The future can be no more turned away than light flowing off the moon, and a brand new company is making its first stage-play debut at the Greenbelt Arts Center. Off The Quill, a new DC-based theatre company whose first attempt at a production was Violent Delights: a Shakespearean Brawl-esque Sideshow at the Capital Fringe Festival, is now performing their first full-length play: Arthur Miller’s The Creation of the World and Other Business. Reinventing the future of theatrical performances with their movement-inspired interpretation of classic plays, this burgeoning young company has a great deal of potential for their future. Directed by Katie Wanschura, the production takes a fluidly physical approach to the flippant retelling of the beginning of time.
Imbuing the company’s core mission of compelling storytelling through physicality, Set Designer Patrick Mullen takes a minimalist approach when it comes to scenery. While the floor is covered in a pre-school style foam mat in primary colors, the rest of the scenery— like trees— is created by the use of human bodies. While an unusual choice, it is a well-executed one as the two trees (played by Elliott Bales and Eben Kuhns) are often points of humor that populate the garden of Eden. Bales and Kuhns have vivid facial expressions and portray these scenic fixtures with sentience in a quirky yet fascinating manner.Doubling as the show’s Costume Designer, Director Katie Wanschura again allows the simplicity of her design work to flourish in an attempt to let the movement of the performers, both with their bodies and with their voices, truly present the work. Brightly colored shirts adorn the angels when they are the creations of the new world in the beginning, and muted flesh tones cover Adam and Eve for their nakedness in the garden. Hints of overt symbolism work their way into Wanschura’s work as well with Lucifer being clad in red and God in white.
It is the choreography, designed by Kathleen Moors, that makes this production stand out from other interpretations of Arthur Miller’s work. The opening sequence, set to music that sounds like it might accompany the Planet Earth mini-series, is breathtaking in both its visual beauty and its fluidity. The ensemble, save for Adam, Eve, and God, move about in a series of routines that ‘create the world.’ Starting with stars and blossoming into birds of air, sea, and land this sequence is the most captivating moment in the production allowing for the beauty of creation to be interpreted not only through the bodies of these dancers but through the eyes of everyone watching. Keep your eyes on Leanne Dinverno, playing a timid turtle in this initial sequence; her movement and facial expressions are sensational.Director Katie Wanschura misses a key opportunity to further this reinvention by letting those stunning moments of interpretive dance fall to the wayside in the second act. While the first act of the play is filled to the brim with movement of all sorts, there is hardly any play on this element once the intermission ends. By limiting the movement in the second act of the production it leaves the two halves of the play feeling unbalanced with the first half feeling enthralling and the second half feeling text-heavy and weighted.
Wanschura does guide each of her actors in the creation of their characters with a very specific presentational approach. The angel of mercy, Chemuel (Tameka Chavis) moves with delicate step and gentle gestures, her face soft in its expressions where as Azrael (Elliott Bales) the angel of death, sweeps about in more menacing strides, every gesture elongated and slow like the process of death, final and inevitable. These constructs of fully developed characters help to actualize Wanschura’s directional presence in the piece and make it engaging for those watching.
God (Brian Moors) tends to lean toward the vengeful and fiery side of the creator almighty. Moors portrayal of the deity is emotionally limited with a short range of expressions that are often blustering and grumbling. Moors comic timing is also sluggish and the jokes that Miller has crafted into the text are often missed because of the delayed delivery.
In a polar opposite approach, Lucifer (Thomas Stratton) is a jumble of emotions and brings limitless emotional depth to the performance. Stratton is a rollercoaster of emotions in his role of the fallen angel, sliding quickly from one to the next, touching on everything from confidence to anger, frustration and sympathy, and everything in-between. There is balance in his emotional delivery, and gradual crescendos in his emotions of tension. Stratton fully embodies the characteristics of his emotions, letting his movements and gestures reflect his serpentine charm. A captivating performer, Stratton fits flawlessly into every scene, particularly those when he is tempting Eve. Defining moments in Stratton’s performance include the many unrequited shouting matches he has with God, with his head cocked upward as if cursing the heavens.
Eve (Casey Leffue) and Adam (Joel Lorenzetti) play as equals in the production though it is Leffue’s constant shift in her character that kept me interested. Starting with a vivacious, albeit curious, innocence, Leffue embodies this childlike existence like a second skin. Her evolution from this inquisitive and naïve creature into one of knowledge and shame is fascinating to behold; nuances in her vocal cadence, her physical stature and facial expressions all clearly altered. Leffue’s conflicts with Lucifer and God are filled with bursts of uncontrolled emotion and she creates a great deal of sympathy for her character.
Cain (Joe Roberts) and Abel (Eben Kuhns) help to bring the story to its conclusion; a meeting of worlds as it were once they come into the tale. Roberts is bristling with violent undertones that quickly become overt explosions of his fury and jealousy over his Abel while Kuhns gives a more docile portrayal, the gentle innocence of Eve first in the garden echoed in his performance. While Kuhns’ character does not have as much text to rely on, his creation of a fully developed character is still very much actualized by the little smiles or pensive moments he displays. Roberts becomes a man possessed when jealousy overtakes him and once he is cursed with the mark of Cain, it becomes a frightening visage to behold.
Off The Quill is off to a great start with reinterpreting classic works and making them their own.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission.
The Creation of the World and Other Business plays through April 5, 2014 through Off The Quill at Greenbelt Arts Center— 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call (301) 441-8770, or purchase them online.