Bible and Wine
nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
February 1, 2011
Bible and Wine is at its core a dance piece, but also incorporates elements of physical theatre and storytelling. The 45-minute show is divided into a series of vignettes, telling stories from the period of the Middle Ages, with the conceit that we are touring through a museum of medieval ephemera. Each portion of the piece focuses on a historical event or religious artifact from the era. Primarily through movement, Bible and Wine explores many aspects of life and art from the Middle Ages, such as religious architecture, romance and chivalry, and "the medieval brothel."
The entire show is set to the pre-recorded music of singer/songwriter Eric Matthews (Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit, Foundation Sounds). Choreography is by Shiloh Klein and direction, design, and concept by Frank Cwiklik.
Matthews’s music can be described as easy-listening rock-pop, and perhaps may even fall under the heading “adult contemporary.” The songs are smooth, simple, and well-produced; however, I can’t for the life of me understand how they relate to the stories of the Middle Ages or why Cwiklik chose to pair them with this particular smattering of medieval tales.
The large cast is young and very eager, but overall appear to be rather inexperienced and unpolished as performers. The choreography flatlines early on; it never really builds or reaches a climax. With maybe one or two exceptions (notably Lara Jean Mummert’s solo in "The Visions of Hildegarde: Watch the Sky"), there are no virtuosic performances.
Cwiklik’s direction is safe and predictable. The show is loaded with over-the-top gestural pantomime combined with disconnected, forced facial expressions that keep Bible and Wine at an arm's length from its audience; this also distracts from the few moments in which there may have been potential for pure and emotionally powerful movement.
Bible and Wine is form without content. The cast is able to show us the idea of a character or a feeling related to the Middle Ages, but they do not fully embody their roles or the passion and humor of the period. The after-hours exploration of the medieval exhibit at the museum framework is clear, however there is not much of interest going on within this. It is unclear why we are being told stories of this particular period in history: why is it important now? How do these stories relate to us here? The narrative of these stories is unclear, and often inaudible, as the canned music blares over actors' voices as well as a recording meant to set the scene at the beginning for each vignette. What creator Cwiklik was initially drawn to in this time period—what originally inspired his need to tell us these stories of the Middle Ages—has all but gotten lost in the shuffle.