All Posts By

John Bavoso

John Cameron Mitchell’s Origin of Love Tour

by John Bavoso

This article was first published by DC Theatre Scene and can be read on their site here.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but what about crowd-surfing them? That was what I was thinking the night of February 8, as I helped keep John Cameron Mitchell aloft as he made his way through the orchestra on the hands of adoring Hedwig and the Angry Inch fans. We had gathered to bask in the glow of The Origin of Love, a punk-rock live Behind the Music episode of sorts and a gift to Hedwig heads everywhere.

The evening of songs, storytelling, and sass was the first stop on a national tour, and DC audiences got a tailored experience that few other audiences may have. Mitchell lived for a bit in Falls Church, his grandfather owned a house in Bethesda, and he had even had cousins in the audience. Throw in a few jokes from Hedwig about Melania, and you had a concert experience that was unique and surprisingly personalized.

Mitchell—who was joined on stage by members of his original Broadway band and powerhouse performer Amber Martin—sported a black, white, gray, and red costume that transformed into six different outfits over the course of the night. He also was crowned with Hedwig’s classic wig, this time tinted light gray or white, a sly nod to the fact that Mitchell has been embodying the trans East German rock ‘n’ roll songstress for literally decades at this point.

As Mitchell worked through some of the most beloved numbers from the Hedwig songbook—“The Origin of Love,” Sugar Daddy,” “Wig in a Box,” and “Wicked Little Town” among them—he filled in bits of personal history and trivia to give context to each song. Whether it was a story about meeting songwriter and co-Hedwig creator Stephen Trask on an airplane, or describing his first time taking the stage as Hedwig in a downtown punk rock drag club (and being way too theatre-kid prepared), he spun bits of lore behind one of the most beloved cult musicals ever created. When he explained that he and Stephen originally performed “The Long Grift” on the lawn of the rehab clinic where Jack, Stephen’s bass player and John’s lover, was trying to get sober, there was nary a dry eye in the house.

Ever the magnetic and dynamic performer, Mithell held the crowd in the palm of his manicured hand the entire night, despite moments he described as “more punk rock than Broadway.” Yes, he forgot the lyrics to a couple of songs and had to start “Sugar Daddy” over completely (although my guest had a theory that the band and lights reset so quickly, that that might not have been a totally spontaneous restart), and there was a mic stand he simply could not get to stand up straight, but not a single member of the audience cared—if anything, it only made him more human and relatable.

The night wasn’t only about Hedwig; Martin was given her time to shine with a David Bowie cover and solo performance of the song “Bermuda” from the soundtrack to Mitchell’s 2017 film, How to Talk to Girls at Parties (which, yes, also got me a little misty-eyed, thanks for asking). As part of the encore, he sang a couple of songs from and previewed his new musical, Anthem, a six-hour epic that will be released as a podcast first, and will feature the talents of legends like Glenn Close, Patty Lupone, and Cynthia Erivo.

The Origin of Love was a love letter to Hedwig and John Cameron Mitchell’s gift to fans less than a week before Valentine’s Day. Leaving the theater with a crowd of people filled with such love and joy in their hearts, just blocks away from the White House, was an experience I won’t soon forget and would happily repeat anytime.

The Origin of Love performance was one night only: Friday, February 8, 2019.

Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret iS choose-your-own adventure in a DC mansion

by John Bavoso

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene and can be read on their site here.

Few words strike fear into the hearts of wide swaths of the theatre-going population than ‘Audience Participation.’ But when said participation involves sipping champagne, swanning around a mansion in Dupont Circle, watching fire spinners perform in the snow, and solving puzzles with strangers, that pill becomes a lot easier to swallow. Thus is the experience created by TBD Immersive in their new interactive performance piece, Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.

If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, well, that’s just the beginning. As an audience member, it’s up to you to join a side and undertake quests at the request of your fellow guests. There are at least three or four paths you can take, which is exciting, but can also lead to wide variations in not just the content, but also the quality of the experience amongst audience members.

