First Draft Reviews: Pluto

Comment your first draft reviews of Pluto here.

9 Comments on “First Draft Reviews: Pluto

  1. Pluto
    Reviewed by Dylan Bowden

    “The whole solar system changed, and I survived, didn’t I?” says Elizabeth, a struggling single mother who just wants to live her life normally.

    “Pluto”, by Steve Yockey, is a mother’s journey toward acceptance that tackles such difficult subjects as mental illness, domestic abuse, school shootings, and the relationships that unfold under these terrible circumstances.

    Elizabeth, the mother of a school shooter, experiences her son’s dead victims while being guarded by a mythical three-headed dog, and while even experiencing Death himself. As an audience member, my heart ached for Elizabeth as she trudged through the seven stages of grief: denial, guilt, anger, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, and acceptance.

    “Pluto” was performed on a minimalistic set containing some very radical features – including an upside-down cherry tree. In Japanese culture, a cherry blossom symbolizes not just the brevity of life, but also its renewal. The inclusion and placement of this tree was a fabulous addition to the show – vividly expressing that Elizabeth’s acceptance of her son’s actions does not mean her life is over.

    Though the exposition of the show was lengthy, and it sometimes ran slowly, I felt that each character served an essential purpose in the production, and each had his or her individual tics. The actor who portrayed Bailey, Elizabeth’s son, for example, captured moments of dissociation very well.

    The chemistry between the actors onstage made for a very intense show. The tension began early in the play, using the edgy dynamic between Elizabeth and her son to shine a light on Bailey’s mental illness. The entrance of Maxine was very ominous – later in the show, we realize that Maxine is one of Bailey’s victims. The tension between victim and aggressor felt convincingly familiar, imbuing the fact that they had known each other long before the shooting occurred with a depth and poignancy that was beautifully captured.

    Throughout the show, the calming voice of the three-headed dog, Cerberus, helped to keep the audience grounded. Without Cerberus, Pluto would have been much too intense. With the tempering effect of his voice of reason, each character became easier to understand and relate to.

    Well done, Western Connecticut State University cast and crew.

  2. I wish I could write a sparkling review for Eastern Connecticut University’s production of Pluto. In fact, I spent a large portion of my night trying to think of something substantial that would help outweigh my qualms about the production. There was Mason Beiter’s amazing and terrifying final monologue to the audience, the strong comradery between the actors of the ensemble, a gorgeous set design, and the beautiful idea of a mother’s love being so powerful that it can see beyond the most terrible of things. However, I cannot bring myself self to write that good review.

    Despite Pluto’s attempts to tell a new and powerful story, as an audience member, I have never felt so horrified watching a production. Tonight, I witnessed the production of a script which included victim blaming, a plethora of jokes that I feel became increasingly more and more in poor taste as the show went on, and an expectation for the audience to sympathize with a mass shooter. No matter how badly I feel for a mother and the cross she now must bear, I cannot bring myself to sympathize with a mass shooter. Maybe I am being too emotional in my review. Maybe I am too driven by my refusal to become desensitized by the day to day reality of life the United States.

    Either way, the facts remain this. In the first 30 days of 2019, there have been 27 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 44 deaths, and at least 89 non-fatal injuries. Whose stories do we need to be telling?

  3. The only thing worse than a two hour show without an intermission is a two hour show without an intermission that features characters doing nothing but talking about unnecessary bullshit for the first hour and a half, and that’s what Pluto was.
    I want to make it clear that Eastern Connecticut’s cast did the best they could do with a script that takes a painful amount of time. Everyone had developed and strong characters, and the actors played off each other extraordinarily well, and what few entertaining moments that were in the script were wonderful to watch. The set was very impressive, considering they had to load it in to a foreign theater, the lighting wasn’t noticeable but served its purpose nonetheless. The sound was very interesting and I loved how open ended the sound cue that closed the show was. I heard numerous theories on that one cue as I left the theater which was loads of fun.
    When it comes down to it I just could not recommend anyone to see this show. The playwright seemed to think they could replace an engaging plot and goal oriented characters with the general idea of a topical theme, and while it’s an important issue that should be discussed, putting this issue in a poorly written play is a horrible way to start that discussion. Like I said, props to the cast and crew for doing their best, but I doubt anyone could make me enjoy a production of this show (though a good way to start is by putting in an intermission).

