First Draft Reviews: Duck Variations (Fringe Friday Event)

Comment your first draft reviews of Duck Variations here. 

9 Comments on “First Draft Reviews: Duck Variations (Fringe Friday Event)

  1. “THE YELLOW WALLPAPER” Presented as Part of Fringe Friday

    “Welcome, you’re free to sit where ever you like, including the stage.”

    New and unconventional, the CCRI Player’s devised adaption of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a strangely captivating retelling of a time-honored classic. As soon as I walked into the theatre I knew “The Yellow Wallpaper”, would be different from other productions at KCACTF this year. For starters, the audience was immediately encouraged by the usher to sit on stage. I am glad that I took the opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and participate in that way as it gave an intriguing, up close and personal perspective on the play. I felt like a bystander watching the women through their struggle, unable to help.

    The original tale is told through a series of journal entries written by an unnamed woman, a wife of a physician. She is forbidden from working or exercising and is locked inside an upstairs nursery as a form of treatment for what her husband deems a “temporary nervous depression”. Over time she becomes obsessed with the pattern of the room’s yellow wallpaper, believing there to be a woman trapped behind it. The story follows the women’s dissent into true insanity due to her confinement and is praised as a work of classic feminist literature. For those who have never read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story, the inspiration behind this devised piece of the same name, the performance simply would not have made any sense. While there were moments of obvious physical representations of confinement and separation, I don’t believe it would have been enough for an unknowing audience to follow. However, perhaps it is not the job of the performance to hold the audience’s hand.

    Having foreknowledge of the story, I was excited to see the CCRI Player’s take. I was greeted with a thoughtful piece filled with passion and expression. Four women entered the stage dressed all in black, armed with five strips of fabric: two grey, two white, and one yellow. In a sequence of interpretive dance and pantomime the women started to develop the story of the unnamed woman as a series of unrecognizable, overlapped words played. The idea of separation and struggle became clear as two of the women, divided by grey fabric, found each other mirrored like a reflection. Unable to reach each other through the division they fought pulling back and forth as their world began to spin. By now the over lapping words had stopped and changed to a melancholic and hauntingly lyrical arrangement of contemporary instrumental and vocal music. The rest of the performance remained hypnotizing, and although short in length, its brevity did not take away from its lasting impact.

    While there were a few things I do feel could have been improved upon or used to enhance the overall production value, such as a more dynamic lighting design, it was inspiring to see young female theatre artists proudly performing a work of their own creation.

  2. The Yellow Wallpaper

    CCRI Players’ The Yellow Wallpaper is an experience that I honestly don’t know how to feel about. I must admit that devised movement pieces are still rather foreign to me, and will most likely stay that way due to my overall indifference for them. So for this review the best that I can do is state what I saw and leave it up to the reader to decide if that’s what they want to see in a devised movement piece or not. I will also add that this piece is heavily inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story of the same name.
    This experience opened with ushers informing audience members that they were not only allowed, but encourage to sit on the stage for the piece. This was taken advantage of by around ten members, but I opted to stay in the audience for the lumbar support. Once the show began four performers, all female to fit with the original short story’s feminist background, came on stage with several pieces of sheet like fabric. In total we see two white sheets, two black, and one yellow. The performers used the sheets in a myriad of ways, ranging from ropes, to blankets and shawls, and consistently using them throughout the piece without leaving them to be forgotten.
    We have nonstop movement at the beginning that grows and quickens exponentially, scored to a recording of what I believe to be various lines from the original short story all layered on top of each other at once. It was too hard to pick out just one voice so I can’t determine it’s source, but the cacophony of sound really helped add to the manic of the performers as they moved on stage. Unfortunately that sound effect wasn’t mixed properly to this foreign space, and as a result the speakers gave off a loud buzz as it struggled to handle the effect.
    Two of the performers mirrored each other over a line created by the other two performers holding the black sheets like ropes. This initial part of the piece was fascinating to watch, as the performers worked almost exclusively off of an x and y axis on the stage, always keeping right angles between them. At the center point of these two axes was the yellow sheet folded up on the floor. They ultimately broke away from this form as the two mirroring performers seemed to try and tear the other through the mirror, much like how the narrator of the original story attempted to rip a woman out of the wallpaper.
    Following this visual and auditory experience we see the performers slowly find their way down to the ground as if they were sleeping, save one who takes this time to pull out a notebook and recite some form of literature. Unfortunately the performers voice did not carry far enough for me to determine whether this was some sort of poetry, or an excerpt from the original piece, though I’m inclined to suspect that latter.
    After that we got more of the same as before, the performers continued with their movements, seeming to tell the story of The Yellow-Wallpaper with their movements, with a reprise of the earlier sound cue of the cacophonous overlaying of various voices. If you enjoy devised movement pieces I see little reason for you to not enjoy this one, but if you’re anything like me you’ll probably leave feeling very indifferent.