For instance, my guest and I started out on one track at the beginning of the evening, but then unintentionally switched halfway through, meaning we never really got the whole story for either path. As we watched a climactic fight play out in front of us, for example, we had no clue what was going on, because the inciting event occurred upstairs while we were down in the basement. While this is realistic in terms of how things actually work at real-life parties, it did create some moments of confusion that weren’t always of the fun and intriguing variety. Perhaps a slightly more streamlined narrative arc may have led to certain attendees not being left out in the proverbial cold.

This is not the say that I didn’t enjoy my time at the Wescotts’ abode; in fact, I had a marvelous evening. This is due in large part to the wildly talented cast, who almost universally nailed both their scripted scenes and 2+ hours’ worth of improvised interaction. Lange ate up the role of the despised stepmother with the suspiciously short courtship and abrupt elopement, and was liable to break into song at any moment (much to the chagrin of many of the other characters). Bradshaw’s Drew practically vibrated with nervous energy, while Hart’s Astrid hid her cunning and desperation to get to the bottom of what really happened to her mother behind a ditzy, party girl façade.

The Whittemore House proved to be the ideal venue for this performance, offering three levels of indoor and outdoor space for the cast and audience to play with. From the fortune teller in the parlor to the burlesque dancer in the ballroom to the fire performers working their magic in the garden, there was always something to engage with and admire. Despite the mansion’s sprawling nature, the cast managed to create small moments of genuine intimacy and delight. For example, my guest and I and about five other people were treated to a stunning command performance by Angelique (Chaseedaw Giles) in a linen closet in the basement barely big enough to fit us, in what turned out to be the most memorable moment of the evening.

Many theatre companies have mission statements that include nods to breaking down the fourth wall and inviting the audience to participate in the creation of the work, but few have made good on this promise to such a high degree. With Ouroboros, TBD Immersive has created an event that is impressive in both its scope and its nuance, and in doing so, has filled a vital niche in the DC area theatre landscape. I, for one, am excited to see where they lead audiences next.

Joshua Harmon’s scathing comedy ‘Admissions’ big hit with Studio audiences

by John Bavoso

This article was first published on DC Theatre Scene and can be read on their site here.

A couple of weeks ago, the satire site McSweeney’s published an article entitled, “How Can I Help to Promote Diversity Without Relinquishing Any of My Power?” This title alone could serve as an incredibly succinct synopsis of Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, now playing at Studio Theatre, where Harmon’s previous play Bad Jews holds the distinction of being the company’s best-selling production ever.

Like Bad JewsAdmissions skewers a very specific subset of the population—in this case, upper-middle class white progressives. Harmon comes by his disdain for this particular kind of liberal sanctimoniousness honestly, having grown up in Westchester, NY, a wealthy suburban community just outside of the city. “The people who were the most progressive and vocal also tended to be the first people to pick up the phone and make a call to make sure that their kids got everything they wanted out of life,” Harmon explains to dramaturg Lauren Halvorsen.

Admissions is set at Hillcrest, an elite boarding school in rural New Hampshire. Sherri Rosen-Mason (Meg Gibson) oversees admissions for the school, and is proud of the fact that, under her decade-and-a-half watch, the number of students of color has jumped from 6% to 18%. We’re introduced to her particular brand of cold professionalism in the opening scene, in which she chastises Roberta (Sarah Marshall), a member of the institution’s development department whose ties to the school go back generations, for not including enough people of color in the new admissions brochure.

When Roberta protests that she included Perry, the son of a white mother—Ginnie Peters (Marni Penning), Sherri’s best friend—and half-Black father, Sherri counters that while Perry counts as Black for the purposes of her statistics, he doesn’t photograph Black enough to count for the brochure. Right off the bat, we know we’re in for a wild ride.

Back at home, Sherri opens a bottle of wine to share with Ginnie while they both wait to hear whether their sons—best friends Perry and Sherri’s son, Charlie (Ephraim Birney)—have gotten into Yale. Ginnie is delighted to get the call that Perry has been accepted, while Sherri and her husband, Bill (Kevin Kilner, who you may recognize from The Good Wife or House of Cards), who is also the school’s headmaster, are left to wait until Charlie comes home from screaming in the woods for four hours to learn that his application has been deferred.

