One Solo Arts Festival
nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
June 20, 2005
Solo shows are a staple of summer festivals. Usually easy to produce and rehearse, they are perfect for the frantic, set-it-up-and-tear-it-down-in-15-minutes pace that characterizes these events. Terra Nova Collective has embraced this by producing a festival of exclusively solo works. Like all New York summer festivals, the ONE Solo Arts Festival runs the shows back to back, jamming as many as possible into a single evening. The pieces spread across genres; primarily performance forms from puppets to music, but there are two solo visual art exhibits as well. And the funny thing about solo work is that it is always collaborative, joining inanimate materials, offstage presences, and the audience in often surprising ways. This was very clear in the two pieces I saw.
In Mrs. Barry’s Marriage, written and performed by Bronwen Coleman and directed by Jennifer Darling, you find yourself in the home of Mrs. Barry, who is every older relative you never wanted to visit. Her husband has left her, her son is gay, her mother is dead, and to top it all off, she’s got to entertain her second cousin once removed on the eve of moving out of her house. Cousin Charlotte, unexpectedly in town for business, is engaged to be married and Mrs. Barry takes every opportunity to give advice and dash expectations. With her perfectly out-of-date graying hair, long earrings, and awkward outfit (she proudly informs Charlotte that she maintains her looks by drawing on her eyebrows and “keeping everything waxed”), Coleman gives us a pitch-perfect portrait of this bitterly funny woman. Mrs. Barry realizes she’s never really given serious consideration to her life, and now she has to start it over based on what she knows, rather than what she fantasizes. And although the end shows a triumphant toss of her wedding ring into the ocean, we’re still not sure what will happen to her. Is it too late after all?
Meisterklasse means Master Class in German, and Meisterklasse is performed by pet students of German marionette artist Albrecht Roser. The piece retains the feeling of a school talent show as each puppet carefully sings, dances, and shows off for us. All the puppets are marionettes of some kind and most pieces feature puppet/puppeteer interaction in sometimes surprising ways. The puppets climb their puppeteers, shield them from nudity, fall in love with their legs. They find their puppeteers in the bathroom, they have them act as MC for them. And the puppets run the gamut from Nate Wilson’s orange ball at the end of a piece of twine to Robin Walsh’s delicate, exquisite gold opera singer, and everything in between. Heavy metal singers, wizards, dragons, an entire repertoire of hollow-eyed little creatures who are varying degrees of human. Between the intimate puppet/puppeteer relationship and the collaborative work of the ensemble, Meisterklasse proves solo work does not happen alone.
From the peephole into Mrs. Barry’s conversation with Charlotte to the great symphony of individuals that is Meisterklasse, it is clear that the ONE Solo Arts Festival is investigating every manifestation of solo performance. After all, a group of people telling and listening to one person’s story is really what theatre is all about.