  3. Fringe Friday: Dancing in the rain
    Review by Andrea Vargas – Rhode Island College
    Stunning magic – just don’t blink, or it will be over.
    “Dancing in the Rain” is a ten-minute magic show staring Magician Jeremy Mikaelson. As the announcer introduces the magician’s entrance, the audience learns that Mikaelson has over 11 years of work in magic. He travels all over the world performing his magic tricks and has studied with the oldest magicians in the world with the society of American Magic. The tricks range from simplistic to elaborate and Mikaelson’s ability to put on a great show is astounding. Unfortunately, it only lasted ten minutes. The feeling of nostalgia hits the audience, as if they were at the circus with family. That memory was quickly snatched away when the whole event was done within what felt like seconds.
    The show is filled with tricks such as umbrellas turning to dust, bandanas turning into a huge rod. The umbrellas tend to be multiplied like bunny rabbits. Small flashy tricks were the style of this show and it showed. A big finale trick would have been an engaging way to end the show, but our magician stuck to the basics. Even though our magician kept it simple with their magic, it was still done well and amazed me never the less.
    The costume in which Mikaelson presented his tricks in was very stylish. Most magicians wear the typical tux and top hat. Staying away from this stereotype, he wears purple lapels which accented the black suit which had slight embellishments without making the entire suit bedazzled. I enjoyed all the colors featured in his lighting design and magical props. The sound design filled the show with fun up beat and fast paced sound. Unfortunately, a small hiccup was noted at the end of routine within the final moments of the show when Mikaelson left stage with a good amount of music still remaining. The audience sits in their seats wondering where the magician would come next. To the dismay of the audience, the house lights came up and we never see our magician again.
    Mikaelson has talent and skill proving to be a very engaging performer especially when making eye contact with his audience and using choreographed gestures to get the audience’s attention. Even his gesturing to specific audience member who should “watch with their own eyes” through simple hand movements causes anticipation, making his tricks even better. As I walked out of the theatre, my ears are filled with the chatter of the audience asking for more. I was very happy to sit and forget about life for a minute and just watch some magic tricks instead of watching another two-hour long show that makes me question my entire way of life. I look forward to seeing more magic from Mikaelson in the future with possibly a lengthier show and maybe even a small set as opposed to the single umbrella in the center of the stage. The talent was there, Mikaelson needs to make it a bit longer.

  4. Dancing in the Rain
    Reviewed by Dylan Bowden

    A smorgasbord of magic and theatre graced Cape Community College’s Tilden Main Theatre in Jeremy Mikaelson’s standout show, Dancing in the Rain!

    As soon as the music began to play over the loudspeakers, I felt a wave of goosebumps wash over my body. Yes, goosebumps are quite common in high-intensity situations, but what followed truly set the mood for a wonderful, if short-lived show. Mikaelson danced onto the stage in an elegant tuxedo with shiny pink lapels that truly was a sight for the detailed-oriented eye. Yes, the magic was impressive, but it could not have been accomplished without some exceptionally eye-catching lighting and set design. The simplicity of the open stage also allowed the freedom of movement necessary to execute an impressive array of tricks and shine in the process.

    The title of Mikaelson’s show is quite fitting, in fact, since his tricks tend to revolve around umbrellas. While I am familiar with the use of cloth in magic tricks – being pulled up from the throat or to create a flock of doves – I have never seen it used to create an umbrella. This uncommon trick kept my eyes following in fascination throughout Mikaelson’s stellar performance, as he conjured up umbrella after umbrella. Judging by his creativity and theatricality, not to mention his style and contagious, cheerful personality, this upcoming “international star of magic” truly has a promising career ahead of him.

    While I enjoyed Mikaelson’s addition to the plethora of Fringe Friday shows presented at KCACTF, the length of the show and the content presented were too brief for my taste. Though there is something to be said about the uniqueness of his tricks, Mikaelson’s stuck closely to the use of umbrellas and cloths in his performance with just the occasional flick of confetti – lending a hint of sameness to the production. Yes, the show is named Dancing in the Rain, but it could have benefited from a bit more variety in the set. In addition, the show ended too suddenly, with an almost jarring abruptness that undermined the joy of the performance and left me wanting more. I found myself looking around the audience to see if the show would continue. But no, it was really over, just like that.