This propels Charlie into suggesting that Perry only got in because he’s mixed race and launches him into a screed (that impressively goes on for 15 to 20 minutes, easily) about the entire notion of diversity and seats at the table and who even counts as a person of color anyway. It also sets into motion a series of events that tests his parents’ convictions and puts all of their relationships in jeopardy.

Director Mike Donahue keeps things moving at a quick clip as the characters move around the bland affluence of scenic designer Caite Hevner’s kitchen set and open endless bottles of white wine. Birney’s work is a true standout for that marathon-length monologue alone, but he’s given a harder bill of goods to sell in the second half of the play (I’ll get to that in a moment). The B plot scenes between Gibson and Marshall are quite funny, highlighting generational differences and the imprecision of language around race and diversity.

Overall, though, Harmon’s words are the real star of the show, and this can be both a boon and a detriment. The monologues sparkle and Harmon’s capacity for glancing one-liners seems infinite, but some of the dialog can feel more wooden than natural. And this may be in part because he sometimes takes his characterizations to the extreme—Bill, for instance, basically calls everyone in the world a racist at one point or another without allowing for any nuance whatsoever.

The thing that most pulled me out of the story, however, is the aforementioned action that Charlie takes (and I won’t spoil here) about two-thirds of the way through the play, which reveals his parents’ true hypocrisy. My problem is that the change of heart that inspires this act seems totally unearned—there’s no moment of epiphany that the audience is privy to, nor are there any consequences for Charlie’s previous diatribes that incentivize him to change his attitude. It struck me that what he does he only does so that he can move the plot along and say the lines Harmon wants spoken at the end of the play. These moments feel more like the playwright speaking directly to the audience rather than a character speaking genuinely from his heart, and threatens to turn character into caricature.

Harmon and the entire Admissions team give audiences a lot to think and talk about as they exit the theater. In fact, a gentleman behind me, when the lights went up at the end of the show, wondered aloud whether the composition of the audience itself even remotely approached the 6% Hillcrest’s student body began with. These are important conversations to be having, and while Admissions may not offer up any solutions, it does give the audience the chance to laugh—primarily at itself.

Jeffrey: Paul Rudnick’s comedy of love in the time of AIDS

by John Bavoso

This article was first published by DC Theatre Scene and can be read on their website here.

There’s no such thing as love without risk. Risk of rejection. Risk of your partner finding someone else. But for gay men in the ‘80s and ‘90s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, love and sex carried more than just emotional risk—there was physical, mortal danger to be dealt with as well.

And so, at the top of Rainbow Theater Project’s production of Paul Rudnick’s play, Jeffrey, the titular character decides that dealing with sex and love cheapened by the kind of paranoia and fear induced by the virus isn’t worth the hassle, and swears them both off. Hijinks, of course, ensue. Yes, I said hijinks. Yes, in New York City during the height of the plague.

In an impassioned pre-show speech, Artistic Producing Director H. Lee Gable spoke specifically to the gay men of a certain age in the audience, of which there were many, about what it was like to be a gay man during that era, his voice cracking with emotion. He also pointed out that out of that time came what are widely considered to be the two great AIDS plays—Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, and the less widely produced Jeffrey. The latter, he noted, helped mark the shift from “dying of AIDS” to “living with AIDS.”

The disparity between the success and acknowledgement of the two works (although, it should be noted, it took much longer than it should have for The Normal Heart to get its due) was no fluke; it came down to the two playwrights’ difference in approaching a heavy subject. In 1992, when Rudnick was trying to find an Off-Broadway home for Jeffrey, he had many a door slammed in his face, not simply because his play was about AIDS, but specifically because it was a comedy about AIDS. Once it did find it a home, thankfully, it was a hit, and served as Rudnick’s breakthrough play.

The plot is relatively simple: Jeffrey (Rinaldo Martinez), is a Midwestern transplant living in Manhattan, making his living primarily as a cater waiter while trying to land acting gigs. He decides that negotiating sex while the specter of the virus looms large is too much of a downer and quits it cold turkey—no small feat for an avowed sexual compulsive. Of course, the moment he commits to celibacy, he meets Steven (Reginald Richard) at the gym and they both feel an immediate attraction. There’s only one problem—Steven is HIV positive, and in a world punctuated by memorials for otherwise-healthy men in their 20s, Jeffrey isn’t sure he can handle the pain of falling for someone just to watch him die.

