7 Stages with Mondo Bizarro: The Way at Midnight

I got my ticket to Mondo Bizarro’s The Way at Midnight on a whim while getting a ticket to something else at 7 Stages. Honestly, I thought that it looked a little gimmicky and scattered from the descriptions, so I wasn’t terribly excited about it. And I guess you could say that it was kind of gimmicky and scattered, but they made that work really well and it turned out to be a very good play.

The play was directed by Joanna Russo, who also wrote the script along with Hannah Pepper-Cunningham and Nick Sile. It was a two-person show performed by Pepper-Cunningham and Sile, with each actor portraying three or four characters. There was a Spanish conquistador leading an expedition for gold, urged on by a silhouette that served as a sort of the embodiment of the Castillian imperial culture of conquest. There were two bickering but warm old men, veterans of the Korean and Vietnamese wars, and the ghost of one of their lovers. And there were a couple of punk-rockers, one of whom used to work with GRASS and has developed a strong disdain for GIS, maps, and GPS. The actors would quickly switch between the characters, revealing more and more about them and the relationships between them as the stories progressed, kind of like in Jane Wagner’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. There were minor costume changes accompanying each change, but it was mostly along the lines of adding and removing hats and coats and they didn’t always do a full change with each character switch.

This was all presented on a fairly complicated minimalist set. There was a stage with a drum kit and a bunch of CRT televisions for the punk rockers. A long box that served as a casket, bench, and just a general box. A few accents, such as a wire-frame tree. And, most prominently, a set of three (later four at the end) white sheets strung up around the performance area on which animations by Miwa Matrayek were projected from the rear at various points in the show. The animations were simple and tended to do a good job of complimenting the performance without drawing attention away from the actors.

The crux of the play was an examination of how cultural forces push people away from their true selves, often without them even realizing it is happening. The spirit of Castile pushes the conquistador on even though he has become horrified by the bloodshed of his conquest. The Korean vet was closeted except for a brief moment where he felt free with his lover during the war. The ghost of his lover explains how his was being characterized as suicide because people who can’t come to terms with homosexuality can’t imagine how someone can live as a gay man. The Vietnam vet is haunted by having dropped napalm on civilians. The former GIS jockey regrets how her work was used by the government to destroy lives. The two rockers seek to destroy all maps and mapping software in an effort to free everyone from the tyranny of societal guidance obscuring the true history of the land and its people (more or less).

I think that it was the energy that Pepper-Cunningham and Sile put into their performances that really pulled me into the show. It was as wild and vital as a good punk-rock concert. I came out feeling as rocked as if I’d been to a Crass show.

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