Postcards from the stage of rage
A friend urged me to go see a stage play while I was in Pittsburgh. It was the Rage of the Stage Players' March 9 production of A Little Red, a series of reimaginings of the "Little Red Riding Hood" folktale. I was intrigued by the idea, but didn't imagine it would amount to all that much. Boy, was I wrong.
It was fantastic—excellently written and well acted, with amazing costumes and professional presentation. That's no easy task in a converted brew house, and much to director James Michael Shoberg's* credit. I was just amazed. But I took way—waaay—too many pictures.
Note: After contact with the players, I offered to transfer all rights to these photos to the Rage of the Stage Players and have since turned over originals and working files. These photos now appear here with their permission.
I carry my camera with me pretty much everywhere, and I sometimes get carried away with picture-taking (I once took too many pictures at a wedding reception). But somehow I convinced myself that, even in the tiny Brew House Theater, it would be okay because I wasn't using a flash (I set my camera on ISO 1600). Only about 5/6 of the way thru did I even start to think "I wonder if the camera noise is distracting to the actors....") But by then it was too late; I took nearly 200 photos in 3 hours.
It started casually—because I liked the costumes—but then it became a mindless, greedy, fevered obsession to capture the actors in character. It was the wolf that did it. Blame it on the wolf. The moment the prancing, foppish Elder Wolf appeared in his marvelous Victorian coat and top hat, I was captivated.
The first piece was a retelling of the traditional Grimm's folktale, in all its fanciful—and dark—detail. Red Riding Hood (Brittany Spinelli) is sent by Mother (Barb Sawatis) to visit Grandmother (Kathleen Caliendo), but along the way thru the woods (with ghillie-suited stagehands playing trees) she meets up with Elder Wolf (Dek Ingraham) and Younger Wolf (Chucky Hendershot).
Dek Ingraham perfectly captured the silly upright pose of the wolf that I recall from the storybook etchings of Grimm's folktale. And he put menace into his vocal and physical flourishes that made him more than simply comical.
Chucky Hendershot as Younger Wolf was a shuddering, groveling punk who captured the animalistic nature underlying the wolves that Elder Wolf tried so hard to hide and deny. The audience wasn't sure whether or not to laugh as this pair of characters; as ridiculous as they were in their wonderful costumes, and as camp as their performances were, they were nevertheless menacing. This was not going to be a Disney production. It was Dickens.
The Elder Wolf makes short work of the old maid and Red. It's not gory, but not silly either. The potentially awkward moments of the wolf devouring the ladies whole is covered by a momentary blackout.
Then comes the Huntsman, with a big damn knife. I loved—loved—the ladies-coming-out-of-the-belly-of-the-wolf scene. Younger Wolf comes for revenge/supper, but Red and Grandma take care of him themselves.
The second piece was "Ruby Red," a monolog with Joanna Lowe as a decidedly less innocent Red Riding Hood, in a 1940s noir story.
In a sleek red dress, she recounts her tale of woe, being seduced by boyfriend Wolf into scheming to rob Grandma of her nest egg. This was a terrific performance delivered to an imaginary police detective with full-on femme fatale gusto in thick Brooklynese. All that was missing was the explanation of how Wolf left her "in a family way."
Part three was "dot.carnal," a monolog with Daniel Sebastian as a self-satisfied sexual predator who frequents online chat rooms in a wolf T-shirt and fuzzy paw slippers.
He explains his techniques for conning teenage girls into undressing on their webcams with the same gusto as Lowe delivered but with a frenetic manner of a Net- and porn-obsessed geek.
There was a 15-minute intermission at that point. I might have expected the director or someone to approach me if they preferred I not take pictures, but at that point it still hadn't really occurred to me. And, in any case, no one did or I would have put the camera away in a moment. I'd already taken about 70 shots at that point....
In "Granny's House," Barb Sawatis delivers Alyssa Herron's monolog* from Grandma's point of view—if Grandma were a New Orleans madam and Red her star whore. She speaks to a room of imaginary johns, stalling for Red and calling for Hunter to bring more booze. Ah, but Hunter has carried Red off, and Granny is reduced to offering herself for a couple of bucks. It's a swaggering Southern drawing room dark comedy in one slightly blurry act.
Fifth was "Fall from Glaze," with Everett Lowe as a failed chef who tried to start his climb back to the top by entering a Boy Scout cooking contest. Covered in cake shrapnel, he explains to the audience that his theme cake—a life-size huntsman—was a masterpiece. Was.
But the competition ran into problems, he continues, when the nasty Wolf boy started trouble that eventually blew up the building. The alternative-fuels-themed entry is mostly to blame, being—for some reason—made of alternative fuels. This was a tremendous performance delivered with manic enthusiasm by Lowe, whose gift for comic timing is remarkable. The writing here is particularly crisp.
Finally came "Bed Ryan Hood," a darker, ripped-from-the headlines tale of a teenage boy (Jeremy James Forse) seduced and blackmailed by his lecherous teacher, Mrs. Wolfe (Alyssa Herron). Ryan's friends (Shaz Khan and Stephanie Figer) try to console him about his grandmother's ill health, but Mrs. Wolfe just wants to bump and grind.
Alyssa Herron plays the feminine wolf with as a schoolmarm-turned-predator, controlling and cajoling to get what she wants from everyone. She's the counterpoint to the "dot.carnal" character, just as interested in tender flesh as any of the other wolves.
Shaz Khan, as the sensible pal who—for some reason—is into the punk Goth scene (and porn), complicates matters despite his best intentions, but mostly it is Ryan himself who is at the root of Ryan's problems.
Accusations of impropriety fly, but Principal Hunt (Joseph A Roots) isn't much help here. He's more bumbling doofus than heroic wolf-slayer, and Ryan comes to the sort of ill end that the Brothers Grimm would have edited out of their version. In a way, that end is more appropriate given the way that Ryan is his own worst enemy.
The production ends with a clever frozen tableau of all the actors in character (only Barb Sawatis plays more than one role*) bathed in red flood lights. A similar effect was used thruout (especially in the first piece) to emphasize moments of violence. It's a thoughtful use of lighting worked thematically on the literal as well as figurative level.
All the pieces were cleverly written and well acted. I was especially amazed by the monolog performances and the costumes. Altho the show is long (3 hours, including the intermission) it's solid entertainment from stem to stern, especially remarkable given that the pieces were largely written by the cast and director Shoberg.
* I had a couple of details wrong originally, including the director's first name.
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Photos here and in the gallery are copyright 2007, Rage of the Stage Players. Reproduction with explicit permission is prohibited.