Critic: David Rivera

4 Comments on “Critic: David Rivera

  1. “With Terravox, you’re never alone…”

    There is an underlying sense of dread that permeates through Emmanuel College’s Theatre Macabre: Network. It’s felt in how pleasant each of the many characters speak, their smiles, and the menacing subtext in their words. Network is an interactive virtual theatre experience that takes the limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and turns them into strengths by crafting a narrative that fully capitalizes on the isolation felt by the characters, actors, and especially the audience. Emmanuel College’s production of Network from the onset is a theatrical experience like none other. The viewer is an active participant in the drama, with characters regularly speaking directly to the audience and requiring them to select responses and reactions to questions and/or screen prompts. This allows for greater immersion into the virtual play that is a dark reflection of the present times. Network presents a not too far off dystopian future where in the COVID-19 pandemic a seemingly benevolent corporation Terravox Industries takes control of the nation (and possibly the world) by offering a streaming service eponymously titled “Network” which works hand in hand with a Soylent Green-esque drink called “Refresh.” With these tools Network opens a window into a world where a singular entity pacifies the country while simultaneously delivering eerily relevant social commentary.

    Network opens with an Orwellian introduction from corporate mouthpiece Ashton Arcot (played by Domenic Annand) who lays the groundwork for what’s to come. It’s through his overly boisterous demeanor it’s apparent that everything is not what it seems with Terravox. And this is due to Annand’s excellent work introducing the viewers to the world of Network. It’s through his glazed over eyes and transatlantic accent that he sets the tone. From there the viewer is free to choose one of six “experiences” in which they pick a fictional television program to watch and later serve as interludes to add well timed breaks to the overarching narrative. Of the six, “Comfort Foods” & “A Better You” were the strongest. “Comfort Foods” is hosted by Hilly (played by Julia Hazel) who executes a particularly unnerving performance as the ditsy suburban cook. “Comfort Foods” places the viewer in a mid twentieth century style cooking show with Hilly as the hostess. Through her wicked smiles and facial expressions, and the violence she inflicts on cookies, Hilly displays how unhinged she is as a result of Terravox’s programming. In her opening scene she takes a chocolate cookie to a cheese grater and slowly scrapes it away, which wholly encapsulates her eroding sanity. The only thing that holds her performance back is that at times it was difficult to hear her lines. Her vocal audio was inconsistent and this could’ve been a technical error. Aside from that, her scenes served their purpose. “A Better You” takes a more comical approach with its 1980’s inspired at-home workout routines. “A Better You” is hosted by Danny Clarke (played by Nolan Dupont) and is the quintessential dude-bro. Dupont captures the feel of the era and plays the non-thinking airhead with finesse. The 80’s synth music and video editing also add to the aesthetic. Danny’s self help “tips” are a well needed comedic relief to cut back to while the darker main story unfolds. Both Danny and Hilly recommend a suspicious drink called “Refresh” to the viewer which may have dubious effects on its consumers. Because of the virtual theatre format, multiple viewings are necessary (and encouraged) which provides a different progression of events and helps thoroughly build that world as the hosts sometimes reference each other.
    The real meat of Network is in the board meetings of the Terravox executives. They’re presented in Zoom-like video calls of sometimes three or more execs at a time. Despite the format, all of the characters play off each other well and organically. The actors are all convincing as the morally ambiguous corporate stooges. The tight editing helped achieve that as well. Frequent screen glitches occasionally cut and warp the video and it adds a lot to the experience. Makes it seem like the audience is seeing something they shouldn’t. In the meeting scenes, the corporation’s sinister plans and schemes are put on full display. That’s where the social commentary kicks in. Terravox’s blatant disregard for the public and even their own employees during a pandemic brings Amazon to mind. Similarly Amazon profited on the shutdown albeit not as heavily as Terravox in Network, however their already strong influence on the country grew significantly. While Amazon might not be an authoritarian entity like Terravox, the similarities between the growth of both companies during a pandemic is telling nonetheless. Corporations profit on suffering. And in Network, Terravox is looking to expand their profits by any means necessary.
    Emmanuel College’s Theatre Macabre: Network poses an excellent solution to the question of how does theatre survive the pandemic. By adapting to and fully embracing the virtual format, Emmanuel College fully spread their wings and let loose, pouring a lot of heart into Network. The interactive format of the show allows for viewers to be fully immersed into it and it rewards repeat viewings because of its well developed world-building. The many performances breathed further life into the narrative, making all of the moving pieces fit together in the end. Despite a few hiccups like audio being too low during some scenes, Network sticks its landing and serves as a cautionary tale against unchecked corporate growth.

