Sundown Collaborative Theatre
Barista – Tashina Richardson
Graduate Student – Jeremy Rodriguez
Mechanic – Nicholas Ross
Office Executive – Lauren Moore
Temp Worker – Mary-Hannah McWilliams
Unemployed – David Ray
Reviewed Performance 3/22/2014
Reviewed by Elaine Plybon, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Sundown Collaborative Theatre has at its foundation an exploration of art. Their most recent production, Done/Undone, takes that exploration into a form of theatre that many actors might find challenging. The audience for Done/Undone is in for an evening of multiple forms of art – dance, song, spoken word – in this devised theatre piece.
Conceived by Tashina Richardson and Nicholas Ross, the performance centers around six strangers trapped by an unseen force and their conversations and revelations that ensue. From that conception, the entire cast devised the performance that is seen at Green Space Arts Collective in Denton. The playbill gives an overview of the process that created this play – cast members began brainstorming on good, old-fashioned poster boards to determine characters, situations, motivations, and what methods would be used to tell the story. By the time a small audience is sitting on folding chairs around an open floor, the play has been rehearsed and fine-tuned into something dynamic, yet static. In other words, audiences during this run will see essentially the same show every night.
Challenging theatre makes for an artistic experience, but this particular piece will also be pleasing to a wide variety of audiences. It stands up to the likes of Off-Broadway playhouses that would run a show like this for an extended period of time to the delight of audiences that would see a new show every time the members of the cast changes.
The play in its final state consists of interpretive dance, a little music, and several powerful stories weaving through the reactions of the six strangers as they contemplate their trapped existence. From its opening in the dark, with the sound of sharply inhaled breath, until the ending which I won’t spoil, I was engaged with the visual transformations and performances. The show is short, it runs for less than one hour with no intermission.
When I first read about the conception of this play, I thought it might be reminiscent of the 1944 existentialist play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre which finds three strangers trapped together for an eternity in Hell. Indeed, this performance is similar but the experiences and the depictions in Done/Undone are very unique to this cast and performance.
Some stories seem somewhat contrived – one woman reveals herself to be a cannibal – while others are unfortunately lacking in depth. The temp worker reveals herself to be an arsonist but the events that lead up to her being one and the resulting life she leads are shallowly explored. The vignette lacks the depth that could have been reached with this storyline.
There are few lighting changes, mostly limited to spotlighting the main character of each vignette. Other than that, the action is somewhat dark but appropriate to the situation. Characters are mostly dressed in street clothes befitting their character.
The action is in-the-round with cast members evenly distributed around a circle. There are brief conversations between the characters, followed by reenactments of each character’s past, which each suspects is the reason they are in this predicament. As each character reveals his/her story, the remainder of the cast neatly takes on the roles of supporting players in the story.
First up is Jeremy Rodriguez, portraying a graduate student who had a troubled relationship in which he was physically abused. The portrayal of this relationship is well done, with Rodriguez and Nicholas Ross performing a dance that is nothing short of beautiful in its fluidity. The choreography is exactly as needed to portray the love, pain, and struggle in the relationship. Through his facial expressions, body language and emotion, Rodriguez delivers one of the strongest performances of the evening.
The temp worker, played by Mary-Hannah McWilliams, delivers a monologue to reveal her sordid past. I especially enjoyed the roles the remainder of the cast takes on for this vignette as office workers typing away through part of the monologue. McWilliams delivers a passionate account of a secret, criminal life hiding behind her boring, office-temp persona. Her performance sometimes didn’t seem natural and as I mentioned earlier, the depth of this storyline is disappointing, but the neat blocking and choreography for the characters is nicely done.
David Ray plays an unemployed gambler who takes advantage of a family member. This performance would have been somewhat forgettable except for the superb staging and timing of the a cappella “Money” by Pink Floyd sung by the remainder of the cast.
Another standout performance of the evening comes from Tashina Richardson in the role of barista. Richardson skillfully dances through her vignette, revealing a seemingly selfish woman who literally dances through relationships, keeping herself from being in serious relationships. This vignette, along with Richardson’s consistency in her interactions with the other doomed characters, is a great showcase for Richardson’s talent. Along with being a skilled dancer, her use of facial expressions throughout the evening are quite revealing and convincing. Her ability to make smooth transitions through the many roles she filled is spot on.
Nicholas Ross portrays a mechanic who may or may not have fulfilled a lifelong quest once he finds a particular Corvette owner, a part performed by David Ray. Ray’s performance in this vignette is strong, and his line, “You got the wrong guy”, drives home the fragility of the mechanic’s belief. Ross is a solid performer throughout the play, and his vignette begins with a skillful rap, reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Strong and brutal, Ross’ body language is exactly as needed to portray his character. As with Richardson, Ross shows a depth of talent through his smooth transitions into supporting characters throughout the show. Especially noted is Ross’ general comfortableness with whatever situation his character is in.
The office executive is portrayed by Lauren Moore. Coming across as a motivational speaker, Moore’s vignette is visually interesting and well-staged. However, the average audience member would have difficulty relating to the storyline, and this was somewhat distracting. My favorite part of Moore’s performance is during the motivational portion, where Moore expertly moved from pure enthusiasm to uncertainty to an unstable personality. This transition is delivered impeccably.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the effort and the results from this cast of young, talented actors. Any time actors put themselves center stage for such a challenging task, I appreciate the effort, but this cast goes beyond that challenge and delivers an entertaining evening of theater. This play has a short run, only through March 30th, and I encourage those interested in artful and entertaining theater to make a point to see it. This is Done/Undone’s first incarnation and hopefully will not be its last. Of note, there is some strong language, so a younger audience may not be appropriate.
Sundown Collaborative Theatre at the Green Space Arts Collective
529 Malone, Denton, Texas 76201
Plays through March 30th
***Note – strong language might make this appropriate for mature audiences only. Tickets are $10.00 and $8.00 for students For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.sundowntheatre.org/ Tickets may also be purchased by calling 940-220-9302.