DanceDramaMusicalNew YorkOff-BroadwayPhysical TheatreReview

Crashlight – Cherry Lane Theatre, New York

Writer and Director: Celeste Makoff
Choreographer: Kaitlyn Moise
Reviewer: Martin Kushner

In Crashlight, a repressive dystopia ruled by Marcus Pressi, music is outlawed and sunlight is restricted to just three minutes a day. On the historic stage of The Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village, home to seminal productions of Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee, a sole TV monitor stage left provides continuous surveillance of Crashlight’s inhabitants and broadcasts Pressi’s Orwellian speeches. In this world that forbids sax and violins, Crashlight becomes a metaphor for the brief moments of light shone on a shackled society.

Pressi is played with relaxed, almost avuncular confidence by Andy Dispensa, as if he were a popular college valedictorian wielding youthful social power with little effort. Yet this dictator starts to fall for Rian, one of three sisters who make forbidden violins in defiance of his laws.

A combination living/dining room is on stage right, where the sisters manufacture their instruments and escape to nearby woods to practice, compose, and dance. Rian, the lead sister, is played sensitively and sung with a sweet soprano voice by Lindsay Danielle Gitter. Rian has discovered a trove of sheet music left behind by a family member and is passionately determined to spread this legacy, despite the music ban.

CelesteMakoff directs her own musical, and though the focus wanders a bit, and there is an improvisational quality to the dancing and some of the acting, Makoff sensitively captures the artistic impulses of her characters.

Two excellent dancers, in white/off-white leotards and diaphanous capes and choreographed by Kaitlyn Moise, appear in many of the scenes, seemingly to represent the freedom of personal expression, unfettered movement, and the beauty of the human form, all restricted by the totalitarian Pressi.

Crashlight is an ambitious, musically adventurous undertaking, riffing on the dystopian clichés we’ve come to recognize from Orwell’s classic, 1984.

Makoff, both writer and director of this unfortunately timely musical, has created a society which resembles some of American contemporary suspiciousness towards other cultures and expressions of openness. In Crashlight, musicians and dancers have to practice in darkness.

The original recorded music by Trevor Bumgarner, which accompanies the singers and dancers, is orchestral and edges towards atonality. Director/writer Makoff has well-integrated the music into the action and dialogue. There is a relaxed, semi-improvisational quality to the production, the singing and dancing.

An outstanding performer among the sisters in the production was Rylee Doiron as Jade, Rian’s older sister, exuding natural confidence and maturity. Now is a very good time to enter Makoff’s world – both in anticipation of the November election and the beginning of the fall theatre season.

Runs until 11 September 2016 | Image: Aaron Duffy

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