Critic: Joey Taylor

4 Comments on “Critic: Joey Taylor

  1. What is the nature of freedom? What really is freewill? These are some of the larger questions posed by Emmanuel College’s THEATRE MACABRE: NETWORK, an immersive, dystopian, horror/sci-fi, choose-your-own-adventure theatrical experience. Whose scope is matched by the epic philosophical challenges it tackles.

    Immediately upon visiting the shows domain you are met with your first array of choices. The first decision is to whether to act in accordance with the traditional theatre-going experience by perusing the sleek virtual program (and doing so will already start to provide clues to NETWORKS larger story) or to dive straight into the piece. Whenever you do decide to enter the main event you are met with the charismatic CEO of Terravox, Ashton Arlot (played by veteran Theatre Macabre actor Domenic Annand) who lays out the deal. Six programs, six different ways in which to experience NETWORK: a cooking show, an art show, an exercise program, a children’s program and two day-time soaps. These programs act as the vehicles through NETWORK’s story is delivered.

    On my initial viewing I chose to start with the cooking program, Comfort Foods, hosted by the cheerful, self-described “50s housewife” Hillary “Hilly” March (portrayed by actress Julia Hazel). Hilly prepares to demonstrate her recipe for chocolate chip cookies while lamenting on her Grandmother. Although throughout her demonstration she is occasionally overpowered by the music in the background. This is forgiven, however, by the actresses consistent and strong performance, as well as the excellent choice of a realistic looking backdrop. Hints that all is not as it seems appear briefly in the form of static disruptions and odd behavior from Hilly. Upon finishing the first batch Hilly takes a break from cooking to offer a taste of Refresh, a complimentary new energy drink from Terravox. You are then presented with the choice to either accept or decline. Unfortunately for Hilly, I am on the Keto diet, so I chose to decline. Instantly it cuts to footage from a newscast of with Terravox employees, promoting the consumption of Refresh, one of which appears to be a bit…off. Not long after returning to the program you are offered Refresh once again, this time around I was rather thirsty, so I chose to accept. We are then interrupted yet again this time by a singular person, alone in the dark who prepares us for compromising footage of the inner workings of Terravox. From there the facade begins to fade away to reveal a sinister truth.
    The Network takes place in the not-too-distant future, a stark but all too close United States that has been ravaged by a powerful new strain of the Covid virus. A disease so potent that families cannot live in the same space and must keep themselves separated by rooms. How did we get there? A widespread disregard for health and safety regulations such as the use of masks and social distancing. As a result, Americans have been forced to take severe measures to keep themselves safe. How do they do so? By never leaving their homes and having their every need provided by the mega corporation, Terravox.

    The 5 other programs all follow this formula (and suffer from similar sound mixing issues but similar acting/editing triumphs); Select your program, meet your saccharine host, choose to accept, or decline Refresh, interruption from rebels, and watch it all fall apart. As you work your way through each of the programs, Network rewards you with evidence and clues to the larger story surrounding the seemingly innocent programs. At first this appears to be tedious work, manually select and reselecting, only to occasionally be faced with a scene you may have already experienced (the lack of a fast forward/rewind option amplifies this). Luckily the subject matter is alluring and only after I found myself deep within NETWORK did I start to see the genius behind this mechanic. Not only does it solve the issue of keeping a virtual audience engaged and beyond the novelty of a choose-your-own-adventure style play, by having you choose NETWORK forces you to engage with its central theme. Each time you decide you are shown corresponding set of scenes to fit that choice. Therefore, you cannot see the entire story by exclusively complying or dissenting. So, no matter how many interruptions I received from the rebel network or how often the Terravox workers showed their true intentions, I was forced to continually consume their product to proceed. And in an era in which we are constantly inundated with information this concept feels terrifyingly familiar. The shows non-linear structure promotes watching and re-watching, subsequently watching and re-watching Terravox propaganda. We are shown infighting and doubt among all levels of both the resistance and Terravox itself, so who can you trust?

    Ultimately, NETWORK succeeds in not only holding a mirror up to the present but amplifying the issues it addresses, whilst simultaneously offering an engaging, unique and, fun virtual theatre going experience that keeps you asking question and revisiting the material.

