What is it about the idea of a mistress? Throughout history the “other woman” has been called all kind of names under the sun, shunned, cast-out, run out of town, off the land – or beheaded. But that doesn’t stop the prominence of her being. And interestingly, as noted in this script, there’s no male equivalent term. Where there is a man, there will often be a woman on the side, forgotten, cast off or discarded. She finally has her say in Mistress Cycle.
Tess, played with aplomb by Erica Claire sets the tone as the Narrator wearing contemporary black leather jacket attire, and entering with an upbeat swagger as she tallies up the men who never called back after promising first dates. She gets the ball rolling as she shows how even a tough-minded independent woman can soften with just right attention at just the right moment, then, bam!— she too can succumb to a charmer and relinquish her sense of self.
The collection of women in The Mistress Cycle helps relay the range and scope of their experiences through the ages, across nationalities, time and space. We witness their stories of subjugation as noted with the opening number “This is How it Starts.” Each has a story and they share with care. The opening montage names famous women in history who held the dubious honor of being women on the side—including one who has since become nearly accepted into royalty. Remember the early turmoil in reckoning the likes of Camilla Parker-Bowles, now Duchess? In this rare case, “the other” actually married the Prince.
It took a while before I could warm up to the piece that sounded a bit self-indulgent at first, but slowly the stories crept into my sense of self. One of the songs was particularly intuitive “Are you Me?” where the characters confront each other as potentially the wife or the “other,” noting how fluid the roles between them are.
The Mistress Cycle
closes October 29, 2017
Details and tickets
The stories move easily with the ebb and swell of the music that sometimes reaches operatic heights. Abby Middleton is the most gifted in the vocal registry in her renditions as Diane de Potiers, a courtesan among the French royals. Her story is told with strikingly beautiful chords as she portrays the “other woman” desperately trying to tend to the ailing wife, who is equally determined to hate Diane to her dying day. Director Matt Conner captures the twists and turns of this intriguing truth stranger than fiction historical situation.
Julia Capizzi slinks and slithers along with bright gorgeous eyes singing the journeys of erotic journal-writer Anais Nin. The script weaves in the psychological underpinnings of Nin’s work, even attributing some of the writer’s accomplishments (and unsettled emotional state) to her constant efforts to gain her father’s attention and approval.
Justine “Icy” Moral brings a theatrical urgency to her role as Ching, a composite character who lives through the degradation of being a concubine in Chinese history. Moral is absolutely riveting as she depicts the roller coaster of social class that can change in a heartbeat, literally. She’s exalted to an elevated status with a pregnancy and prospects of birthing a child in the dynasty, and is just as quickly demoted back down to the lower ranks with a stillbirth.
It’s always a treat to see Iyona Blake in action, here as LuLu White, the renowned owner of a notorious New Orleans brothel. Before uttering a sound, Blake enters with a regal bearing of someone who demands consideration, attention and respect. Some of us were fortunate enough to catch her in various award winning productions in the metro areas, and she proves her chops with Lu Lu White’s story. With her powerful vocals Blake’s White carries us along on a cross-country train ride where she has trusted her business partner to complete a lucrative deal with her life-savings. Again, Conner’s careful direction hits all the right notes to depict her illiteracy and quiet devastation when she finds out en route that the guy never showed up. Crushed but not knocked out, LuLu finds a way to regroup and leads the rest of the characters to keep going with resilience and strength.
That’s the basic tale of all of the characters regardless of the details—their need to keep going with what they have no matter what.
Beth Blatt and Jenny Giering have collaborated over the years and the ease and flow of the music and lyrics reflect the neat simpatico of how their minds work.
Blatt’s script and lyrics show the multiple dimensions of what’s often seen from one angry side or another. The sometimes atonal music by Jenny Giering is refreshingly modern and fits the scathing reality of lives lived as best they can.
Set design by Marge Jervis at first seemed minimal–4 chairs arranged various ways on the stage. But then, the raised platform centerstage showed the creative care that went into the production. Once characters pulled off the top covering, it converted into an inviting bed, the centerpiece of what their lives are all about in one form or another, one time or another, for them to lay on, jostle each other, support and even kneel along the sides in prayer with candles in the corners for nice effect. Lynn Joslin’s lighting mixed muted shades and piercing spotlights to help tell the stories. The rich tones of the piano accompaniment directed by Piero Bonamico enhanced the various renditions, while sumptuous costumes also by Margie Jervis clarified each one’s identity.
Creative Cauldron is a hidden jewel passed along on the highway. Producing a D.C. premiere is a bold choice for this intimate black box in Falls Church. Highlighting plays and musicals that center on women’s stories and journeys through musical theater is also a laudable venture. Here’s hoping that the provocative graphics for the Mistress Cycle will entice patrons off the exit ramp – the high quality productions will assure return visits.
The Mistress Cycle . Book and Lyrics by Beth Blatt . Music by Jenny Giering . Directed by Matt Conner . Cast: Iyona Blake, Julia Capizzi, Erica Clare, Abby Middleton, Justine “Icy” Moral . Music Director –Piero Bonamico . Scenic and Costume Designer—Margie Jervis . Lighting—Lynn Joslin . Stage Manager—Bryan Boyd . Produced by Creative Cauldron . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.