    I understand that the purpose of Fringe Friday is to present short, theatrical scenes, yet I still hoped that this beautiful display of magic would have continued for at least another ten to fifteen minutes. The show was marvelous, entertaining – and even quite thought provoking in some instances – but I felt a sense of disappointment among members of the audience due to its overly short time on stage. I loved that Mikaelson’s magic was performed in such a theatrical manner – though I would also have loved for Mikaelson to explore his performance in more depth, and milk the time and enjoyment that he brought to all of the audience members.

    But in the midst of a stressful week, these few minutes of magical theatre were truly appreciated, offering a chance to relax, decompress, and let one’s mind wander among the impossible feats. Kudos to the coordinators of the Fringe Festival at KCACTF for giving students and opportunity to showcase their creativity and voice for hundreds of people to experience. If you are interested in showcasing your idea, show, or concept at the next annual KCACTF, apply before the Fall of 2019 to be considered. Whether you’re an an audience member or a director, you will not be disappointed. Congratulations, Jeremy Mikaelson.

  5. Jamie Roberts Review of: “The Duck Variations”
    By David Mamet
    TOF Productions at KCACTF Region 1’s Fringe Friday
    February 1st, 2019

    As death morphs from a notion to feeling, two actors are given the opportunity to reprise their roles as the current age of their characters and find new meaning in the script. “The Duck Variations” explores two senior friends, Emil Varec (Kent Cassella) and George S. Aronovitz (Adam Zahler), who talk about life in metaphors using ducks. This play is a short dramedy that delves heavily into the themes of loneliness, life purpose, and death.

    The house lights dim as a man walks down the steps house right, taking his time walking to the bench centre stage and making himself comfortable. We watch him as he enjoys the nature in the park until another man comes in and joins him. This is such a delightful non-verbal moment to start the show off and set up the environment of the play. Cassella and Zahler invite the audience to experience the fourth wall with them, pointing to boats and ducks, simply looking out into the park and influencing us to breath in this environment with them. The men are exceptional at recognizing pauses and choreographed overlaps of dialogue. There’s an instance later in the play when both men seem to be in their own worlds, one talking about pandas and the other trying to recall an animal, both in their own worlds but together. Cassella and Zahler have clear character motivations in their blocking. The men conduct seemingly insignificant movements such as gestures, crossing a leg, taking a sip of water, yet they do this all so naturally and with intention. Zahler would casually lean in on the back of the bench towards Cassella when his character was about to say something he deemed serious. Additionally, there was one moment Zahler got so worked up in his joke story that he ended up standing up. The blocking and character choices can seem so minimalistic but have a deep and concise underlying meaning.

    One of Mamet’s key lines is that a man needs a friend in his life, without a friend he is lonely. This is a subject the characters explore through argument and examples including cacti: a comedic effect to a strong underlying theme. Later in the play, one man claims the hunter has no rhyme or reason to kill the duck if he is not eating it and it is convenient that hunting seasons are only when the ducks are around. Although this play was published in the 70’s, I feel this theme connected with present day America in the sense of school shootings. This would have been an interesting take had the director (Jonathan Bourne) chosen to take interpret a more current route. George paints the climax scene for Emil and the audience so perfectly, “honking, honking, honking…” about the story of the hunter and the duck. All the duck wants to do is go home, and the hunter wants to kill. Emil realizes more so what death means as we experience George’s visual picture.

    There is a clear comparison between ‘man’ and ‘duck’ in the men’s dialogue. The playwright and director are distant enough to let the piece speak for itself yet be crystal clear about the plays message through their direction. Mamet’s language is so musically crafted and has some fascinating little moments all throughout the play between pressing themes and stylistic quirks. Emil discloses that he likes home, not for home, but rather because he has the park to look forward to. Alternatively than being at the park, which he likes, because all he has to look forward to is his “joyless apartment.” Mamet makes this exceptional idea about living in the future moment vs. the present moment, as well as this idea of happiness in nature. Emil and George’s dialogue is seemingly so effortless as they bounce ideas off one another, sometimes talking over the other, and having a natural conversation. Cassella and Zahler have a natural chemistry, but combined with this multiplex yet simplistic dialogue creates a wonderful work of art.

