Before Placing Me On Your Shelf
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 14, 2011
Before Placing Me on Your Shelf is based on the extraordinary work of poet James Tate. I was not familiar with his work before this but now that I have made myself acquainted with it I feel like I can’t get enough. It is always a refreshing feeling to discover something that you immediately connect with and that’s how I felt right at the top of this show. The first scene grabbed me and held me until the last scene. I can easily see why producers Lunar Energy chose Tate as their subject for a stage adaptation. His work is reflective and character-driven and makes for an evening of brilliantly fresh theater.
The show is a series of about twenty short scenes adapted from Tate’s poems. Tate actually uses quite a bit of dialogue in his work so most of the lines are lifted right off the page. Even when Tate is not using dialogue, his work is speaking to his audience in the familiar terms of an inner monologue. The show can be dreamy and surreal while at the same time it lands solidly on the most celebrated aspects of life such as love, desire and the human soul. Each scene builds very nicely on the previous one in a manner that allows the audience to follow the progression of self-discovery. In this production sometimes that discovery means discovering yourself as a statue of a pioneer in a park or finding that your life is a cookie stashed away in the attic or why you should never bring an orchid to a teddy bear party.
Conceived and directed by Philip Gates, this production is fringe theater at its best. Gates’s vision for a cohesive set of adapted poems is innovative and provocative. He creates clever business for his cast and always finds the perfect button on which to end each scene. Choreographer Rebecca Hirota lends some excellent movement to the piece and light designer Alana Jacoby adds some great movement of lights throughout the show. Gates does a brilliant job of bringing to life Tate’s use of images and characters.
The cast—Nadia Sepsenwol, Theo Salter, Adam Scott Mazer, Caitlin Johnston, Josh Odsess-Rubin, Jonathan Horvath, and Elizabeth Romanski—is outstanding. They coalesce into a single force and make real each and every character they are given. Because there are so many characters and scenes in this production it can be very demanding on an actor but each showed their grit and skill whether it came to character creation, movement or subtle reactions.
This production is, to quote Tate, “like things that have fallen out of a dream.” It is as if a large chuck of reality has been removed and replaced by palatable mysteries that entice the senses and charge the spirit. And yet there is a simplicity to it all...a personal touch on life’s hurdles that reminds one of everything that poetry can do to make the soul swell. Tate’s postmodern take on poetry is a good reason to start reading poetry again and Gates’s ingenious adaptation of it is a very good reason to go check out some downtown fringe theater.