It’s tempting to make Dada art out of this review of Allyson Currin’s new play. What fun is structure and sequence when there’s a big illogical world out there to celebrate? Sandwiches! Bunnies! Boomboom Boomboom!
But since Caesar and Dada is a naturalistic play at heart, departing from reality only in some brief interludes, I’ll write this as rationally as I can. And there’s much to discuss about the impressive piece that Currin has dreamed up, aided by director Lee Mikeska Gardner and produced by WSC Avant Bard in the Callan Theatre at Catholic University.
The show might seem, at first fleeting glance, to fall into the realm of talky historical drama. But it outs itself almost immediately as a colorful love letter to the dreams of theatre and discovery. It’s the living equivalent of a child’s homemade valentine, eagerly glue-sticked together out of various scissored scraps.
That feeling of collage adds a light, charming vibrancy to the drama. The realms through which we leapfrog in Caesar and Dada aren’t so much geographical or temporal as they are personal and emotional. Through the cracks in-between the main realistic scenes — played out among a troupe of expat actors living the theatre life in Zurich in the wake of the Great War — we drop down into each character’s dreamy subconscious, sampling each artist’s personal swirl of creative impulses via song, dance, trick props, and bits of theatre magic.
In 1918 Europe, among the shell-shocked and still limping, these are the characters’ secret trapdoors into the freely stylistic. Surrounded by the blunt, literal horrors of the postwar period, there’s much solace to be found in subjectivity.
Franz Lichter, for one, isn’t convinced. Played with the proper brusque air of self-importance by Sun King Davis, Franz is the director and resident mastermind of the troupe, collectively called Theatre for Truth. His unswerving goal is to bring true realism to the stage (an aesthetic much harder to envision in that era of lingering melodramatic tradition than it would become in America a century later, where it’s now nearly ubiquitous). Realism is what’s needed after such devastation, says Franz; “After so much chaos, after so many lies… I want to be told the truth.”
The other members of the company, however, have been shaken into overdrive, and the amalgam of their creative desires doesn’t add up. Should the company instead try speaking through expressionism? Symbolism? Dare we dip our toes into Dada?
For a time, Franz won’t allow any of it. Then the arrival of aspiring actress Lily (Mundy Spears), transplanted from Idaho, looks to change things. She is, ostensibly the pebble in Franz’s shoe, and Spears turns delightfully from over-earnest to stern in her arguments with Franz. But the ground has been shifting under our feet since before her arrival.
It’s a motley crew, to be sure. And the personalities of each character in the international bunch almost too neatly parceled out at times. Accompanying Spears’s idealistic American and Davis’s coolly indifferent Swiss, we have a lovesick Italian (Joe Feldman), a droll Brit (Mario Baldessari), an embittered Russian (Megan Dominy), and a stout-hearted Irishman (Andrew Ferlo).
Caesar and Dada
Closes July 14, 2013
3801 Harewood Road, NE
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25 – $35
Thursdays thru Sundays
How heartening then, not only to see a talented local playwright committed to by a strong company, but to see the juggling act pay off. Caesar and Dada bursts with allusions and illusions, conflicts and love affairs, gritty truth and fantastical flights. One can’t ever accuse the team, or WSC Avant Bard, of shying away from the chance to take up new forms.
Caesar and Dada by Allyson Currin . Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner . Featuring Mario Baldessari, Sun King Davis, Megan Dominy, Joe Feldman, Andrew Ferlo, and Mundy Spears .Scenic Designer: Steven T. Royal, Jr. . Lighting Designer: Colin Dieck .Sound Designer: Kenny Neal .Costume Designer: Lynly Saunders .Projection Designer: Tewodross Melchishua .Fight Choreographer: Robb Hunter .Dialect Coach: Melissa Flaim .Dramaturgs: Sonya Robbins and Alan Katz . Stage Manager: Sarah Magno . Asst. Stage Manager: Colleen O’Brien . Produced by WSC Avant Bard . Reviewed by Hunter Styles.