    A bench, a bag, a water bottle, a hat, and the stage lights going down too soon. This minimalistic set is perfect for TOF Productions creation of “The Duck Variations.” It allows for Mamet’s themes and languages to shine through in Cassella and Zahler’s character choices. After the show, Zahler admits he told the crew the wrong time to bring the lights down, but the men had continued on like it was nothing.

    “You remember, you forget.” Cassella and Zahler performed this piece over 40 years ago and they remembered the significance of the theme of death but admitted to missing a few lines and blocking here and there. I was curious to find out that the men had not necessarily remembered their lines, but rather the rhythm of the play. Zahler expresses that Mamet is known for his lyric language and theory that characters do not live outside of this scene. Both Cassella and Zahler played to these extremely well. The men expressed actively knowing Mamet’s theme of death when they performed this fresh out of college, yet after living their lives for a long while, their understanding became heightened. The men saw and felt this play in ways they did not understand until growing into the age of their characters. “The Duck Variations” takes us through a casual conversation on a park bench that leaves us with an understanding of humanity.

  6. Yellow Wallpaper
    Jhada-Ann Walker

    Short and spicy are just the adjectives for the experimental performance.
    “The Yellow wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a dramatic piece devised by the CCRI players in just half an hour (30 minutes). The performers related the short story about the oppressive forces of the patriarchal society during the 19th century.
    The ambiance was set with slow songs changing the mood to a dreadful one as I took my seat on stage left. No I’m not a part of the cast but I do consider the term VIP. It is not very often that experimental theater is appreciated and as such the support as minimal.
    This is a non-dialogue performance that used movement, music and props to relate a strong message. The song choices are just fitting to the occasion especially the opening and ending repetition of voices and the loud thudding heartbeats. Instantly a feeling of fear, struggle, madness and anxiety fills the air. Four women, each holding a fabric and a book wrapped in yellow cloth in the center. Simple but powerful image.
    Movement and relationship with the props was the driving force of communicating the temporary nervous depression (an illness common to women) presented in the story. The mirroring of the pairs on stage was very effective in displaying the similar torment that females face at home, work and play. The repetition of movement by each performer gave the notion that this was an issue that moved throughout a generation females. The circular formations, body rolls, fetus positions, back and forth rocking, stretching of fabric, tug of war, standing, sitting, lying were all techniques in movement that was explored by the performers to tell their story.

    Good use of fabric and color. White fabric gave the idea that the females were new to the illness so the actresses that used that color moved more terrified. While the grey fabric which has more hue tells that the ladies holding it were experienced and numbed to the pain and were ready for a breakthrough. With that said, the most captivating moment of the piece was the escape attempted through the knots that held the fabrics together. This section was just powerful in showing how much women in the 19th century endured the fight of being trapped within the domestic sphere.

    The yellow fabric was symbolic to the title of the piece and made a statement by being in the center. It reminds me of sunlight; the ray of hope that women longed for. Or that beam of light within women that was hidden due to oppression. Or the withering of a woman’s soul turning from green to yellow like a plant. However, wrapped in the yellow fabric was a very important tool in the story. It was the source of information in the form of journal entries written by a woman in misery.
    Throughout the play the actors were silent until a page was read from the book discovered in the yellow fabric. This broke the tension and energy built up in the piece because the actor was not enunciating enough for the words to be heard clearly. At this point it was hard to even sympathize anymore for the mood and the focus was not the same. The actors were also lacking in much face expression and emotion which was perceived as not being convincing enough. The lack of characterization worked effortlessly, as it sent the message that women of all sort, age, rank, you name it ,are seen for the vessel they are, females.
    I enjoyed the manner in which the four ladies evoked a range of heart wrenching emotions through a series of physical performance. It was a simple yet powerful delivery.

  7. “The Duck Variations”
    Angela Tricarico | University of New Haven

    On the surface, “The Duck Variations”, one of David Mamet’s earliest plays, seems incredibly simple. The set can be as bare as the one used in TOF Productions’ Fringe Friday performance of the play—just a green park bench in the middle of a thrust stage. Two men meet on that bench in an unnamed city, in a park near a lake.

