‘You don’t have to think big to think big’: I Am Sending You The Sacred Face / Blood Meal – Theater In Quarantine (Online review)

In Online shows, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

Back in January I came across a rather unique theatrical project from the States which involved using an extremely limited performance space (a 4’ x 8’ x 2’ closet) to quite spectacular effect in the two shows I watched. I thought it was about time to catch up with more of their latest pieces which pushed not only the technological frontiers but also (in one case at least) artistic boundaries. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with a simple white space and the fact that these plays start out as live streams can only increase one’s sense of wonder.

First up was the slightly oddly titled I Am Sending You The Sacred Face. Mind you this has nothing on the subsequent subtitle and descriptor which runs One Brief Musical Act with Mother Teresa – An Expressionist Drag Performance in Triptych; however, that is exactly what it is.

Written, composed and recorded by self styled “chamber punk songstresss” Heather Christian it is a meditation on the life, works and philosophy of the world famous nun from Albania who worked in the Indian slums and became a celebrity seemingly against all the precepts of her calling, was regarded by many as a saint on earth and then fell from grace following some unfortunate remarks on abortion.

Christian has an engrossing way with a melody using her voice to hypnotic effect. Visually Joshua William Gelb lipsyncs his way through dialogue and song in a drag performance which some might find distasteful and even shocking. This is certainly no hagiography and at a distance you might be watching a performance by Madonna/Lady Gaga – some sudden close ups reveal otherwise. I really wasn’t sure what it was all supposed to mean and it is probably best to treat it as the sort of performance art that might be found in Tate Modern. As a piece of theatre it may well win the accolade for the weirdest thing I’ve seen all year but its somehow compelling.

Gelb also appears in the company’s latest work, Blood Meal written by Scott R. Sheppard which is rather more accessible though it still has its own distinct sense of craziness. Expanding horizons, Gelb in his closet is joined by Lee Minora in a second at another location. Technology is then employed to make them seem like they are actually sharing the same space in a dolls’ house design from David Gould.

Gelb and Minora play Sam and Lindsay who are having another (unseen) couple over for drinks which has to take place outside as they are “having renovations” done. It transpires that this is code for having a bug infestation but that being firmly in the metaphorical closet (as well as the literal one) about this they are trying to keep it a secret. They differ about their approach to dealing with the problem and find themselves in a lockdown situation getting on each others’ nerves and taking potshots at their partner. The performers come across as a couple of deranged mimes and despite the scenes being performed at a distance from each other they have a real energy which drives the narrative forward; particularly enjoyable was the part where they (apparently) shared a bath.

The one thing they do know for certain is that they mustn’t leave the house in case they start spreading the problem to others. Of course it turns out that one of them is making a regular bid for life outside their four walls so the whole debate about their own freedom versus the saftey of others gets an airing. Sound familiar? You betcha. The fact that this piece has something to say about the choices we are all having to make in the face of an invasive organism gives it a topicality and resonances that makes the timing of its release absolutely of the moment. It is mordantly funny both in terms of Sheppard’s script and the visuals designed by Gelb and Stivo Arnoczy and references both Lewis Carroll’s and Franz Kafka’s most famous literary outputs.

Theater In Quarantine has now established itself at the forefront of innovative technique and have found some surprising ways to utilise the limited performance space at their disposal. Next time round (whatever it may be) I shall try and catch one of their livestreamed performances in order to truly appreciate the intelligence and cleverness of their craft. In the meantime it is evident that you don’t have to think big to think big.

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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