Writer: Judith Goudsmit
Director: David Riley
Reviewer: Jonathan Alexandratos
The charm of the NY Fringe Festival lies in its relatively low-tech productions that tell urgent stories. Cortez, generated by an inspiring group called Milkwood Theater, is a perfect example. In this piece, we are introduced to two marine biologists researching a species of underwater life called the Tomatians. (It’s a made-up organism.) As the two scientists lose each other, so goes the Tomatians, which have, seemingly, decided to die off. What is presented is a tale of interconnectivity between humans and the life forms they, we, all-too-often view as so far beneath us that they aren’t worth our attention. In this age of ecological destruction, one cannot argue that such a play isn’t relevant.
In fact, Cortez is only made more pertinent by the way it blends dance, music, and multimedia projections to create a text that uses all modes of theatre to effectively convey its story. In that blend of techniques is thrown a blending of themes: science and magic, love and hate, fantasy and reality. The end product of that splicing is a piece of magic realism whose images stick with the audience long after the final curtain. Director Daniel Riley stars in the show, alongside his fellow cast: Cory Lawson, Peter Waluk (both an excellent chorus to the action), and Heather Holmes (Riley’s love interest). Riley, carrying the look of a younger, more pleasant Christian Bale, has no trouble convincing the audience to take this scientific and romantic journey with him. Matthew Keff’s projections perfectly compliment – not overwhelm – the actors words, effectively putting the audience in a dream-like, 18-bit world. Mar Urrestarazu’s mostly implied set is just right for magic of this play. Essentially, Milkwood Theater works like a well-oiled machine for the 45-minute show.
The only critique one could offer is that the piece leaves the audience wanting more, in the best possible way. Despite the short run time, a new species of marine life is introduced, love is gained and lost, new places are visited – a lot occurs, and it occurs beautifully. However, there are some moments on which one wants to linger. Let’s learn more about the Tomatians. What are the consequences of their death? Maybe let’s spend more time with the crumpled love story. What is the attraction between these two people really about? What are Heather Holmes’ character’s motivations? Let’s deal more with the ecocriticism. What problems arise when humans attempt to apply their language to creatures operating outside of it? All of this could be explored in an expanded piece, and Judith Goudsmit has the theatrical ability to do it, as she’s proven with this version of Cortez. This reviewer wants more from her, more from Milkwood. Their heads, hearts, and talents are in the right place. They’ve got years of theatrical experience from all over the world, and know how to blend that background well on stage. The Fringe is a great jumping-off point for a larger variation of Cortez, and, hopefully, Milkwood uses it as such.
The press release for Cortez used the term “inventive storytelling.” They certainly present that. Let their inventiveness be contagious, as it is desperately needed in the American theatre.
Showtimes: Tues. (8/17) @ 7:30pm, Thurs. (8/21) @ 2:00pm, Sat. (8/23) @ 8:00pm