    Audiences don’t know whether the two men know each other already or if they’re complete strangers when George (Adam Zahler) sits down next to Emil (Kent Cassella) and begins talking to him, but still, it feels simple. As soon as the conversation grows longer and less awkward, it’s anything but. The Duck Variations is roughly thirty minutes of banter between the two men, as they discuss the subjects of life and death using ducks they see in the park as a long-running metaphor. They’re both a little clueless; if they knew anything at all about ducks, the metaphor wouldn’t work. The ducks remind them of different things—fall and spring, life and death, loneliness, the fall of a leader and rise of another. I’ll be honest—the metaphors made it hard to follow at points, but the acting kept me invested.

    The piece requires timing lines perfectly as lines are often overlapping, and snappy reactions to what the other had just said, and the chemistry between Zahler and Casella as scene partners was undeniable. Zahler embodied George well. His performance came with an air of confidence and ignorance necessary to the character; George truly believes everything that he’s saying, no matter how ridiculous or false it sounds, and no matter how hard Emil tried to argue the opposite. Zahler was convincing in that regard. His performance breathed life into the character in a way that felt so familiar; he reminded me of a grandfather, warm and receptive, but determined to make his points and have them be heard. He set George up to be a perfect foil to Emil. The script isn’t generous in handing out details about either man’s life, but as Emil, Casella didn’t do quite as much as Zahler in distinguishing Emil from any other generic male character. Casella tended to speak softer than Zahler, who very animatedly delivered many of his lines. Still, the two men gave life to these characters in such real and convincing ways.

    The play did not have much to offer in tech or design elements beyond the aforementioned bench. Lighting was consistent throughout; the bench was well lit to convey daytime. Both men were costumed realistically and true to the character; I particularly liked the Underdog t-shirt George was wearing. These elements, though minimal, helped paint a larger picture for a show this small.

    To me, the most exciting part of TOF’s “The Duck Variations” was the backstory, provided partly in program notes (presented as emails between actors and director), but also during a short post-show talkback. Zahler, Cassella, and their director Jonathan Bourne are the co-founders of Second Stage in Vermont in 1978, and this play, which ran for two performances, was their first production. Forty years later, the three men are still close friends and decided that now was the right time to revisit the play for their third performance. With time came growing into the characters, as Zahler and Cassella are now the ages that the characters should be.

    At one point in the play, Emil convinces George that there is meaning and purpose in the conversation they’re having. I found that to be one of the most important things to take away from The Duck Variations, beyond the power of lasting friendships relationships. The performance has a meaning and purpose way deeper than just a simple two-person play.


    “Duck Variations” was everything you’d expect from a 40 minute piece. Two characters, minimal set, and charming dialogue that drew the audience right in. It was sweet, funny, and had some deep moments here and there. It was basically like sitting down and listening to a conversation between your grandparents. While there was a lot of conversation purely about ducks, different kinds of ducks, duck migration patterns, killing ducks, that sort of thing, there were a few meaningful conversations regarding the current state of our environment. It was interesting to hear the opinions portrayed throughout the piece, because they weren’t the most popular beliefs amongst the elderly today.

    The casting of this show was exactly what it was supposed to be, almost like it was written for Adam Zahler and Kent Cassella, and it was wonderful for the students at KCACTF to have the opportunity to watch two seasoned actors perform. It’s not something you see everyday, and the content wasn’t for everyone, but it was portrayed so naturally and honestly from it’s actors that I was truly entertained throughout the whole piece. Not to mention the costuming that was perfect from the Puma sweats to the adorable Underdog tee, it made me feel like I knew these old men, because I see them everywhere. Walking down the street, or sitting at the park feeding the birds, it was all just so real.

    What I admired most about this piece was what they were able to do with how minimal it was. Every single detail counted. The classic green bench, the plastic bags, the bottle of mountain dew, everything was exactly as it should have been. While others may not have been too interested in the goings on of the world of this play, I came to appreciate the honesty and simplicity of it. It was familiar, and almost comforting. These men have almost lyrical voices, which made them so easy to listen to. While the conversations often went on tangents and cracked little jokes that only old people could truly appreciate, it was portrayed so sweetly by it’s actors that you didn’t want to miss a second of it. In all honesty, you’d have to find old people cute to truly appreciate this piece, but that’s not to say that it isn’t good, you just can’t go onto it expecting an action-packed drama.

    With all that being said, this piece was one of my favorites of the week, simply because it was so natural to watch. You could relate to these characters, everything they say, you saw, it was just beautifully portrayed throughout its entirety. It just goes to show that you don’t need a massive ensemble, an incredibly involved set, and a dramatic plot-line to enjoy the theater.

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