Rainbow Theatre Project’s production is directed by Robert Mintz, who also directed Rainbow Theatre’s reading of the play in 2016. Mintz does a superb job of preventing the script’s swings in tone from giving the audience emotional whiplash; after all, no matter how many quips you sprinkle into a play about the AIDS crisis, it’s still a play about the AIDS crisis. (My favorite example of this juxtaposition occurs when a gay basher, mid-hate crime, asks Jeffrey what kind of weapon he’s carrying and he replies, “Adjectives? Irony?”)

Honestly, I approached this play with slight trepidation, as stories about the AIDS crisis are my kryptonite—nothing turns my tear ducts from merely decorative to functional quite like them. But Mintz and his cast keep the tone as buoyant as a balloon, while still allowing the more serious moments to make an impact.

Martinez is the engine driving the show, and he does a masterful job of imbuing Jeffrey with an earnestness and authenticity that belies his jokes about his own promiscuity. He’s the audience’s cypher, but in Martinez’s capable hands, he’s hardly a blank slate. Richard exudes charisma and charm as Steven, negotiating with nuance a character who’s drawn to Jeffrey but also disgusted by his retrograde attitudes toward dating an HIV positive man. In fact, Rudnick’s script doesn’t go a long way toward making a solid case as to why Steven is so willing to not only overlook his mistreatment at the hands of Jeffrey, but is, in fact, so enthralled by him that he’s willing to chase him for months—so it’s a credit to Martinez and Richard that they’re able to sell the mutual connection as convincingly as they are.

Jeffrey and Steven’s journey is aided by their mutual friends, Sterling (Matthew Pauli), an older, style-obsessed interior decorator, and his young lover, Darius (Randyn Fullard), a whimsical Cats dancer with an 8th-grade education. While these characters, as written, could easily veer into caricature, Pauli and Fullard keep them grounded and infuse both with real emotion—especially in a pivotal scene toward the end of the play.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a talented ensemble consisting of Craig Houk, Emily Levey, Joshua Street, and Rick Westerkamp, who expertly transform themselves into a variety of comedic characters, from a lascivious Catholic priest to a game show host to patrons of the Lower Manhattan Gentlemen’s Masturbation Society. Levey, the cast’s lone female member, in particular shines as the host of a Hoedown for AIDS fundraiser and as Debra, a postmodern televangelist self-help guru.

The flamboyance of the subject matter is reflected in PJ Carbonell’s candy-colored confection of a set that allows for maximum versatility. The clever use of projections also assists in seamlessly transforming the small black box at the DC Arts Center into a dozen different locations. Hannah Katherine Herold’s costume designs don’t always scream early ‘90s New York fashion to me, but she also had a huge number of different characters to clothe, and I was hardly pulled out of the moment by it.

To that point, Jeffrey is essentially s a time capsule of a very specific time—a recent period piece of sorts. And, to that end, some of references and jokes are made even funnier by our modern context (Rudy Giuliani being called out as wearing chaps at the Hoedown for AIDS, for example, elicited quite a few chuckles), while others certainly land differently than they did at the time, (like when, early in the show, Jeffrey declares that “sex was never meant to be safe or negotiated… or fatal,” which felt slightly uncomfortable to my #MeToo era ear).

And yet, Jeffrey asks questions that are both timeless and universal: What subjects are appropriate fodder for comedy? Is falling in love with another person, fully knowing that every relationship has a built-in expiration date, still worth the risk? Rudnick’s script can be a little preachy at times in providing the answer to that second question, but his characters have the right idea: “Life sucks, it always will, so why not make the most of it?”

How to Keep an Alien, a comedy about love and red tape

by John Bavoso

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene.

Several years ago, a good friend of mine married a Swiss citizen. Over many glasses of wine, she detailed to me having to provide emails, OkCupid messages, photos, and receipts to prove they actually loved each other so he could gain his American citizenship. At no point during her tales of navigating red tape like a member of the Mission Impossible team dodging laser alarm systems did I think to myself, “This would make a hilarious comedy!”