  2. Radium Girls Review First Draft
    David Rivera

    “The girls that can’t produce, will be cut loose.”
    Western Connecticut State University’s production of Radium Girls tackles the dark history of the women who were exploited and abused by the Radium Dial Company and presents it as a virtual musical, and the result is truly remarkable. Radium Girls sets itself apart from other virtual musicals or plays with its snappy and comprehensive video editing that makes the format seem less of a compromise forced on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and more of an opportunity to persevere and show the extents of what is possible with going virtual. That same perseverance and energy is entirely reflected in the characters overcoming the horrors being inflicted upon them both by society and by the company literally working them to death. Radium Girls radiates heart and wholesomeness, spinning a lively twist on deeply distressing times for women in the twentieth century but never shies away from the truth of what it meant to be a woman then. Your future was not your own, and the Radium Dial Company ensured that their female workers’ time and even their lives, were not theirs.

    WCSU’s Radium Girls stamps its own brand on virtual musical theatre. It distinguishes itself with the finesse in which it is presented. Often plays and musicals in the format are clunky and stilted because of limited technology but Radium Girls raises the bar in what to expect from virtual musicals. With its clean editing many actors appear on screen all at the same time and sometimes side by side, almost mirroring live musicals; and does things that couldn’t be done otherwise. For instance, during the song “I’m Your Man” the radium girls orbit around their boss Raymond and this makes thematic sense because at the time, it was a man’s world (30:05). Occasionally there were times where the audio did not sync up perfectly with the performers, but those technical hiccups occurred few and far between and never became too much of a distraction. The sound editing allowed for many of the actors’ voices to be heard in song simultaneously. If the audience were to close their eyes, it would be almost difficult to separate it from the real thing.

    Radium Girls bulsters an ensemble cast of talented actors each bringing their souls into the musical. The three leads Olive (Alexis Reida), Frances (Michelle Shapiro), and Helen (Bella D’Ottavio) have an undeniable chemistry and play off each other well. They are convincing in their portrayal of three young women looking to make something of themselves completely ignorant of the evil that awaited them at the Radium Dial Company. They, and other workers were forced to work with highly toxic materials to paint onto watches and were directed to place the brushes into their mouths to keep the brushes straight. The hints of what is to come show when one of the workers Maxine (Kelsey Lepesko) begins to cough and displays visible symptoms of being sick. Maxine had been there the longest and it is through this character the tragedy of the radium girls is illustrated to the audience. Maxine is artsy, free spirited, and much like the protagonist Olive, desires to break away from the oppressive, patriarchal norms of the 1920s. Lepesko’s subdued, nearly esoteric performance captures the alienation that came with being different in a time that punished it.

    About midway through the play (44:47) Olive stays late to catch up on work and she is accosted by a drunken Raymond Kelly (Sam Rogers), the man at the head of the company. After respectfully declining his advances Raymond says “it’s not like any of you girls really come to paint, you come here to get one last run around before you get married off” what was only subtext before, became hard hitting objectification and sexism in that moment. Radium Girls delivers relevant social commentary about women and the society that works to confine them with men in marriage, an impenetrable glass ceiling, or in the case of the women that worked at Radium, a coffin. The Radium Girls are completely expendable to the company as workers and but moreso as people. Their human rights are violated because they are women. They are treated like objects because they are women. Their personhoods are violated because they are women. If they couldn’t “produce”, they were “cut loose” when they lost usefulness or their lives. Which adds understanding to the prominence and necessity of the social justice movements of the present; namely feminism.

    By the end of the virtual musical, The Radium Dial company’s crimes are exposed and through exposition during the epilogue it is revealed to the audience where the different characters end up. A lot of them got happy endings and there was an opportunity for the play itself to end happily, but there was a smart decision to cut to a sardonic vignette that conveyed that the fight for fair treatment in and out of the workplace is far from over. Both in the past and especially the present. Where some of the events that took place in Radium Girls are still commonplace. That cut pays respect to the Radium Girls that didn’t make it and to the many others that have suffered since. But as Olive said in one of the final songs (Through The Dark), “they will build walls and we will tear them down.” Yes. We. Will.

