Sexy Sizzle at Spinning Tree
By Karen Hauge Wed, May 15, 2013
Spinning Tree Theatre closes its season with the steamy and thought-provoking “Hello Again,” an exploration of human attachment and sexuality performed with great passion and insight by a stellar local cast.
Sex is a beautiful, uncomfortable, serious, laughable, awkward, messy, natural, ecstatic, offensive, organic, curious, bizarre, and glorious part of life—but it’s not something that often gets explored in as great or graphic detail on the musical stage as in Hello Again. Michael John LaChiusa’s ten-scene, one-act play explores the relationships between ten pairs of sexual partners spanning the whole of the twentieth century.
Based on the 1920 play La Ronde by German playwright Arthur Schnitzler, LaChiusa’s work borrows its format from the original, with each new scene presenting a character from the previous one engaged in a different relationship, creating a revolving door of sexual encounters. Unlike Schnitzler’s work, which takes place in Vienna in the 1890s and is meant to show how people of all different classes are connected by their simplest common desires, the characters of Hello Again do not last longer than one scene, instead reappearing in their second scene as a different incarnation of the same character type: the Nurse, the College Boy, the Husband, etc. The sudden shifts of setting and the actors’ versatile performances highlight how the human sexual experience is at once ever-evolving and completely immutable.
In a bold move, directors Andy Parkhurst and Michael Grayman have chosen to block off the side sections of Off Center Theatre with black curtains, limiting the number of available seats but also forcing the audience to sit directly in front of the action, which is blocked all over the stage and would be less effective if viewed from any perspective besides the front. The sold-out audience from the opening weekend didn’t seem to mind being forced to sit in the best seats in the house, either.
Outstanding performances and creative direction make Hello Again an insightful and provocative theater experience (for adults only) that brings a somehow still-taboo subject of daily life crashing into view. Even now, when we’d like to believe we are more enlightened even than the first viewers of this show twenty years ago, there is still something startling about watching actors mime the sexual act on stage, especially as it’s done by Spinning Tree, with matter-of-fact honesty.
Julie Shaw brings slow-burning drama and surprising depth to The Whore, and her smoky voice is perfectly suited to give life to a lady of the night. Two of the younger members of the cast, Seth Jones and Shelby Floyd share a dazzlingly impressive quality that is not often found in young musicians—they both have powerful, engaging, beautiful voices that could easily blow away any production, but they embrace the idea that less is more, and make mature musical choices that are far more interesting than haphazard showboating would be. Jacob Aaron Cullum as The Soldier lends his stellar voice to characters representing the guy who just wants that one thing, and who won’t feel bad about getting it. Charles Fugate and Lena Andrews deliver solid performances as The Senator and The Actress, in a scene that communicates the power struggle between two powerful people.
Steven Eubank’s turn as the awkward, quivering College Boy results in one of the most comical scenes of show, as he and Floyd document the clumsiness of a boy’s first time. Stefanie Wienecke as The Young Wife is excellent. In her first scene she is the guilty lover of The College Boy, woefully damning her own moral repugnance with great comedy, even as she is getting on her knees. In her second scene, however, she delivers an exquisite performance as The Young Wife details a romantic extramarital tryst with longing, passion, and regret as her mind wanders mid-coitus with her husband.
Tyler Eisenreich brings emotional depth and maturity to the character of The Young Thing, and his scenes were two of the most raw and touching of the show. The character of The Young Thing represents a departure from the all-hetero relationships of Schnitzler’s original play, and these two scenes are remarkable. In the first, an elegant dance between The Young Thing and The Husband (played with brilliant vulnerability and tentative longing by Jerry Jay Cranford) is very beautiful and very sad in its forbidden nature. The Young Thing next appears with Jones’s Writer, who is narrating his own 1970s rave and subsequent hookup. Eisenreich shifts from the chatty and confident Young Thing of his first scene to morose and disinterested in the second, which ultimately gives way to a compelling soul-baring song as he and The Writer make love.
Very few technical issues emerged in the opening night performance. The balance was outstanding, with the excellent orchestra never drowned out by overloud vocal microphones (as is sometimes a problem in the small Off Center Theatre). A few coordination issues occurred between the orchestra and the singers, mostly as they handled syncopation in LaChiusa’s complicated writing, and more harmonic purity in the duet between Jones and Eisenreich would have made the scene more confident and less uneasy. These minor difficulties in no way detracted from the experience of the show, and Hello Again is an absolute must-see for Kansas City audiences. You’d be hard-pressed to find a finer cast with better direction presenting a show that invites you to watch and consider such a provocative theater topic.
Spinning Tree Theatre
May 9–26 (Reviewed Saturday, May 11, 2013)
Off Center Theatre at Crown Center
2405 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO
For tickets and more information, call (816) 842-9999 or visit http://spinningtreetheatre.com/