theater (reviews)

review: freedom club

Freedom Club

By Adriano Shaplin
Directed by Whit MacLaughlin
New  Paradise Laboratories & The Riot Group at
The Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street
production web site: http://freedomclubtheshow.com/
Philly Live Arts 2010: http://www.livearts-fringe.org/details.cfm?id=12742

January 6 — January 15, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 13, 2011

design image from 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival

Projected logo, words on black stage, black walls, aged grey painted proscenium, and audience bleacher platforms.  Rehearsal white lines on stage floor create two rectangular playing areas in which are piled a desk, two chairs (one atop, one in front), and a black trunk.We suspect the actors will construct what they need out of these components. Thrumming insistent house music creates tension,  anticipation.  The resulting Freedom Club is a two part intermissionless piece musing on wartime civilities, politics, imagined interactions — immediately after the U.S. Civil War in 1965 and a few years our current future in 2015 .

This is spoken word and shadow puppets — great projections by Jorge Cousineau and use of backlit screen, lights by Maria Shaplin,  to illuminate the actors in various poses —  and pondering power and personality. Part 1 gives us history haiku in a bisected playing area — North on the left and South on the right.  You need to know the basics in order to understand the word play and theatre games involved in Abraham Lincoln (Drew Friedman) and Mary Todd (Stephanie Viola) have various kinds of sex and John Wilkes Booth (Jeb Kreager) with many partners, and references to Booth’s illustrious acting family including Edwin (Paul Schnabel).  All expressing personal and political rage.  Our Act 1 takes us on a countdown to Booth’s assassination of Lincoln (16 months, 16 days, 16 hours, 16 minutes, 16 seconds, we count, the actor counts).

Part 2, with masking tape playing area divide removed, takes us into an armed separatist political encampment somewhere in Virginia in 2015.  The women rule a group whose purported mission began with protecting a woman’s right to choose, and the leader has chosen to carry her child (confusing some of the members).  The men vie for the women’s attentions (all are heterosexual in this particular mix).  The group is brought down by a woman agent who has infiltrated.  One personally thwarted male group member Jeremiah (played by our John Wilkes Booth actor Jeb Kreager from Part 1) leaves the compound and makes an unsuccessful attempt on the (female they tell us) President’s life.

Direction by Whit MacLaughlin is efficient, sometimes too involved, too many moving parts, too many overlapping bits of history or evidence (this particularly true perhaps in Part 1).  At some moments it is gorgeously simple and choreographed — this is particularly noticeable in Act 2.  Sound by Mr. MacLaughlin and Adriano Shaplin is soothing and invigorating and overwhelming when the story requires.

Overall, a moving and evocative rumination on power and personality and lurking regional and separatist policy agendas that still rock our country.  As the character of Abraham Lincoln says near the end of Act 1: “It is America’s future to be free.  The War for Freedom has only just begun.”  This Martin Luther King holiday Monday, I must agree.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 17, 2011)

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