  4. Pluto
    Review by Jhada-Ann Walker

    As the show opens, the enchanting colorful lights from the cyclorama lit up the neatly done kitchen scenery. However, this was just a contrast for the plot of Pluto, a tragedy by Steve Yockey. The cast from Eastern Connecticut State University presented a combination of planetary metaphors, magical and dark incident of a school violence. The surreal supernatural but bizarre story is one of the most heartfelt tragedies that occurs in today’s world.
    The technical aspect of this show was amazing, from the light changes for each mood (blues to reds) and the sound effect for the gunshots or for the vibrating Refrigerator and the subtle music playing in the background. The Radio Voice/ Death had the most outstanding costume, an overall suit with gloves and an astronaut looking helmet over a well tailored jacket suit with intricate designs, this really sold his character. However, the Dog seemed very unconvincing and lacked costume, props and makeup. The actors on a whole had a low energy which could have been otherwise if deep characterization was implemented. The characters didn’t match the roles as they could and as such the story began to feel mundane and less interesting.
    However, as the plot develops and the climax was over the tragic message was appreciated. The play had some fun moments where the director, F. Chase Rozelle III did well on, for example, when the dog began to dance with the umbrella and also the grand entrance of death from the cold portal of the fridge. Also the scene when Maxine killed Bailey with his mother trying to prevent it, was just full of energy and movement. However, the cry of the mother over her son’s death was not believable at all it was rather funny to watch. I could for a second put myself in the scene and experience the frightening gunshots fired and understand the traumatic feeling the victims or bystanders endure. And this calls for serious comfort and intervention when such act is suspected to occur or happened.

  5. PLUTO presented by Western Connecticut State University
    Review by Andrea Vargas – Rhode Island College
    “Pluto” evokes all the emotions we experience when death knocks at our door – or our refrigerators. As soon as you walk into the theater you are met by a classic white and cream kitchen. We see this kitchen with an upside-down cherry blossom tree that everyone has in their kitchen – naturally. Soon into the show, we find out this day is NOT like any other day. I look down and see a blue/ green haired person on stage right and I say to myself “Is this going to be a representation of Pluto?” I am quickly corrected on this assumption and by the end of the show, the audience finally finds out the secret identity behind this “family dog”.
    All characters brought a certain level of intensity that made me uncomfortable in the best way possible. The story line not only focuses on the levels of grief a mother goes through in the death of a child, but also incorporates the gun violence we unfortunately are still seeing in schools, mental health, bullying, and a couple Greek myths for good measure. While I was disappointed to find myself drifting in and out of the story due to the unnecessary “over explaining” of details that could have been addressed within a couple pages of dialogue, I was happy to say that the play really picks up once the audience is finally confronted with the truth of one of our main characters evil actions (which were hinted to the audience the entire first hour of the play). Once the gun was fired, I was alert and ready to find out what happens next. The end of the show left me feeling almost a sense of calmness. We were just taken on a full journey through the eyes of a mother who has just gone through sometimes terrible, all within a single instant (That’s right! The entire show takes place at 9:30am and the time never changes.)
    The white palate of the kitchen with the colors flashing on the scrim were great ideas by the both the lighting designer and set designer! I have never been moved emotionally by colors alone in a show. I really enjoyed these nuanced ideas that may seem simple to those who have not experienced theatre, but for me, it is all in the details. Speaking of details, I really enjoyed “Death’s” costumes and I genuinely jumped in my seat as he emerged from what we will just call “Hell” to avoid spoilers! I would love to say that regardless of what I felt about the script, I thoroughly enjoyed this cast. While I don’t have a name to give credit to, the director of this show was magnificent, and every moment made me feel each beat of the show. Nothing was done without purpose and it clearly showing in this moving piece.

  6. Pluto
    Angela Tricarico | University of New Haven

    Nothing about the day depicted in Eastern Connecticut State University’s production of Steve Yockey’s Pluto was ordinary, despite how many times Elizabeth Miller (Elizabeth Heaney) remarked that the day was any ordinary day. Through radios turning on and off, shaking refrigerators and astrophysics, small talk, and long pauses that always seemed to last just too long, Pluto is topical, dealing with a subject matter that is unfortunately relevant to audiences in 2019, five years after the play was first performed.

    In a suburban kitchen in the home of a widowed mother and her college-aged son, the radio flickers on without being touched. A news report plays, stating a mass shooting took place at a nearby school and Bailey Miller (Mason Beiter) hastily shuts it off before the report can finish. The first forty minutes of the two hour play are tedious, as Elizabeth tries to make small talk with her unwilling son. The effort leaves Elizabeth and Bailey going in circles and tangents about Pop-Tarts and Coca Cola without much substance for too long, until finally Bailey convinced Elizabeth to explain in detail how his father died. Nothing pushes the plot forward for a long time, even as weird things continue to happen in the Miller’s home, like their three-headed dog speaking strangely or the refrigerator spasming, glove-clad hands threatening to break out of it. So much of the small talk was unnecessary, especially considering the show did not have an intermission.

    I wish I could say that elements of this specific production made up for every area that the text falls flat, but it’s simply not true. In a lot of spots, acting fell flat. Beiter’s final monologue was chilling, but up until then, there wasn’t much in his performance beyond a droll tone and a general disinterest for everything happening around him. Meghan Campbell had the most affecting performance as Maxine Sailors, a former friend of Bailey’s, and current popular girl at their school. The first few times audiences see Maxine, she is commanding and terrifying, but her reasons for being so are unclear. Once those reasons become clear, Campbell’s performance reaches new heights. The set also did not help the actors much, as an island in the kitchen interrupted most of the staging by being awkwardly place. All of the action that wasn’t at the kitchen table had to take place behind or around the island, which didn’t even serve a purpose usage-wise.

    Overall, Pluto, be it intentional or not, humanized a school shooter. He was depicted in a way that had audience members empathizing with him, and then feeling horrible for having done so as soon as his true intentions and actions were revealed. In a time where this is a more pressing issue than ever outside of the theater, Pluto feels out of touch with our actual reality, even if it claims to be portraying that.

