The Ravens brings a whole new perspective to defining art. What’s Shakespeare’s text doing on the lips of a strip tease performer while she sliding down the pole in shimmery stilettos? Well, why not?
Kira, who is formerly in an abusive environment is trying to put pieces of a new life together. She meets Nina who has a day job selling fine chocolates in a kiosk but has her heart set on helping the downtrodden as a social worker. Nina originally accuses Kira of shoplifting and even inspects her purse to make sure nothing has been taken. False accusations don’t usually end with the accused getting the upper hand. The two could have easily been pitched in a confrontational battle. Instead, the writer, Alana Valentine, skillfully turns the dynamics into Kira’s favor, showing the power of acceptance and vulnerability. The social dynamic was just one of numerous signs that this was a special experience.
Erin Hanratty plays Nina with sturdy care, wrapped in her ever present shawl, flowered purse, and sensible shoes. She’s compelled to watch the train-wreck of people’s lives hoping that she can eventually be a positive influence. She’s smitten by Kira’s life struggles and seems to vicariously feel the smackdowns along the way. Nina even gets a quick lesson in the strong posturing needed for pole dancing, eagerly trying to replicate the series of steps that become part of a provocative performance later in the show.
As Kira, Suzanne Edgar grabbed the essence of her character from the very beginning, blending strength and resolve with glimmers of vulnerability, anxious to stay on the right path but teetering dangerous along the edge about to fall back down in a rabbit hole of despair. Vestiges of the hard life she’s trying to escape from can be seen in her furtive glance and stance which always seems to be in “flight or fight” mode. She is anxiously waiting for a payment that’s on the way, restitution for a horrendous even unspeakable situation that she survived.
In one of the most touching passages, Kira considers if she should resist claiming the money because accepting restitution would identify her as a victim in terms of her own self-identity. In just a couple of beats, Valentine penetrates to the heart of the character and shows the unspoken side of referring oneself as a “victim.” It’s beautifully done.
What’s also gorgeously rendered is the pole dancing that is covered in an exquisite body-mind passage by Alison Talvacchio who is simply iridescent as a performer at the “Honey Pot.” Floating to the stage in a sheer off white cape and bustier, she delivers a soliloquy about being inside her own head and her imagined safe places, depending on the aggressiveness of her client, all while performing her act. The rougher the treatment, the deeper she digs herself into an imaginary setting of freedom from pain, regret and rage.
closes Novembeer 26, 2017
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Deborah Randall directs with an earthiness filled with glimpses of human potential. Her characters move with intention and purpose, whether they’re dealing with turmoil, making split-second decisions, or perched along the perimeter of the set as ravens. The tough bully scenes where Marg, played with a smoldering touch by Ashley Zielinski, terrorizes Kira are fully expressed. We learn that Marg apparently saved Kira from further degradation and probably certain death, actually putting her own life on the line.
Those scenes are indeed scary and well directed making it clear that Marg will hurt even a loved one to get her way. What isn’t as clear is why she put her life on the line to help Kira in the first place. She’s possessive and unrelenting, but there’s no signal of a special affection or bond or need that would explain why she jeopardized her own safety to help her. The dramatic stakes are intertwined in the relationship and it’s okay with being undefined but the intention would be even stronger with more of an understanding of her motivation.
Both Neil McFadden and Amy Belschner Rhodes have functioned as sound, light and set designers respectively for Venus over the years and their awareness and appreciation for the intimate space reflects their seasoned perspectives. How they designed and lit the pole prominently placed center-stage is a marvel.
Randall notes “There’s something about [Valentines] language that gives it an ultra-specific human pulse. And so the job of the production team is to support that pulse.” That happens throughout this world premiere whether with Valentine’s text or Shakespeare’s little known sonnet, “The Phoenix and the Turtle”— performed by two actors swinging around a pole!
The Ravens is described as “a visceral, provocative work of fierce insight and compassion for womens’ struggle out of violence.” The script won international acclaim as a radio drama and Venus is presenting the world premiere of the stage play. Venus continues to be a determined beacon living up to its mission of “producing cutting edge new theatrical works that capture empowering and sometimes harrowing journeys of women.”
The setting is Kings Cross, Australia (and the actors do a fine job with the accent) but the message at heart is ubiquitous. In this time of revelation of so many accused perpetrators of unwanted sexual advances at the highest levels, it’s reassuring to see a piece like The Ravens that penetrates into the core of victim’s voices, choices, and rights. Now that all kinds of cloaks are coming off and true sides are showing in abundance, this is an ideal time to keep revealing truth, and Venus Theater’s The Ravens offers a terrific space to take a breath, then just keep digging.
The Ravens by Alana Valentine . Directed by Deborah Randall . Cast: Suzanne Edgar, Erin Hanratty, Ashley Zielinski, Alison Talvacchio . Sound Designer –Neil McFadden . Lights and Set– Amy Belschner Rhodes . Masks — Tara Cariaso . Costumes and Props –Deborah Randall . Dance choreography — Alison Talvacchio . Fight choreography — Deborah Randall Produced by Venus Theater . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.