Someday, Jace Casey (actor, writer, director, choreographer, composer, choreographer, music director, arranger) is going to spend a slow afternoon going over the production notes and artwork from Mindset. He will either tear up, remembering the days when his career was pure and full of possibility, before all the compromises necessary for his success, or he will smile subtly, saying “ I did this when I was 16. How many teenagers can do something like this? No one would guess, but I was a real life artist once.”
At this moment, however, Casey and the cast and crew of this production can take a bow for a work well-done. Billed as “A Surrealist Rock Opera,” Mindset is really a song/ dance revue with an allegorical exoskeleton.
As mentioned, this play is the product of young artists, and reflects that perspective. The main character is an artist; nothing else is known about this person. Nothing else at all: this character doesn’t appear on the stage. Instead the drama is set in the artist’s mind. Well, sort of.
In a space called “The Waiting Room” four characters, each representing a different phase in the artist’s life, are confronted by a therapist, whose voice comes from on high. The play’s four acts each focus on one of these characters:
—The Child ( Sophie Nicholakos)
She is the artist in the unspoiled state. She is the first to wonder why the dandelions are yellow instead of blue. Not satisfied with reality, she draws whimsical images in her notebook, and dreams of being a painter. In her imagination, the world is always bright and colorful. The costumes in this act are vivid, like pastel drawings, but will turn black when Fear (Cassandra Kendall) arrives near the end of the act, and will remain so for the rest of the play. Nicholakos doesn’t try to affect a child’s voice in this role, but focuses on the wild-eyedness of her role.
—The Teenager (Casey)
Portrayed stereotypically sullen and disaffected by the teenaged Casey, the artist has known Fear and pushes his artistic vision farther and farther away until it virtually disappears. Casey and ensemble show their impressive dance moves throughout this act. More impressive than his dancing, Casey choreographs some intricate ensemble scenes that come off with all the polish of a pop music show.
Fear morphs from the towering shadow of the first act into a seductress that leads the artist away from his art.
—The Adult (Noah Harrington)
Obviously, the most dramatic character in the story. Fear is now a companion who follows him almost arm in arm. He calls it responsibility, but it’s clear what it really is. The most dramatic moment of this production comes near the end of the act when Harrington gives an excellent reading of Gary Jules’ “Mad World.” Of all the pop songs featured in this play, this performance stands out. Harrington takes the well-known song, and gives it new meaning. Jules’ original recording had a tone of sadness; here, Harrington adds feeling of anger at his too-easy surrender.
—The Elder (Leora Lihach)
Now, with nothing to fear, the artist returns to her paint, returns to her colors. She feels like a child again. My criticism of the act is it is too short, and offers no explanation why she has returned to her vision at this state in life.
I cannot conclude my review without commending the live band that accompanied the performers. Among them, violinist Cora Stern stands out with her interpretations of pop, rock, and classical material that could be both powerful and tender.
Whatever becomes of these performers going forward, I am happy to see that at such an early age they created such an ambitious project.
Mindset has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012 at First Congregational United Church of Christ 945 G St NW, Washington, DC
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Steve rates this 4 out of a possible 5.