Director – Jeff Colangelo & Katy Tye
Fight Choreographer – Jeff Colangero
Fight Assistant- Christina Valentine
Dance Choreography – Katy Tye
Lighting Designer – Jonah Gutierrez
Dance Consultant – Amanda Owen
Tai chi consultant – Bobby Garcia
Productions Assistant – Esther Lim
Machine – Christina Valentine
Animal – Lauren Mishoe
Master – Robert D. Guy
Prodigy – Jasmine Segar
Father – Mitchell Stephens
Lover – Josh Porter
Reviewed Performance 4/23/2016
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Jaw dropping. Stupendous. Breathtaking.
Those were the first three words that came to mind after witnessing one of the most beautifully staged theatre pieces I have seen in a long time. Animal Vs. Machine is stunning piece of poetry in motion.
I’ll confess. I had no desires to see this show. From the press release I knew it was a show about Mix Martial Arts fighting (also known as MMA). To watch two women beat and pummel each other was not my idea of a pleasant Saturday night. And why was a theatre company putting on a show of this nature? There’s enough theatrics in wrestling and in MMA. The press release hints at there being more than just fighting and that we would get a look into the motives behind the women fighting. Nonetheless the press release emphasizes the fighting aspect of the show, not the back story.
What did I end up seeing? Mime. Yes, you read that correctly, I saw a highly theatrical mime show. There is fighting, and while it is spectacularly done, it only serves a foil to the thrilling drama. The fighting only serves to highlight and counterpoint the events in the plot.
Prism Co Movement Theatre has developed a reputation for their “silent” plays. In other words dialogue is either non-existent or in the case of this production kept to a minimal. It is basically a mime troupe. Mime, unfortunately, has a negative connotation for many people because they think of street performers in white face shilling for money. The truth is Mime as an art form dates back to ancient Greece. It can be just as powerful as theatre with spoken words. If you need proof, go see Animal Vs. Machine.
The story is non-linear. The audience is seated or allowed to stand around the stage. It isn’t a true stage, it is a basically an area defined by large foam pads creating a “ring” with ropes that are held by the cast to define the edges. The two main characters Machine and Animal are introduced and begin a MMA fight. The first impression is that fight choreography is good, but not great; it lacks the realism of actual MMA fights because the women never fully make contact. The effect is surreal. Suddenly the lights change, the action slows down, and the other characters which were holding the ropes enter the stage and a fascinating story begins to unfold. We learn that Machine was a former ballet student and that Animal is in a hedonistic relationship with her lover. Each woman is desperate to be loved and accepted. Though there is minimal dialogue by the end of the play you understand fully each woman, and ache for them. But through the emotional journey as a viewer you laugh, feel joy, and sorrow, and what seemed like so-so fight choreography becomes operatic in depth and scope. And it’s all done with less than 50 words spoken. WOW!
As Machine, Christine Valentine portrays the evolution of her character from being a young girl studying Ballet, to her introduction to Tai Chi and eventually her entry into the world of MMA. Machine’s storyline is the more comedic of the two characters. The staging requires her to use slapstick comedy when she’s young, to more nuanced comedy as she matures. She is at times sarcastic, ironic, and caustic. And as the drama unfolds and her character ages we see her develop existential angst, yet still remains an optimist. Physically Valentine is a powerhouse and moves convincingly as an MMA fighter. She hits all the comedic notes with much relish, yet she never overplays the funny aspects of the show because she keeps it grounded in emotional authenticity. It’s a stellar performance.
Lauren Mishoe plays the role of Animal. Her obsessively carnal relationship with her lover is funny at first because it’s very obvious that she will do anything to make him happy. But as we get to know the character more, we discover it’s a relationship fraught with turmoil. She idolizes him, and will risk her own well-being to satisfy him. It’s not a healthy relationship and the dread builds as we in the audience begin to wonder if she will ever come to her senses. Her role requires her to be a woman of passion, and not just carnal, but emotional. It also requires her to perform an elaborate dance/fight sequence that encapsulates her state of mind and eventually the self-realization of her obsessions. Her character arc isn’t comedic as Machine’s, it’s quickly becomes tragic. The final moment of the play is hers, and it induces chills. Mishoe’s performance is sublime.
