Gloria’s Cause: Critical Response

Gloria’s Cause is a new dance based, rock musical performance created by Dave Prosica and Peggy Piacenza and choreographed by Dayna Hanson. Hanson was a founding member of the acclaimed Seattle based dance theatre group 33 Fainting Spells. This production was developed in residence at On The Boards and originally performed in Portland as a work-in-progress and then at the PuSH Festival in Vancouver in January 2011.

The show combines live music, song, modern dance, and projection art to tell some of the less well known moments of the Revolutionary War. The cast is made up of very talented actors, singers and dancers. The company includes Jim Kent, Jessie Smith, Wade Madsen, Paul Matthew Moore, Maggie Brown, Pol Rosenthal.

I watched the production that is available on OnTheBoards.TV. It is definitely one of the most unique performances I have seen in the last few years. The production made some poignant points about our country, including the control the media has on America today; the ever present issues of treatment of minorities in the country; poverty in America; and the general corruption found in every level of our government. 

There were a number of eccentric and outspokenly odd moments. The opening scene of the play includes two women performing an extensive modern dance routine around the purple carpeted stage. While they danced a black actor sat at a microphone telling the audience about his life as a black man in America. In the middle of the stage an older white actor turned in place eating a piece of pie. This was probably one of the more tame moments in the performance.

Throughout the course of  the play a woman (Peggy Piacenza) dances on stage in a full bald eagle costume and high heels to unusual hip-hop music.

The most exciting scenes in the production were the group numbers. There were a number of  moments when the entire company was on stage dancing to the music produced by the live band. Even if I did not understand what the scene was about, I was fully engaged and entertained with the ability of the dancers. 

Hanson made a great use of the space throughout the entire show. The stage was very deep and the performers filled all of it through their dancing and blocking. One of the more interesting aspects of the set were a few small round platforms. The small platforms were covered in the same carpet as the rest of the stage, and could be pushed around by the actors. At one point one actor was performing a monologue while her fellow actor pushed her across the stage on one of the platforms. As he pushed her across the stage through a narrow beam of light, the light would disappear as they passed it, leaving her under one circular beam of light in the final moments of her monologue. Other than that particular moment I found the lights to be unimpressive and unflattering for the performers. I understand conceptually why they kept the lights so sparse, but I found the it hard to watch in some moments. It left the stage and the actors looking bare and sometime very boring. 

The most impressive presence onstage was the dancer/actor/musician, Jessie Smith. Smith was onstage often and alternated between dancing and playing the guitar. She was mesmerizing to watch. A large portion of her body is covered in tattoos. Often in this business, noticeable tattoos like that will make you less desirable as a performer. Somehow Smith’s tattoos made her more entrancing. She never spoke, but in many ways she was the loudest presence onstage. She has meticulous control over her body, and is clearly a talented musician as well. Watching talent like that perform is invigorating, and made the rest of the performance worth watching.

I’m not sure it can be called a play because the elements of music and dance were so strong, but it certainly was theatrical. There were elements of a linear story, but most of the scenes were very obtuse, and I got the feeling the audience was not supposed to fully understand what was going on. I respect that some moments perhaps take more inquiry and personal research to understand, but I felt like there were enough of those moments that it made the entire piece rather hard to connect with. Thankfully, OnTheBoards.TV provides some helpful dramaturgical information about the piece that can be found on the page with the video. Without this information I am not sure I would have been able to understand ninety percent of what I was watching.

I fully believe in taking old stories and finding a new way to tell them, or a new way to teach a message. But, I don’t believe this production was successful in many ways. There were certainly honest moments when the truths of the production were revealed briefly, and the company was made up of incredibly talented artists, but I am not sure that is enough.

However, I think the value of this production lies in its faults. American theatre needs people who push the boundaries, make weird work, and are willing to fail. We need talented artists who are willing to push themselves and make incredibly “out there” work so that our art form will stay alive, organic, and relevant.

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