Not true for Irish playwright and standup comedian Sonya Kelly, apparently, who used a similar experience from her life as the basis for her romantic comedy How to Keep an Alien, which is being given its regional premiere courtesy of Solas Nua at the Dance Loft.

This production represents not only the first time the piece has been performed in DC, but also the first time the playwright has not played herself on stage. In Solas Nua’s lighthearted and spirited production, that duty falls to the dynamic and captivating Tonya Beckman. Kelly admits to being influenced by table monologists like Spalding Gray, but Beckman isn’t alone on stage—she’s joined by the versatile Nick Fruit, who plays Sonya’s stage manager, Justin, as well as a variety of roles including a snobbish choreographer; two drunken, brawling nightclub patrons; a taxi driver; and the object of Sonya’s affection herself, Kate from Queensland.

Kate, you see, is our inciting incident. Sonya, a disaffected Dublin-based actor, meets Kate when they’re working together on a production of a Russian play, produced in an Irish castle, during which everyone speaks with a British accent. The two fall head first into a whirlwind romance that’s cut short by the expiring of Kate’s one-year work visa and her deportation back to Australia. What follows is an unconventional journey through Ireland’s immigration system to try to get Kate to stay permanently in the country, all while trying to navigate a new romance.

Kelly’s background as a comedian shines through in her snappy bon mots (I particularly related to line, “I hate camping… it defeats the purpose of evolution!”), which Beckman delivers with wit and a wink. Director Tom Story keeps action moving and creates rousing bits of physical comedy and tender moments between Sonya and Justin. These two characters have an easy and lived-in relationship that would suggest years of working together.

Beckman and Fruit do their work on a set designed by Brigid Kelly Burge, who created a space that’s warmer and softer than any made up of shelves, desks, file boxes, binders, and other bureaucratic detritus has a right to be (I’d love to get some tips on her paper plane-making techniques, if nothing else). Marianne Meadows’ lighting design and Michael Winch’s sound design come together seamlessly to create magical moments and transport the audience across the globe and through time.

How to Keep an Alien is billed as “a comedy about falling in love and proving it to the government.” This may be the ultimate proof that I’ve been living in DC too long, but my main quibble with an otherwise fantastic script is that I wanted to know more about the bureaucratic red tape the couple is forced to deal with—for as boring as governmental policies and procedures are, when they intersect with real lives, the results can be quite dramatic. While, as an audience member, I appreciated the play’s overall comedic tone, I couldn’t help but think about how Sonya and Kate were in some ways charmed, especially compared to the nightmare that so many are going through with regards to the immigration system these days. I’m not faulting Kelly for this—her goal was clearly not to make a documentary of the minutia of Ireland’s immigration system—but it was something tugging at me from the back of my mind each time I laughed at a cartoonish portrayal of their visa agent.

What Kelly has created—and Solas Nua has so expertly brought to life—is a new twist on a rom-com set against the unlikely backdrop of deportation and paperwork. How to Keep an Alien gets to the heart of one particular couple going through the immigration process with humor and humanity—something the real-life immigration process is often deeply lacking.

How to Keep an Alien by Sonya Kelly. Directed by Tom Story. Featuring Tonya Beckman and Nick Fruit. Scenic and props designer: Bridgid Kelly Burge. Lighting designer: Marianne Meadows. Sound designer: Michael Winch. Artistic director/movement director/producer: Rex Daugherty. Assistant director: Jake Owen. Associate producer: Daven Ralston. Stage manager: Sam Reilly. Produced by Solas Nua.

In This Hope: A Pericles Project

by John Bavoso

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene.

In fraught times, where do you go to find hope? Assuming the answer is not “within yourself,” might I suggest the basement of a church where, seated in a circle with a group of strangers, you recount personal stories and cherished memories? If it sounds like I’m pointing you in the direction of a support group, well, I am, sort of—in the form of Hannah Hessel Ratner’s In This Hope: A Pericles Project, being produced now by The Welders at Spooky Action Theater.

Using Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre as a starting point, an ensemble of four actors tell the tale of not only the Greek hero, but also their own personal and family histories, and coax the audience to do the same. In doing so, they transform the classic tale into something more modern and personal, updating some (generally the sexist) parts and finding relevance in contemporary life in the process. And in doing so, the cast of In This Hope stitches together an evening filled with memory, storytelling, and community.

Upon entering the Universalist National Memorial Church on 16th Street, audience members are led downstairs and through the kitchen to a big, open space filled with a circle of wooden chairs. On the walls surrounding this circle is a map of the ancient world with the cities of Tyre and Antioch and the like marked off. Above the space hangs several ropes or cords crisscrossed, like a tapestry waiting to be woven.

Our guides and our bridge between the ancient source text, the Jacobian retelling, and the present interpretation are four talented and versatile actors— Lida Maria Benson, Rocelyn Frisco, Raghad Makhlouf, and Lori Pitts. Under Anna Brenner’s deft direction and using little more than a few infinity scarves and a crown made of forks, these four assume a variety of roles from Pericles, but also play themselves, sharing bits of memory and personal anecdotes from the Ukraine (Benson), the Phillipines (Frisco), Lebanon (Makhlouf), and here in DC (Pitts).

In This Hope is billed as a ritual as well as a performance, and the audience is encouraged to not only participate, but help to create the piece from the ground up—this play literally could not exist on a proscenium behind a fourth wall. Given that Hessel Ratner’s primary vocation is that of a dramaturg rather than a playwright, it’s no surprise that deep excavation and group work are main features of the piece. From sharing a memory with a neighbor to inviting an audience member to play a role in the original tale, but with a choose-your-own-adventure twist, the audience is welcomed in and made to feel a part of the story in a genuine, non-threatening way.

The interwoven nature of the past and present, of myth and memory, is interesting and thought-provoking, but at times can lead to a somewhat muddled experience. For example, the death of Pericles’ wife, Thaisa, as she gives birth to the couple’s daughter, Marina, is used as a touchpoint for discussing how the maternal mortality rate in DC is more than twice the national average, especially among African American women.

While this aligns with the idea of blending the past and present, and literature and reality, it doesn’t seem to fit as neatly with either the world of the Pericles story or the personal lives of the actors—it’s important information, but it feels slightly out of place. Similarly, there are other moments when the drama of Pericles or the stories of the actors or the memories of the audience is reaching its height, only to be cut off by another narrative. When the intermingling of these different threads works seamlessly, it casts a spell; when it doesn’t, it can be jarring for the audience.

“What world is this?” This line, written by William Shakespeare and repeated several times by In This Hope’s cast, is not one that is easily or happily answered by many people these days. But the team behind In This Hope: A Pericles Project is creating its own world from scratch, in which strangers are vulnerable and open and stories are shared without judgement—and that’s a space I wouldn’t mind inhabiting for more than 2 hours at a time.

In This Hope: A Pericles Project by Hannah Hessel Ratner. Directed by Anna Brenner. Associate Director Jess Phillips . Featuring Lida Maria Benson, Rocelyn Frisco, Raghad Makhlouf, and Lori Pitts. Environmental designer: Colin K. Bills. Costume designer: Pei Lee. Sound designer: Roc Lee. Design assistant: Cody Whitfield. Artistic consultant: Isaiah Matthew Wooden. Stage manager: Emma Heck. Assistant stage manager: JJ Hersh. Production manager: KayCee Tucker. Produced by The Welders.

Sing to Me Now (Overworked muse seeks intern)

by John Bavoso

This article was first published in DC Theatre Scene.

In the promotional materials for their production of Iris Dauterman’s Sing To Me Now, Rorschach Theatre has been highlighting one particular quote from the script: “Every second you hesitate, every moment you’re not writing, furiously writing, or dancing, or singing, things are getting worse. So hurry. Up.”

While the creative types among us might hear a call to action (or a call to curl up into the fetal position and hide under our covers), in the context of the play, it’s more like an epithet hurled by a beleaguered muse at her Pollyanna human intern in order to intimidate and provoke her. And in the world that Dauterman’s skillfully crafted script and Rorschach’s team of theatrical sorcerers have created, that all makes perfect sense.