  2. “My day was really hard today.” This simple and straightforward line resonates from within Suffolk University’s devised, meta-theatrical production TO GATHER APART which explores the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on young and emerging theatre artists.
    Upon beginning the show, you are met with a familiar, and comforting soundscape: that of a bustling pre-show theatre. Paired with imagery of a beautiful grand drape allows for a wonderful moment of sweet reminiscing. Although, just as in reality, this feeling can begin to turn stale when one has settled in to watch a show and the curtain has not yet raised by the fifteen-minute mark. However, when the curtain does actually raise on screen, the excitement makes its return.
    The piece is presented through a weekly virtual performer support group organized by Alex, through whose screen we witness relatable pandemic-based computer activity such as 10-hour meme videos and default solitaire apps. As she starts-up the first zoom call a small number of participants begin to trickle in as she is momentarily taken away from her screen. This moment consisting of a group attempting to begin adjusting to a new normal is nicely juxtaposed against Alex’s off camera singing of “It’s not unusual”
    One by one we are introduced to the group members, and with each passing week the group continues to grow as we meet new members each with a distinct personality. But even though their personalities are unique, even as the group reaches higher number, each character expresses similar anxieties over their present situations, over which they bond.
    In between each week we are shown snippets of people performing in various ways (singing, dancing, etc.) and while these bits are entertaining in their own right, they tend to feel as a deviation from the narrative and it is not often clear what purpose they serve.
    However, we are also occasionally treated to more intimate moments between characters outside of the larger group. During which we have the pleasure of watching true human relationships develop over a platform that often seems to do the opposite. These endearing moments of hope serve as some of the show’s greatest triumphs. Not only can the characters bridge our ever-increasing digital gap, but the actors themselves also succeed in portraying these sentiments through their screens.
    At one point the group is seemingly visited by a distressed time traveler named Rudy, who claims to be searching for their husband. The group is confused, and the brevity with which this moment is dealt with, coupled with the fact that it is largely ignored moving forward ended up being more jarring than intriguing.
    We are faced with another abnormal occurrence after the group implodes and Alex logs on to find a new group of strangers (all of whom appear to already know her) that she does not recognize. This moment is handled in a similar was as Rudy and leads to a similar amount of confusion.

    When TO GATHER APART does get to the heart of the matter, it does not pull any punches. The shows central conflict revolves around the differing approach to how we all deal with the tremendous amounts of loss dealt to us all by the pandemic. Moments in which characters reminisce on things that were considered givens not too long ago (Like hugs) are genuinely effective. And it does not shy away from depicting the harsh realities of our present day-to-day existence, it similarly forces its audience to address questions they may have been avoiding such as to the true levels of devastation brought on by the pandemic and how/if they are truly dealing with loss. These topics are handled with great care and used to great effect at a time in which we desperately need it the most.

  3. TO GATHER APART Review (Revised- Final Draft)

    “My day was really hard today.” This simple and straightforward line resonates from within Suffolk University’s devised, meta-theatrical production TO GATHER APART. As we all maneuver the volatility brought on by Covid-19 this sentiment becomes increasingly relatable and viewers of TO GATHER APART will likely find themselves sympathizing throughout the show.

    Upon beginning the show, you are met with a familiar and comforting soundscape that of a bustling pre-show theatre. Paired with imagery of a beautiful grand drape the soundscape allows for a wonderful moment of sweet reminiscing. However, just as in reality, this feeling can begin to turn stale when one has settled in to watch a show and the curtain has not yet been raised by the fifteen-minute mark. When the curtain does raise on screen, the excitement makes its return.

    The piece presents a weekly virtual performer support group organized in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic by Alex (played by Madlynn Bard). Through her screen, we witness relatable pandemic-based computer activity including ten-hour meme videos and default solitaire apps. As Alex starts up the first zoom call, a small number of participants begin to trickle in while she is momentarily taken away from her screen. Her off-camera singing of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” is cleverly juxtaposed against a group attempting to adjust to a new normal.

    One by one we are introduced to the group members, and with each passing week, the group continues to grow as we meet new members, each with a distinct personality. Regardless of how large the group becomes each new personality brings with them similar anxieties, through which they bond.

    In between each week, we are shown snippets of people performing in various ways (singing, dancing, etc.) and while these bits are entertaining in their own right, they tend to feel like a deviation from the narrative and it is not often clear what purpose they serve.

    However, we are also occasionally treated to more intimate moments between characters outside of the larger group, during which we have the pleasure of watching true human relationships develop over a platform that often seems inconducive to authentic connection. These endearing moments of hope serve as some of the show’s greatest triumphs. The private calls between Zachary and Sasha (respectively played by Vincent Douglass and Andrea Sofia Rodríguez Josoy) are particularly wholesome. As the pair play “what-if” scenarios and share cherished memories not only do their characters bridge an ever-increasing digital gap, but the actors themselves also succeed in portraying these sentiments through their screens.

    At one point a distressed time traveler named Rudy seems to visit the group claiming to be searching for his husband. The group is confused, and the brevity with which this moment is dealt with, coupled with the fact that it is largely ignored moving forward ends up being more jarring than intriguing.

    We are faced with another abnormal occurrence after the group implodes and Alex logs on to find a new group of strangers (all of whom appear to know her already) that she does not recognize. The play handles this moment in a similar way as Rudy and leads to a similar amount of confusion.

