The folks at Nylon Fusion Theatre Company always keep me on my toes.
They are running two shows in rep right now — The Big Funk and A Snowfall in Berlin — at Teatro LATEA, on the Lower East Side (a space they “discovered” when they came to see me in Merry Wives of Windsor, everything is interconnected!) I was recovering from a nasty late winter cold and that evening had to be back in Queens for my Richard III at the Secret Theatre, but I couldn’t leave them in the lurch.
The Big Funk is John Patrick Shanley’s jadedly optimistic comedy about people overcoming the damage that parents and life can do and coming into their own. It’s a visually lush production directed by Lori Kee, with wonderful costumes by Debbi Hobson, sets by Cassie Dorland and lighting by Wilburn Bonnell. They took full advantage of the space, bringing characters in through the house and sometimes working their way through the audience itself.
The audience is welcomed with a quirky two person lounge act called The Roly Polys and is then introduced, in turn, to Jill (Ivette Dumeng), a woman with a pretty rotten opinion of herself; Fifi (Meghan Jones), the colorfully attired assistant and wife to knife-thrower Omar (Josh Sienkiewicz), each with scars from their upbringing; next Omar’s friend, the young still idealistic Austin (Jacob Troy) and finally, Jill’s date, the greasy Gregory (Paul Walling). The characters are pushed to the very edge of reality and sometimes step to the other side. Twins are coming for one of the characters — oh, and she’s due tomorrow! It all serves for Mr. Shanley to focus his light on how life can change in an instant, rendering your current life off-target, moot. The cast all meet the challenge, fully committing to the normal as well as the outlandish.
The shoot was technically fairly straightforward, the lighting, especially in the first act, was mostly bright, if a little contrasty (very bright or very dark with little fall-off between). The second act is a dinner party for the two couples (Omar & Fifi, and the newly minted Jill & Austin), so the lighting remained constant throughout, until the coda, a monologue by Austin that takes him up through the audience — a bit challenging, that, but not impossible.
The main challenge was the nudity. Jill and Austin both have scenes where they literally bare themselves to the world. Both actors were fearless and the nudity is supported fully by Shanley’s script. The images are beautiful, but as I’m shooting, part of me is thinking about “usable” shots vs. artistically satisfying shots. Let’s face it, the gorgeous shot of the Jill’s back above, dappled with shadows probably won’t be making it to the company’s Facebook page and Austin nonchalantly standing at the dinner table won’t be too useful for marketing materials (yeah, it’s not here, either!) So you do have to find the shots… where is he slightly behind another actor (or a mirror)? How can I frame her so the suggestion of her nudity is there, but it can still pass the TOS of everyone’s favorite social media sites? Like I said: Nylon Fusion keeps me on my toes!
Next: A Snowfall in Berlin — same space and set pieces, completely different challenges (plus a dead, naked actress in a bathtub).