City life. Loud by nature, fervent, frantic, propelled forward by work, traffic, hustle. This cycle doesn’t always allow time for reflection on the cycle itself. But Happenstance Theatre’s Vanitas, now playing at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, is currently giving audiences the gift of pause.
A hybrid of music, dance, drama, comedy, and visual arts, Vanitas makes smart use of it’s artistic tool box as it invites the audience on a brief journey of art and reflection.
Vanitas is “a theatrical Cabinet of Curiosities devised by the ensemble.” Its title refers to a piece of artwork common in the 16th and 17th century in the Netherlands, composed of heavy symbolism addressing themes such as death and life.
The piece begins with three Fates (Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, and Alex Vernonc) who helm the production, in synch with the rhythm of the piece and in synch with each other. The Fates, who rely greatly on song and dance, introduce musical instruments, as well as a talented musical captain (Karen Hansen) who provides live orchestration throughout the show.
In a skilled mime, the Fates then create the Fool (Mark Jaster), a happy and comedic companion made for the Queen (Sabrina Mandell). Through physicality and jest, the Fool introduces the Queen to comedy, nature, to music, and the self, while the Fates guide the way. The Queen meets this journey with sorrow, confusion, joy, and ultimate submission to her final fate.
This performance, while of traditional roots, is not what some would call a traditional piece of modern theatre (an oxymoron if there was one). With it’s fusion of the arts, Vanitas looks towards art history for inspiration, as well as the likes of Samuel Beckett and T.S. Eliot. Its structure is deceivingly minimalistic, using simple scenes and phrasings to dig at deep philosophical thought. One of the most striking themes throughout Vanitas is the passing of time; a metronome and an hour glass are constantly present, the Queen stopping throughout to cry out against its march forward.
Closes April 14, 2013
Round House Theatre – Silver Spring
8641 Colesville Road
Silver Spring, Md
1 hour, 15 minutes without intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
The set, lit by Kris Thompson, is comprised of smart, collapsible pieces that float seamlessly on and off stage as if in a dream, and is complimented by the subtle but faithfully intricate costumes (Rachel Schuldenfrei, April Blum and Sabrina Mandell). Each piece in the production is carefully chosen and exceptionally crafted, not a single element is forgotten or underutilized. The most notable are the picture frames built into the set’s center piece, the contents of which evolve throughout the production as if by the wave of a magic wand. This brilliant touch is evidence of the sharp attention to detail that makes Vanitas shine.
Vanitas speaks in a steady, strong language, a language unafraid of silence, and in a complete embrace of music and movement. Like the art it pays homage to, Vanitas is a rich and layered production worth a very thoughtful look.
Vanitas . Written by the Happenstance Theatre Ensemble . Featuring Mark Jaster as Fool, Karen Hansen as Musician and Sabrina Mandell as Queen, Gwen Grastorf, Alex Vernon, Sarah Olmsted Thomas as Three Fates . Costumes: Rachel Schuldenfrei, April Blum and Sabrina Mandell . Produced byHappenstance Theatre . Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh