Rick Gerriets, is witty and effective. Much like in The Magic Flute, Doug Johnson employs the set as almost another character and, in this case, one that is appropriately skewed. I loved the minimal nature and Rorschach inspired blotch work. Sound is thoughtful (David Crandall) and lighting (Mason Ross) is downright cheeky. Costumes (Katy Kincade) are just right, too, and I liked the little touches, especially the floral crown in “Cheek to Cheek” and that one damned jersey they all wear in “The Pick Up Artist”.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Impassioned Embraces is the perfect thing to do with the fam after you trim the tree and drink all your fucking eggnog and you’re ready for some real talk. The show may clock in a two and a half hours, but it never feels long. Even for Annex, who I have begun to expect great productions from, it’s fierce. It’s also sharp, funny and time. Get your tickets now.
Runs until December 13th at Annex Theater
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