As director Jenny McConnell Frederick noted before the opening night performance, Rorschach fell in love with the script for Sing To Me Now as they helped to develop it through the company’s inaugural MAGIC IN ROUGH SPACES PLAY LAB earlier this year. Many of the actors from that initial workshop transferred to this full production, which is evident in the passion they bring to their roles and the lived-in, authentic performances that McConnell Frederick has elicited from them.

For Sing To Me Now, Rorschach has transformed the intimate Lab II black box at the Atlas Performing Arts Center into a land of dreams and myth. It is here that we meet Calliope (or Callie to her friends), nearly drowning in paperwork and angst. Chloe Mikala masterfully embodies the jaded muse of epic poetry, all hard edges gained from working too hard for too little recognition (no one looking for inspiration for their novel, or next song, or cheesecake recipe even addresses her by her real name!).

Callie’s workload is so overwhelming due to the fact that, owing to a set of circumstances that I will not spoil for you, she is the only one of the muses left to provide inspiration to the ungrateful humans below. Her best friend, Mo (short for Morpheus, and played with both snark and awkward vulnerability by Erik Harrison), the god of dreams, keeps her company and tries to convince her to sleep. But when she sleeps, she dreams of her sisters, and that’s something she’s definitely trying to avoid.

Her only other companions are her mother, Mnemosyne, goddess of memory (a warm and funny Cam Magee), who exhibits dementia-like symptoms caused by having, of all things, too many memories in her head, and Hades (played with the perfect combination of pomposity and self-pity by Ian Armstrong), who enters and exits via an old-timey elevator to the underworld. “He’s my sister’s asshole ex-boyfriend and also my asshole uncle…. because that’s how we roll,” Callie quips.

But Callie hasn’t resigned herself to wallowing—in fact, she’s put out a Help Wanted call to the universe; our muse, you see, is looking for an intern. And she gets one, much to her chagrin, in the form of Claire, who Callie insists on calling Yankee, a wide-eyed, naïve college graduate who’s having trouble finding a “real” job. Tori Boutin imbues Yankee with the right amount of self-awareness and chutzpah to keep her from being too cloying or irritating, but also with enough youthful optimism and exuberance to rub Callie the wrong way… at least at first. Soon enough, the two become what must be among the most unlikely work-friend pairings in history.

The cast is rounded out by Desiree Chappelle and Jonathan Del Palmer, who show great range as everything from aquatic ballet dancers to muses to Marcel Duchamp. Their cameos often serve to inject some levity into some otherwise fraught situations.

McConnell Frederick does an excellent job of using every inch of the small space and filling it with action in a way that feels purposeful and natural. Under her deft direction, the performances are rooted in realistic, relatable emotion, despite the fact that most of her actors are playing supernatural beings. In combination with Dauterman’s nuanced writing, she helps to bring mythic events down to a human scale in the best way possible—even when the stakes are the literal survival of the human race and art itself.

And it wouldn’t be a Rorschach show without some seriously nifty design work. A fair bit of the action involves the characters fishing ideas and dreams from a river, made possible thanks to Swedian Lei’s ingenious set design. Similarly, Rachael Knoblauch’s props design, Sarah Tundermann’s lighting design, and Gordon Nimmo-Smith’s sound design come together for an effect that transforms mundane objects into pure magic.

At its heart, Sing To Me Now grapples with a lot of weighty topics, including what the role of art is in a cruel, chaotic world; whether the human race is even worth fighting for; and how we cope with unimaginable grief. And like the best of art, what it offers is not so much clear answers as the hope we need to keep going, keep fighting, even after we leave the theater.

Sing To Me Now by Iris Dauterman. Directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick. Featuring: Ian Armstrong, Tori Boutin, Desiree Chappelle, Erik Harrison, Cam Magee, Chloe Mikala, and Jonathan Del Palmer. Costume designer: Debra Kim Sivigny. Set designer: Swedian Lie. Properties designer: Rachael Knoblauch. Sound designer: Gordon Nimmo-Smith. Lighting designer: Sarah Tundermann. Production manager: Gordon Nimmo-Smith. Stage manager: Rebecca Talisman. Produced by Randy Baker, Jenny McConnell Frederick, and Jonelle Walker.