Sunday, February 25, 2018

Constance in the Darkness is a Source of Light

It's good to try new things. 

Photo by Evan Frost

For example: last Friday I went to the Open Eye Figure Theater for the first time. What a cozy place! The seats are extremely comfortable, the atmosphere congenial, and the staging innovative.

What I went to see was Constance in the Darkness, a new locally written-and-produced premiere musical from Michael Sommers and Josef Evans. A mix of fantasy lore and fairy tales, Constance in the Darkness tells the story of a girl named Constance as she searches for her mother through a whirlwind of imagination. Joined by her fairy godmother, beloved bear Bobo and the villains Lamby-Lamb and Queen Harmonica, Constance experiences the wild world of a story told through her toys' imagined interactions and grievances with her and each other. It's hard to define the story more than that; I found the plot a little loose and tough to follow. Overall, I think it's fair to call this a quest to find oneself and one's mother whilst eschewing the typical Disney princess trope and leave the rest as a flight of imagination, which was often very fun.

Although I had trouble following some of the overall story arch of Constance in the Darkness, I really enjoyed the general elements of the production. The actors are extremely invested and really work to sell their parts. Beginning with the Kate McKinnon-esque Maren Ward (who plays - count 'em - FIVE roles in this show), they all clearly love this work and have a lot of fun performing together. Ward hits every note imaginable in her various characters, from eclectic to funny to unhinged to kind. Emily Zimmer is steadfast as Constance, reminiscent of Kimmy Schmidt with a smile and a bravado to match any situation. Jay Owen Eisenberg was surprisingly delicious as the villain Lamby-Lamb, clearly relishing every quirky evil line. The rest of the ensemble enthusiastically fills in their parts, from fairies to minions to everything in between.

My favorite part of this show was actually the tech and production design. There are several vignettes in Constance that are veritably cinematic, gorgeously lit and immediately imprinted upon the imagination. The lighting, from Michael Murnane, was superb and made an enormous difference in setting the tone of the show. There were several creative sound design choices from Sean Healey that had a similar impact, and the set, designed by Michael Sommers, is replete with never-ending surprises that will delight the inner child in any viewer. The costumes by Marge Newman are quickly changed and certainly creative; combined with the charismatic performances they evoke the general sense of the characters. The music, composed by Victor Zupanc, provides a nice soundtrack to the fairy tale. It's not always sung with musicality but it is always sung with sound verve, providing the ultimate Disney princess spoof.

Constance in the Darkness was a fun journey to something new for me. I love to support locally written and produced work, and there is so much creativity on display here. I think a little more editing to the story would have helped me understand the goal a little better - what exactly is Constance seeking? - but the show as it is remains a fun foray into the joys of unfettered imagination. It's great to see a bunch of adults indulging their inner child, and the audience was clearly engaged from the moment they stepped on stage. If you've never been to the Open Eye Figure Theater, please consider stopping by to see Constance in the Darkness. There's so much potential in this show, and I have a feeling it might just ignite your own creative fire. For more information or to buy tickets before the show closes on March 11, click on this link.

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