Robert D. Guy plays the role of Master. He is the Tai Chi Master that first teaches Machine the art form. He encapsulates the qualities that one would imagine a Tai Chi master would have. He is caring, authoritative, and full of wisdom. Guy, who is young, credibly imbues his character with intense humanity wisdom since Master is an old man. He also convincingly communicates his distress at seeing Machine misuse her powers as a fighter. My only quibble with his character isn’t with his masterful performance, it’s with grey powder added into his hair to make him look older. In Mime the audience is willing to accept a young person playing someone older because it’s all done through movement and physicality. This touch of attempted realism by adding gray hair distracts from the inherent fantasy world created by Mime.
Jasmine Segar plays the role of Prodigy. She is in Master’s class and eventually becomes the unwitting first sparring partner to Mishoe. Segar’s Tai Chi movements are beautiful. Her grace is enthralling. We also see her character feeling conflicted about Machine. She wants to befriend her, but is taken back by Machine’s aggressive nature. The subtleties of her performance are brilliant.
As the ballet master known as Father, Mitchell Stephens is voraciously funny. He exudes every stereotype of a ballet master but Stephens doesn’t turn his character isn’t a caricature. His disappointment in Machine’s lack of interest in ballet and his subsequent conflict with Master shows us a man who likes to present himself one way to the world, yet has an undercurrent of feelings behind the façade. The fact he is able to express all these emotions through his physicality without employing words is a testament to Stephen’s refined acting ability.
The most intriguing character is Lover. Josh Porter’s portrayal is enigmatic and frightening. Lover is selfish. He only loves Animal as long as she satisfies his needs. His interest in her is purely physical: He wants her to be an exceptional MMA fighter and devotes her time training her, and as a reward -when she excels- is do demonstrate his love for her via sex. He’s a predator and knowingly preys on her desire for intimacy and love which are fueled by her insecurities. He makes her think that it’s a reciprocal relationship, but it becomes evident throughout the course of the play that it’s very much one sided. Porter’s portrayal is chilling and effective.
Jeff Colangelo and Katy Tye wrote and directed this masterpiece. The way the present day fight is interwoven with the storyline is thrilling. Colangelo’s fight choreography keeps you on the edge of your seat because of the way he varies the tempo in the staging. The fighting will suddenly go into slow motion highlighting the brutality of the sparring. This slow motion effect is stunningly realized requires to exceptional physical actors and he found it along with co-director Katy Tye by casting Mishoe and Valentine. Tye’s choreography is as stunning as Colangelo’s fight sequences in that she uses dance moves to express the inner thinking of the characters. The sequence in which Animal and Lover are arguing and eventually fight using red ties is one of the most powerful pieces of dance I’ve seen in recent memory: The ties intertwine the characters showing how destructive their relationship has become, and at certain point symbolize passion, and blood.
Jonah Gutierrez designed the marvelous lighting. With only a few instruments he conveys time, place, mood, and are synchronized beautifully with the uncredited sound design and music along with the action on stage.
Things to know before you go: The show runs one hour. Don’t let this short length deter you. This play conveys more storyline and more emotion than many 2 hour plays I’ve seen. The play takes place in a warehouse off a dark street. I felt trepidation approaching such a dark building. There are people to greet you outside and will tell you where to park, and it’s safe.
Animal vs. Machine is a production not to be missed. For an upstart production company one might assume that this great production might be a fluke. It is obvious that Prism Co Movement Theatre knows exactly what they are doing because they displayed theatrical mastery. If you’ve never seen or experience theatrical Mime then you must go. If you are familiar with Mime, then know that they are breaking new ground in this ancient art form and have propelled it into a new century. Bravo.
ANIMAL VS MACHINE
Prism Co Movement Theatre, Arrington Roofing @ 2203 Obenchain St. Dallas TX 75208
Now through May 8th, 2016
Performances: April 24th 29th, 30th,May 1st, 6th, 7th, and 8th all at 8pm For information and tickets visit www.prismco.org or call (608) 957-7476