  7. Jamie Roberts Review of: “Pluto”
    By Steve Yockey
    Eastern Connecticut State University at KCACTF Region 1
    January 30th, 2019

    Beware of the (not warned) mature content that “Pluto” at the Kennedy Centre American College Theatre Region 1 Festival addresses using tactics of anticipation and time traveling. This contemporary play explores the motherhood of Elizabeth Miller (Elizabeth Heaney) when her child, Bailey Miller (Mason Beiter) commits a horrific act that questions her reality. “Pluto” analyzes the themes of unhappiness, greif, and seeing reality.

    After nearly thirty minutes into the play we began to get into the action of “Pluto.” It is clear the actresses and actors had acceptable direction on how to go from moment-to-moment. The first scene fascinated me when Beiter walks in the door and without words and communicates to us that the tree and dog are out of the ordinary. Beiter also made some distinctive and notable acting choices in his monologue towards the end. He had a tense physicality meshed with his conscious play in pitch of his voice that captivated us to hear his story. Heaney did an acceptable job, unfortunately her physique and voice did not match the age and maturity of her mother character.

    As Emma Gonzalez, American activist, said, “we call BS.” The major problem I faced with this play is that the point of view is from a sympathetic and loving mother of the shooter when America needs a play that will not encourage our numbness to this ongoing phenomenon.

  8. In one moment, everything can change, and you may find yourself having to come to terms with a new reality.

    On Wednesday, January 30th, the Eastern Connecticut State University presented Pluto to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region 1. The play follows a mother as she comes to face the truth: that her son is a school shooter and that he killed himself. The truth is slowly unraveled to the audience as she is visited by Death and Cerberus.

    To start the set was very well crafted, and had interesting forms. The different corners, islands, and doors added interest, as the actors maneuvered around them. Lighting also played an important part in visuals. When the the fridge was shaking, it became darker; when the mom truly saw her sun, the projection became red. Overall, the company did a great job with visuals, especially considering that they were performing a new space.

    In terms of acting, the timing sometimes felt unnatural, leading me to step back from the play.
    At times, it felt like the lines were being rushed through, and the character’s hesitation did not feel authentic. Although some long pauses were used for comedy, others felt too awkward and unrealistic. Some of the emotional scenes seemed a little forced, understandably, because Elizabeth and Bailey are difficult roles to play. Still, they all did a pretty good job, especially in the most frantic scene when Bailey is shot by Maxine.

    Due to the fault of the script, most of the play felt cliche; there was the encouraging mom, the troubled son and the secret that we all knew was going to be revealed. Perhaps the play felt so drawn out to mimic how heavy and aching each moment was for the mother. Still, even after the action picked up, I was left with a sense of longing.

    Although comedy can be a great tool to help the audience relate to the characters, it should not have been used so heavily here. When exploring these sensitive and meaningful themes, it’s better to focus on clarifying intentions and the beliefs that are expressed. The ending of the play may seem controversial, because it focuses so heavily on the mother’s feelings. However, I don’t believe the purpose is supposed to be that we give all out sympathy to school shooters and their families, but rather to explore their thought process. It is interesting to see what lead Bailey to do such a thing, although it of course does not justify his actions. The mom was living many parents’ worst nightmare, With theatre, it is important to explore how other people are thinking, because this is a real situation that people do go through. Nonetheless the play did a poor job clarifying how it wanted that audience to react. In many cases it does feel that the play is only asking pity.

    The play Pluto was made in good intentions, and had quite interesting personifications. No enough thought was put into it, leading myself to ask more from the production, but mostly script itself.

  9. Pluto was one of the most predictable, and borderline offensive pieces I’ve seen in a while. While technically, the piece was completely stunning, the predictable script and performance felt relatively High School. That’s not to say it’s actors were immature, but some of the character choices made (on the rare occasion that there were any) lacked proper direction. All in all, the piece itself came off as completely lacking in direction.

    While this piece was a captivating concept, it’s execution left much to be desired from it’s performers, with the exception of Death and Maxine. In general, the actor playing Elizabeth felt very youthful, and her costuming portrayed her as even more so. While it’s nearly impossible to embody the emotions of a mother discovering such horrendous things about their child, there was an incredibly amount of work that needed to be done on the character entirely. Work that, with proper direction, could have made a much bigger impact on the audience.

    The audience’s reactions to parts they found funny were rather shocking. There were many moments that the actors portrayed as serious, scary, or painful, that the audience burst out in a roar of laughter. Which was incredibly unnerving. Their laughter, matched with the shows lack of any sort of trigger warning, left what seemed to be a huge impact on some audience members. Some of which were outwardly sobbing after the shooting scene(s). While this reaction may not have been totally avoidable to some, having those warnings in place to prepare the audience ought to have been required.

    Overall, Pluto had the opportunity to be much more than it was. It had few real moments of intensity, sadness, and pain for its audience to connect to. But it left me wanting to see it handled in a more mature manner. It’s definitely not a piece I will be running back to, or recommending, any time soon.

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