  3. Theatre Macabre: Network FINAL DRAFT
    A Review by David Rivera

    “With Terravox, you’re never alone…”

    There is an underlying sense of dread that permeates through Emmanuel College’s Theatre Macabre: Network. It is felt in how pleasant each of the many characters speak, in smiles, and the menacing subtext in their words. Network is an interactive virtual theatre experience taking the limitations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and turns them into strengths by crafting a narrative that fully capitalizes on the isolation felt by the characters, the actors, and especially by the audience.

    Emmanuel College’s production of Network from the onset is a theatrical experience like none other. The viewer is an active participant in the drama, with characters regularly speaking directly to the audience and requiring them to select responses and reactions to questions and/or screen prompts. This allows for greater immersion into a virtual play that is a dark reflection of the present times. Network presents a not too far off dystopian future amidst the COVID-32 pandemic a seemingly benevolent corporation called Terravox Industries takes control of the nation (and possibly the world) by offering a streaming service eponymously titled “Network” working hand in hand with a Soylent Green-esque drink called “Refresh.” With these tools, Network opens a window into a world where a singular entity pacifies the country while simultaneously delivering eerily relevant social commentary.

    Network opens with an Orwellian introduction from corporate mouthpiece Ashton Arcot (played by Domenic Annand) who lays the groundwork for what is to come. It is apparent through his overly boisterous demeanor that everything is not what it seems with Terravox. And this is due to Annand’s excellent work introducing the viewers to the world of Network. Through his glazed-over eyes and transatlantic accent he sets the tone. From there the viewer is free to choose one of six “experiences” in which they pick a fictional television program to watch. The programs end up serving as interludes to add well timed breaks to the overarching narrative. Of the six, “Comfort Foods” & “A Better You” were the strongest. “Comfort Foods” is hosted by Hilly (played by Julia Hazel) who executes a particularly unnerving performance as the ditsy suburban cook. “Comfort Foods” places the viewer in a mid twentieth century style cooking show with Hilly as the hostess. Through her wicked smiles and facial expressions, and through violence she inflicts on cookies, Hilly displays how unhinged she has become as a result of Terravox’s programming. In her opening scene she takes a chocolate cookie to a cheese grater and slowly scrapes it away, which wholly encapsulates her eroding sanity. The only thing that holds her performance back is that at times it is difficult to hear her lines. Her vocal audio was inconsistent and this could’ve been a technical error. Aside from that, her scenes serve their purpose. “A Better You” takes a more comical approach with its 1980s inspired at-home workout routines. “A Better You” is hosted by Danny Clarke (played by Nolan Dupont), the quintessential dude-bro. Dupont captures the feel of the era and plays the non-thinking airhead with finesse. The 80s synth music and video editing also add to the aesthetic. Danny’s self-help “tips” are a much needed comic relief to cut back to while the darker main story unfolds. Both Danny and Hilly recommend a drink called “Refresh” to the viewer, which may have dubious effects on its consumers. Because of the virtual theatre format, multiple viewings are necessary (and encouraged), and provide a different progression of events and help thoroughly build the world with hosts sometimes referencing one another.

    The real meat of Network is in the board meetings of the Terravox executives. They’re presented in Zoom-like video calls with sometimes three or more execs at a time. Despite the format, all of the characters play off each other well and organically. The actors are all convincing as the morally ambiguous corporate stooges. Frequent screen glitches occasionally cut and warp the video and add a lot to the experience, making it seem like the audience is seeing something it shouldn’t. In the meeting scenes, the corporation’s sinister plans and schemes are put on full display. That is where the social commentary kicks in. Terravox’s blatant disregard for the public and even for their own employees during a pandemic brings Amazon to mind. Similarly, Amazon profited on the shutdown albeit not as heavily as Terravox in Network, however their already strong influence on the country grew significantly. While Amazon might not be an authoritarian entity like Terravox, the similarities between the growth of both companies during a pandemic is telling nonetheless. Corporations profit on suffering. And in Network, Terravox is looking to expand their profits by any means necessary.

