This band of theatrical misfits led by Brian Rott, have taken over a rugged space in Brewers Hill’s Fortress Building and turned it into an irreverent dramatic play land. Rott, Artistic Director of Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre, recently did the unthinkable. He tangled with the rotting corpse of Anton Chekov to produce his version of The Seagull… in 3D. Yes my friends, 3D.
Wow, it’s in 3D!
It all started with a schtick jabbing at movie opening sequences. Members of the Quasimondo ensemble come out and mime a skit, where as the audience is instructed to prepare for a 3D bonanza by turning off their cell phones and throwing on their 1950’s 3D glasses. A handful of small rainbow colored feathers get tossed in the air and to everyone’s delight we’ve been had. Feathers fall to the ground with that strange blue and red haze that just won’t mix, that was the 3D part we can take our glasses off now. Then zombie Chekov appears.
He creeps out during Rott’s brief intro to Chekov: the man, the myth, the legend, a nice touch to the show for those who just like the idea of going to see play. Zombie Chekov is then gunned down with an original neon orange Nintendo Entertainment System Duck Hunt pistol (vintage NES references weave throughout the piece). As most zombies do if you leave their heads and limbs intact, zombie Chekov (Steve Gallam) stiffly limps over to join the music ensemble and lifelessly picks up a saxophone to lead the house concert band with Molly Leiberman, Sara Mellstrom, and Jenifer Reinke.
Oh, yeah, there’s a Plot
Konstantin (Rott) wants fame as a writer but his attention-hoarding, overbearing, melodramatic mother Irina Arkadina (Olivia Gonzales) can’t let go of her overexposed stardom or her twisted romantic entanglement with laureate novelist of the times Boris Trigorin (Jeff Kriesel).
Konstantine dotes, unrequited, for the naive daughter of a real estate magnate, Nina (Jessi Miller). She’s an aspiring actress longing for regard on-par with Irina’s. Having caught a glimpse of one of Nina’s performances, Boris falls for Nina’s whimsical fancies. She likens herself unto a seagull.
Irina’s brother, Sorin (Michael Davis) meanwhile suffers from an unknown affliction that will soon take his life. The manager of his estate Ilya (Michael Guthrie), henpecked constantly by his daughter Masha’s bratty antics, ignorantly goes about his business as his wife Polina (Jennifer Reinke), a violinist in the Kiev chamber falls for Sorin’s doctor Yevgeny (Kirk Thomsen). She eventually makes passionate love to the doctor, gracefully, through an interpretive dance routine accompanied by a stanza of Russian opera performed impeccably by Sarah Mellstrom singing in Russian. Yevgeny tosses her aside when he has had his way.
Sorin laments his desire to live, and eventually dies, though not easily. He’s forced comically into a casket on stage by a personified Death (Chris MacGregor). Mid-scene Sorin pops back up to sing a number about his want for life, before Death, Irina, Ilya, and Polina coral him back into the casket so that death can tap dance on top.
Nina pursuing her dreams runs-off to Kiev, Boris sappily chases behind. His wife Irina, succeeds in beguiling Boris to wrap himself back around her finger. Konstantine raves about, unable to attain Nina, obsessing over his disdain for Boris. With the help of his conscience, personified by MacGregor, we understand the madness overcoming Konstantine.
In one scene, MacGregor manipulates a seagull hand puppet in full view of the audience, tormenting Konstantine, gripping Konstantine’s head while he orates his disdain for Boris to his mother. The rabid seagull in his conscience turns then to Boris, gnawing evilly on his head, who is in view of the audience but not to the other characters in the scene. Konstantine does the only thing he can do to spite Nina, blasts the seagull she adores from her window. When that doesn’t work to win Nina’s attention, he blasts himself offstage, presumably with a Nintendo Duck Hunt Light Gun.
No Wasted Space
Doing theater in a studio space can be challenging, but Quasimondo makes the most of it. The set uses simple, arrangeable stationary set pieces. In this case, wooden platforms and bare mattresses prove Lego-like. Platform and mattress combinations are placed in front, to the right flank and behind the the audience. The players make unorthodox entrances to scenes from in front, behind, on top, underneath or from within various implements, i.e. the dimensions of the play live up to he billing, “3D”. A heavy cache of props, give portable devices for the players to accentuate their performances with, especially suitcases, tons of old suitcases.
The production’s pace was relentless, even scene changes turned into brief vignettes. During a memorable moment to emphasize the 3D element of the show, a highly pixelated drawing of seagull extends into the air on mounted on a long sick. Its wings jut out from the body, flapping up and down under the control of a string pulled by the handler. Swooping to the middle of the crowd, the seagull lightly pecks an audience member on the head, a diversion from a scene change.
To capture different moods of the story, scene changes entertain, but also convey vital information and highlight dynamics between the story’s characters. Semyon (Evan James Koepnick) a bland school teacher, pesters an aspiring performer Masha (Megan Kaminsky) until she marries him. Her resistance to Semyon stems from her sexually charged fascination with Konstantine. As Masha pines for Konstantine, Rott illustrates Semyon’s dutiful daily monotony to her and their baby with a clever scene interlude.
Backstage someone hoists a box over a faux wall, strangely reminiscent of those that bestow magic mushrooms to the Super Mario Brothers. Semyon repeatedly runs to and fro as a hand from backstage hands him a large Mario coin. He grabs it and runs it back upstage to five or more beckoning hands reaching out behind a screen. Opening the second act, Masha and Konstantine clutch and gnaw at each other ravenously covered in dim light, Konstantine swiftly disappearing as Semyon enters.
What’s Fun is Fun
With plenty of antique, cheeky and dark humor, the ensemble mustered plenty of antics to leave the audience duly entertained, if not confused. What the hell, its theater.
Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre doesn’t take much time off, their next production the Halloween Tree opens this Friday October 26th at 8p and closes November 3rd.