THEATRE REVIEW Anything But Imperceptible
Despite Abstract Metaphors, Dramashop Clearly Portrays Racial Concepts
Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom
Directed by Thomas F. DeFrantz
Kresge Little Theater
Thursday - Saturday, Feb. 8-10, 15-17
With a nonlinear, unconventional attitude towards storytelling that approaches genius, Suzan Lori-Parks is becoming one of America's foremost contemporary playwrights. After the recent successful premiere of her "365 Plays/365 Days" project in over 600 theatres across the country, Parks now begins her spring 2007 appointment as MIT's artist-in-residence. It is therefore fitting that MIT Dramashop has selected one of Park's earliest plays, Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom, as the first production of 2007.
Imperceptible Mutabilities is divided into five sections, each showcasing very different worlds, although the set remains constant throughout the production. Designer William A. Fregosi cites late American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat as a great contributor and influence on the Imperceptible Mutabilities set at MIT. Basquiat's work is displayed prominently all over the set. The stage, painted with expressions and images relevant to the characters, is dotted with seemingly unrelated props, including at least half a dozen television screens, a large roped net, metallic curtains, and a meticulously clean desk. Imperceptible Mutabilities also uses contemporary and unpredictable music as a way to set the scene. Throughout the show, I heard clips from Beyonce Knowles, Coldplay, and countless others. Pre-show, as the audience was still filing in, the actors themselves acted as props. Draping themselves over various parts of the stage, the actors would come together, repeating a specific word and action, striking some pose and then holding until one of the actors called "break," at which point they'd return to their original positions until the process started again. They looked like living statues or breathing machines, whichever you prefer.
The opening scene, "Snails," opens with Mona (played by the astoundingly convincing newcomer, Kristin M. Rose '10) contemplating suicide after a forced departure from college and an inability to find work. Two other modern black women join her in the apartment, Chona (Jamira V. Cotton '08) and Verona (Asha D. Martin '10). The three are spied upon by the caricature-like Dr. Lutzky (Mark J. Avara '07), who describes the women as bugs he hopes to research. Via a camera installed in a robotic cockroach, Lutzky films the women until, complaining of bugbites and infestation, they invite him into their home, believing he is an exterminator. Eventually, the cockroach is stolen by the Robber (Clinton L. Scroggins '10), who Chona continually invites into her home and allows to steal whatever he likes. Pairing slapstick comedy with heavy-hitting metaphor, the actors delivered intense emotion that hit long after the scene had ended.
"Third Kingdom," which is the second scene and then reprised as the fourth, takes the audience straight on to a slave ship. This high-intensity scene, which saw the three women and robber of "Snails" as slaves commanded by the intimidating Overseer (Ari Schapiro G), used emotionally forceful yells that left Parks' tense concepts resonating in my mind. "But we are not in a boat!" shouted one of the actors repeatedly during the scene, her shouts always met with a resounding "but we is!"
The third scene, "Open House," features former slave Aretha (the powerful Jovonne J Bickerstaff '02) recalling events throughout her life, including raising her master's two children, Blanca and Anglor Saxon, hysterically played by Erika Bakse '08 and Schapiro. The two comedically reprise their roles as simultaneous siblings and incestuous spousal partners later in the scene, presenting a nice juxtaposition to the gut-wrenching emotion present throughout the rest of the scene. As Aretha draws near the end of her life, her teeth are ripped out by the sadistically perky Ms. Faith (Gireeja Ranade '07). Her foil, Charles, dressed all in white, acts ambiguously as either a God figure, slave master, or husband. He is played by Jovonne's equally talented real life brother, Daniel E Bickerstaff '10.
"Greeks," the climactic ultimate scene, shows the family of a black sergeant, Mr. Smith (played by Scroggins) who is more preoccupied with the order of his desk than the true nobility of his work. Assigned to clean rocks endlessly in the hopes of attaining distinction, the sergeant works on the island his platoon occupies while his family maintains outwardly perfect order despite his absence. Mrs. Smith (Cotton) goes blind waiting for his return, and of the couple's three children, Buffy, Muffy and Duffy (Martin, Rose and Avara, respectively), Smith has only seen the former. The inability of the family to feign normalcy following Smith's return evokes a great sadness and closes the play wonderfully.
The show runs approximately 100 minutes and there is no intermission, which at such a length it could use. Tickets cost $6 for students and $8 general admission. Director Thomas F. DeFrantz has assembled a capable team of actors and production staff, creating a thought-provoking interpretation of Parks' work. Theatergoers will be impressed by the show's ability to generate emotion and by the expert skill present in the largely freshman cast. Imperceptible Mutabilities is a potent must-see this February.