    When TO GATHER APART does get to the heart of the matter, it does not pull any punches. The varying approaches to grief brought on by the pandemic bring about the show’s central conflict. It is genuinely effective when the characters reminisce about things that were considered givens not long ago (like hugs). And the play does not shy away from depicting the harsh realities of our present day-to-day existence. It similarly forces its audience to address issues they may have been avoiding such as questions concerning the true levels of devastation brought on by the pandemic and how/if one is truly dealing with loss. The play handles these topics with great care and uses them to great effect at a time in which we desperately need to face them the most.

  4. THEATRE MACABRE: NETWORK Review (Revised-Final Draft)

    When developing a piece of theatre, it is integral that each artist involved (actors, designers, director, etc.) make creative choices that steer the direction of the show. But it is not often that the audience is involved in that decision making…until now! Emmanuel College’s immersive, dystopian, horror/sci-fi, choose-your-own-adventure theatrical experience THEATRE MACABRE: NETWORK centers around its audience’s choices. While audience participation may not be a new concept, NETWORK deploys it with a unique and contemporary twist.
    Immediately upon visiting the show’s domain you are met with your first array of choices. The first decision is whether to act in accordance with the traditional theatre-going experience by perusing the sleek virtual program (and doing so will already start to provide clues to NETWORK’s larger story) or to dive straight into the piece. Whenever you do decide to enter the main event you are met with the charismatic CEO of Terravox, Ashton Arlot (played by Domenic Annand) who lays out the deal. Six programs, six different ways in which to experience NETWORK: a cooking show, an art show, an exercise program, a children’s program and two day-time soaps. These programs act as the vehicles through NETWORK’s story is delivered.
    On my initial viewing I chose to start with the cooking program, Comfort Foods, hosted by the cheerful, self-described “50s housewife” Hillary “Hilly” March (portrayed by Julia Hazel). Hilly prepares to demonstrate her recipe for chocolate chip cookies while lamenting her Grandmother. Throughout her demonstration, she is occasionally overpowered by the music in the background. The actor’s consistent and strong performance, as well as the excellent choice of a realistic-looking backdrop, makes this audio trouble forgivable. Hints that all is not as it seems appear briefly in the form of static disruptions and odd behavior from Hilly. Upon finishing the first batch Hilly takes a break from cooking to offer a taste of Refresh, a complimentary new energy drink from Terravox. You are then presented with the choice of either to accept or decline. Unfortunately for Hilly, I am on the Keto diet, so I chose to decline. Instantly the video cuts to footage from a newscast with Terravox employees promoting the consumption of Refresh, one of which appears to be a bit…off. Not long after returning to the program you are offered Refresh once again, this time around I was rather thirsty, so I chose to accept. We are then interrupted yet again this time by a singular person, alone in the dark, who prepares us to see compromising footage of the inner workings of Terravox. From there the facade begins to fade away to reveal a sinister truth.
    NETWORK takes place in the not-too-distant future, a stark but all too close United States that has been ravaged by a powerful new strain of the Covid virus, a disease so potent that families cannot live in the same space and must keep themselves separated in different rooms. How did we get there? We engaged in widespread disregard for health and safety regulations such as the use of masks and social distancing. As a result, Americans have been forced to take severe measures to keep themselves safe. How do they do so? They never leave their homes, and they have their every need provided by the mega-corporation, Terravox.
    The five other programs all follow this formula (and suffer from similar sound mixing issues but benefit from similar acting/editing triumphs); Select your program, meet your saccharine host, choose to accept, or decline Refresh, witness interruption from rebels, and watch it all fall apart. As you work your way through each of the programs, Network rewards you with evidence and clues to the larger story surrounding the seemingly innocent programs. At first, this appears to be tedious work, as you must manually select and reselect, only to be faced occasionally with a scene you may have already experienced (the lack of a fast forward/rewind option amplifies this problem). Luckily the subject matter is alluring and only after I found myself deep within NETWORK did I start to see the genius behind this mechanic. Not only does it solve the issue of keeping a virtual audience engaged beyond the novelty of a choose-your-own-adventure style play, but by the end having you make choices NETWORK forces you to engage with its central theme. Each time you make a choice you are shown a corresponding set of scenes to fit that choice. Therefore, you cannot see the entire story by exclusively complying or dissenting. So, no matter how many interruptions I received from the rebel P.O.V. Network or how often the Terravox workers showed their true intentions, I was forced continually to consume their product in order to proceed. And in an era in which we are constantly inundated with information this concept feels terrifyingly familiar. The show’s non-linear structure promotes watching and re-watching, subsequently watching and re-watching Terravox propaganda. We are shown infighting and doubt among all levels of both the resistance and Terravox itself, so who can you trust?
    Ultimately, NETWORK not only succeeds in amplifying the urgent matters of the present by displaying them as the near future but simultaneously offers an engaging, thought-provoking, fun, and Refreshing virtual theatergoing experience.

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