By Crystal Skillman
Directed by Michael J. Drury
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
We want theatre to take us someplace apart from our own world, or else deliver some insight into our own lives. That balance between escapism and harsh reality lies at the crux of Open.
Kristen (Jacqui Blue) introduces themselves as “The Magician”, stepping into the spotlight in a top hat, tails, and crimson cumberbund, talking about magic and pantomiming sleight of hand (coached by magician Cody Clark). At first, their patter is oblique, bordering on the abstract, but eventually, it develops into a very personal yet tragic narrative about their beloved Jenny.
The magical motifs give way to the circus as Kristen likens navigating her closeted relationship to walking a tightrope or juggling so many balls in the air. At times I felt the reliance on such metaphors trite and distracting from the pain that grounds the character’s story. The text transitions from lyrical expressionism to gritty reality frequently enough to register emotionally with the audience, but the fanciful allusions keep pulling our ability to identify with Kristen out of reach.
This choice of material is thematically on target for Pandora and reflects the necessary caution of pivoting from in-person performance to video streaming. As a one-act with no sets or props and a single performer, it’s a smart first dip into the virtual waters for director Michael J. Drury and company; live theatre practitioners discovering alternate forms with which to deliver their message.
Jacqui Blue is very charismatic and works hard here to carry the weight of an hour-long one character show. She is quick and fluid in handling the tonal transitions, even if one cannot help but wish we were witnessing the performance without the distance of the video production, however carefully lit and edited. Perhaps it is sorrow over the six-months and counting shutdown of live theatre, but this Open cannot help but feel like a record of something that would have had more impact if we had been in the room. What is missing may be precisely the warmth and immediacy of the audience interaction and Blue’s opportunity to realize the final modifications of her performance based on that interaction. It remains the essential difference between live theatre and anything else.
All the magic props (cards, flowers, birds) are imaginary except for the inclusion of judicious yet vividly realized sound design from Laura Ellis that includes some beautifully judged musical score, and the production owes a lot to Jesse Alford’s dramatic lighting design.
The play’s examination of the physical and emotional risks of being openly gay is entirely relevant and sadly still meaningful in this moment, especially if one extends that concern to Trans men and women who are lost each and every day. The heart of Skillman’s script serves as a requiem for the countless souls whose struggle for identity and acceptance ends before they find peace.
As for this production, whatever it misses has to be balanced against the fervent desire Pandora feels to maintain a carefully developed and highly meaningful connection with Louisville audiences. It’s a question faced by arts groups in not only Louisville but all across the United States and it is being answered in various ways that express the missions and sensibility of each group. However brave and creative the answers, we must be grateful, even while we grieve not being together as an audience.
Available On Demand September 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, & 20
P O Box 4185
Louisville, Kentucky 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.