This greatly anticipated season finale shows why Constellation Theatre received the 2009 Helen Hayes Award for “Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company.” Crazyface features all the company’s trademarks – powerful visual imagery, in-your-face intense dramatic interplay, and ferocious physicality (patrons are warned to remain in their seats, and not block the aisles or else).
Horror-based filmmaker, playwright Clive Barker’s fanciful script is a spattering smorgasbord of moments that examine the very heartbeat of the human experience – family values, religious hypocrisy cloaked in piety, national conquests, witchcraft, simple goodness, evil and treachery, all experienced through the journey of a simple peasant boy who sees visions and longs to fly. Director Allison Arkell Stockman and her top-flight design team handle the big, epic scope of all the stories with ease, accompanied by master percussionist Tom Teasley whose original music, sound effects, and musical interludes could easily sell as a free-standing CD. Altogether, the company fills the stage with sights and sounds exploring myths and dreams for the most daunting theatrical experience I have seen in years.
Company member Ashley Ivey gets a chance to shine in the leading role as Tyl, who comes across as “the village fool” but who ends up being more savant and wise than expected. In fable story presentation, he is cast out from the threadbare family to survive on his own. He’s just too weird with a “vision thing” that won’t quit, no matter how hard he tries to closet his delusions and voices, along with his obsession with carrying around a lucky fish, and his fixation on being able to fly. His mother, on whom he maintains devout affection and loyalty, dumps him like rancid meat as the caravan proceeds gypsy-like on their journey, explaining without a twinge of emotion that he’s a survivor and he’ll take care of himself. Maybe mom knows best after all, because that’s exactly what he does, through the bush and terrain, at first accompanied by a fellow traveler, wonderfully played by Amy Quiggins as his side-kick friend until she splinters off on her own interesting sojourn (her gaggle of female thieves would put the current pirate escapades to shame).
Over the course of the show, Tyl has his share of strange delusions/visions and meets up with a host of colorful characters, including Europeaon conquistadors intent on divvying up the world for Spain, England, Italy and France, conniving villagers, a treacherous religious cleric who will stop at nothing to secure a promising elixir, Tyl’s long lost demonic brother, even a talking horse that alone is worth the price of admission. Along the way, Tyl shows in his gentle and loving way that while life is complicated and will throw horrendous stuff at you, there is still hope, stay on course, and one day you, too can have a chance to fly.
Crazyface contains a slew of mystical characters portrayed by performers who were so marvelous in Marriage of Figaro and other Constellation productions. Joe Brack is rock solid as the angel who is either real or might be part of Tyl’s imagination. Katie Atkinson is bewitching in all of the various roles that she touches with those gorgeous heaven-sent eyes. Acclaimed actors Jonathan Church and Manolo Santalla exude solid, purposeful delivery in their various sketches, Keith Irby adds a combustible excited energy every time he hits the stage, and Katy Carkuff brings a beautiful physical approach to her sorcerer witch character conjuring up the dead from the underworld.
Joseph Thornhill plays Lenny, the long-lost brother filled with such rage that the gates of Hell can barely contain him. Thornhill moves with athletic grace, an easy physicality, and boundless facial expressions, almost channeling Heath Ledger’s Joker, all mixed with bolts of boisterous charm and a flashing smile before he rips your heart out. He, along with his fellow cast members, is shudderingly good.
Stockman has a special gift of being able to elevate masses of characters and ensembles to showman status. In this case, it’s the trio of witches who lurk throughout the scenes, perform their sundry tasks, concoct potions, cackle, haunch, and skip across the set, bringing delicious nuggets of comic relief, tension and apprehension in their wake.
The story is packed with subplots and twists, including vast subterranean environments inhabited by creatures of the dead and torture chambers with gruesome instruments designed to inflict indescribable pain and horror as attested by the piercing screams that ring out periodically. The colorful sights and sounds also add to the effect, where the red glowing embers of hell’s fire emanates from one exit, and mist mysteriously appears in creepy stealthy blankets covering specific areas of the floor, and then dissipates on cue for a spine tingling sensation. Kudos to the design team including A.J. Guban for scenic and lighting, and Yvette M. Ryan for the endless display of amazing costumes.
There’s just too much in the story to explain, and in a crazy sort of way, the tale transcends linear plotlines. Its jumble of stories are far reaching and provocative, like organized chaos or defying gravity and flying without a net. The subtitle, “mysterious quest for the Divine” hints that the issues teeter between the miraculous and insanity, and some could say between profound and profane. Crazyface brings new meaning to the term “theatrical experience” because its sights and sounds must be experienced and felt for full impact. Ultimately, in a fresh, fearless, and exciting new way, it is crazy as hell.
Written by Clive Barker
Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
Produced by Constellation Theatre
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
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