    Emmanuel College’s Theatre Macabre: Network poses an excellent solution to the question of how theatre can survive the pandemic by presenting a world that may never survive it. In displaying an alternative near future that has gone down a much darker trajectory, Network urges viewers to battle complacency in theatre and reality. To reject corporate pacification and to not allow the confines of the pandemic to cauterize individual expression. By fully embracing the virtual format, Emmanuel College pours a lot of heart into Network making all of the moving pieces fit together in the end. Network sticks its landing and serves as a cautionary tale against unchecked corporate growth and the dangers of losing art, and individuality.

  4. Radium Girls FINAL DRAFT
    A Review by David Rivera

    Western Connecticut State University’s production of Radium Girls tackles the dark history of the women who were exploited and abused by the U.S. Radium Corporation and presents it as a virtual musical, (and the result is remarkable). Radium Girls radiates heart and wholesomeness, spinning a lively twist on deeply distressing times for women in the twentieth century but never shies away from the truth of what it meant to be a woman then. Your future was not your own, and the U.S. Radium Dial Corporation ensured that their female workers’ time and even their lives, were not theirs.

    Radium Girls bolsters an ensemble cast of actors, each bringing their souls into the musical. The three leads Olive (Alexis Reida), Frances (Michelle Shapiro), and Helen (Bella D’Ottavio) share an undeniable chemistry and play off each other well. They are effective in their portrayal of three young women looking to make something of themselves. Olive anchors the trio with her worldliness, Helen provides a sassy whit, and Frances is hysterical as the comic relief. The hints of what is to come show when one of the workers, Maxine (Kelsey Lepesko), begins to cough and displays visible symptoms of sickness. Maxine has been there the longest and through this character the tragedy of the radium girls is illustrated to the audience. Maxine is artsy, free spirited, and much like the protagonist Olive, desires to break away from the oppressive, patriarchal norms of the 1920s. Lepesko’s subdued, nearly esoteric performance as Maxine accentuates one of the musical’s most prominent themes: oppression.

    WCSU’s Radium Girls stamps its own brand on virtual musical theatre. It distinguishes itself with the precision in how it is presented. Often plays and musicals in the format are clunky and stilted because of limited technology but Radium Girls raises the bar in what to expect from virtual musicals. With its clean editing many actors appear on screen all at the same time and sometimes side by side, mirroring live musicals. And does things that couldn’t be done otherwise. For instance, during the song “I’m Your Man” the radium girls orbit around their boss Raymond and this makes thematic sense because as their employer he has power over them and he isn’t afraid to use it (30:05). Occasionally there are times where the audio did not sync up perfectly with the performers, but those technical hiccups occurred few and far between and never became too much of a distraction. The sound editing allowed for many of the actors’ voices to be heard in song simultaneously. If the viewer closes their eyes, it would be almost difficult to separate it from a traditional live production.
    About midway through the play (47:40) Olive stays late to catch up on work and she is accosted by a drunken Raymond Kelly (Sam Rogers), the man at the head of the company. After respectfully declining his advances, Raymond says “it’s not like any of you girls really come to paint, you come here to get one last run around before you get married off.” Olive’s stifled indignation to Raymond’s blatant misogyny made for a great moment because of what it represents for Olive. Although she held her tongue, the righteous anger that Reida conveys as Olive in that brief moment is satisfying and highlights her connection to the character’s feelings. The timing of this minor rebellion seamlessly flows into a major turning point in the show as truths are revealed.

    Western Connecticut State University’s Radium Girls’ greatest strengths are the dialogue, music, and the interplay between all of the characters. Each of the characters are fully realized and never blend into each other. There is a uniformity that exists between them that shines in song, especially in the riveting number “Through The Dark.” A piece of that final song that is particularly powerful is “yes, they will build walls and we’ll tear them down…because we know that through the dark there is light”(1:51:56). That song reaches and grabs tightly at the heartstrings and does not let go until completion. It plays on how well the ensemble stands together both as performers and the characters they are playing. With this swan song Radium Girls hits its crescendo before coming down gently, allowing the viewer to think about what they’ve experienced as the musical draws to a close.

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