Directed by John Flax
Written by John Flax and Elizabeth Wiseman
Choreographed by Elizabeth Wiseman***image1***
8 pm, Tuesday-Thursday
Through July 29
Healey Matthews Building
515 Cerrillos Road
Fortune cookies are strange desserts. The magic, mantic little word ribbons inside are more anticipated than the food that enfolds them. Rightly, throughout Theater Grottesco's miraculous Fortune: The Rise and Fall of a Small Fortune Cookie Factory, the cookies themselves are crushed, crumbled and left for crumbs, despite tireless labors over the dough.
"Sometimes it is good to eat." Such are the lame one-liners that plague the otherwise well-intentioned Vincent Family Fortune Cookie Company. All the can-do optimism in the world can't offset dull fortunes.
An impecunious and suitably mysterious writer named Merik (Todd Anderson) wanders into the factory and supplies just what the company has needed: bon mots more delectable, profound and transformative than bon bons. He's the intersection of commerce and art, exactly the living spirit of creativity the otherwise bland cookies needed. His aphorisms rocket the Vincent Family company to international fame, but success brings a change in fortunes not entirely for the better.
On this simple premise, Theater Grottesco builds a performance of delightful humor, emotional range and endless surprise. From the opening sequence, when the ensemble evokes the repetitive clankings of the factory through carefully choreographed and percussive movement, to the balletic ending, the cast captures sheer theatricality, milking the potentials of live performance. The story is served by every tricky scene, no matter how abstract or gestural. Exposition occurs in symbols, suggestions, dream-like shifts and wonderfully energetic and funny ensemble pieces as finely honed as a needle-sharp pencil.
Fortune's co-writer and director, John Flax-who also plays fortune cookie company owner Mr. Vincent-and co-writer and choreographer, Elizabeth Wizeman, have brought considerable skill, experience and focus to the proceedings. The physicality of the performance is a delight, both in broad strokes and in the more subtle shades of character captured with great intensity by the cast. The consistency of presence of each individual cast member, none of whom have the luxury of any idling moments, is a joy to experience. Each performance is unique and extraordinary in its own way and this carefully crafted dedication is further heightened by the remarkable cohesion of the ensemble. The entire play is more danced, orchestrated and sculpted than acted, and even the tableaux are shot through with fierce energies.
For example, a scene indicating the public reception of Merik's thunderous little fortunes, played as a surreal masked sequence in a restaurant, manages to be broadly comic, quizzical and deeply creepy, all at the same time. Another example: The ensemble conjures a hospital without a set change. Yet another: A 1940s-style alcohol-soaked night on the town involves swing-era flying tables and chairs, as if envisioned by Frank Capra on acid.
The technical direction by Karyna Cragin, lighting design by Ian Rosenkranz and the sound design by JA Deane lend additional if subtle magic. In keeping with Theater Grottesco's approach, the entire piece is coherent, with all of the elements tied together in satisfying and surprising fashion. Costumes, props, strange contraptions and even the last details of furniture all have integral function and seamlessly enhance the experience. Even the transformed warehouse space, while somewhat hot and stuffy, perfectly complements the setting for the performance.
The real kudos go to Flax, Wiseman and cast members Rod Harrison, Todd Anderson, Eric Kaiser, Kate Kita, Vanessa Rios y Valles and Aimee Lasseigne. As a well-rehearsed unit, the cast captures the essential magic of live theater, a reminder to the Santa Fe community of Theater Grottesco's crucial role in the fortunes of local performing arts.