Review: The Terminator, Uncle Vanya and more at Faux/Real

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Sean Richmond is the Terminator in Terminator: The Musical. - BRIAN JARREAU
  • BRIAN JARREAU
  • Sean Richmond is the Terminator in Terminator: The Musical.

The Faux/Real Festival of Arts kicked off its slate of shows Nov. 5 and continues through Nov. 22. There are new shows opening each week, and some run for the duration of the festival and some for one night only. Opening weekend highlights included Terminator: The Musical, Uncle Vanya: Quarter Life Crisis and Looking at a Broad. Those shows are reviewed below. Here are some of the shows opening this week.

Terminator: The Musical
A Terminator “can’t be reasoned with,” Kyle Reese yells at police in the franchise’s first film. But in Terminator: The Musical, the time-traveling cyborg assassin can sing and dance. The musical retells the plots of the first two Terminator films, and with offbeat and melodramatic songs and dance numbers, it’s a fast-paced, hilarious show from local writer Breanna Bietz and directors Cammie West and Christopher Bentivegna of See ’Em On Stage.

James Cameron’s films’ have a great sci-fi story at the core, but the action films rely heavily on gratuitous explosions, shootouts, chase scenes and Terminator-on-Terminator violence. The musical very successfully creates its own mix of mayhem, including some stage fighting and gun play, but also exuberant choreography for such songs as “Chase Scenes” and a chorus number for a trio of dead mistaken-identity Sarah Conners, and other numbers. Not every bit is a great substitute for the films’ action, but the show never lulls.

The musical embellishes some film aspects and adds new ones. Sarah Conner (Ashley Rose Bailey) is looking for a good man when the Terminator arrives to kill her, which would prevent the birth of her son, a future leader of a rebellion against the sophisticated robots of Skynet. Kyle Reese (Jake Wynne-Wilson), who is sent to save Sarah, deadpans that the post-apocalyptic Los Angeles he’s come from isn’t much worse than the L.A. he’s visiting, and Sarah finds him charming.

Sean Richmond is buff enough to play Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career-defining Terminator, and he arrives from the future without clothes. Richmond is entertaining when parodying film and TV robot characters struggling with human feelings and as the relentless killer.

There are plenty of jokes about learning to use new technology and customer service, but songs provide some of the funniest moments. In the film, Sarah’s escape from a prison psychiatric ward is a long sequence full of fights, shoot-outs, battling Terminators, car chases and hostage-taking. The musical turns it into a joyful song (“Johnny, Mom’s Not Crazy”) about Sarah reuniting with her son and finally proving to him that her preparations for the apocalypse are not paranoid delusions. In the middle of an orgy of violence, Sarah sweetly sings that she’s not crazy, and resolves the long mother-son rift with the refrain, “Now lets kill robots.” Also brilliant is a duet between Wynne-Wilson as Reese meeting his nearly naked infant son John Conner (Eli Timm).

The musical is enjoyable as both a parody and slightly campy celebration of the films. The condensed story and staging are clever, but freewheeling boisterousness gives the production the crowd-pleasing appeal of the films.

Terminator: The Musical runs at 7 p.m. Nov. 12-16 & 19-21 at Old Marquer Theatre.
Vanya and Sonya confer in Uncle Vanya: Quarter Life Crisis.
  • Vanya and Sonya confer in Uncle Vanya: Quarter Life Crisis.

Uncle Vanya: Quarter Life Crisis
There are some extras to Goat in the Road Productions’ adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, including an art installation by Momma Tried in an adjoining space in the Ether Dome. There’s also a Tour Guide’s intro to the play and some reading materials elaborating on the cast members’ probing of their satisfaction with life. But the production has no problem standing on its own, and under Christopher Kaminstein’s direction, it’s an engaging look at a group of twentysomethings figuring out the next steps in their lives.

The work takes the names from Chekhov’s classic about aging siblings taking measure of their lives and fortunes, but all characters are compressed into the same generation. They are sharing a south Louisiana home, or just crashing together, in the summer of 2009, following the financial collapse of 2008. Alexandra’s (Darci Fulcher) life is going well. She’s gained a university faculty position at an early age, writes prolifically and has an open-minded sex life — currently in a relationship with the bisexual Yelene (Matthew Thompson). She’s inherited a stake in the home from the deceased Vera, whose siblings Vanya (Brian Fabry Dorsam) and Sonya (Leslie Boles Kraus) have been living in it, toiling to create an online business together. Astrov (Dylan Hunter), a young doctor, is a frequent visitor, and he is both accomplished and detached — dedicated but not particularly satisfied by his work.

It’s a very pleasant surprise that the work isn’t hung up on ennui or putting millennials in a petri dish. They’re open minded about what they value in life, as well as about gender roles, sexuality, monogamy, spirituality, drug use and more. Many of the characters are making or facing hard choices, and even if they breeze through some days drunk or stoned, they take their lives seriously and talk earnestly and candidly, keeping the work from being about malaise.

Relationships are important to them, and Kraus is impressive in handling Sonya’s slowly and painfully revealed longing for Astrov. Thompson is wonderfully serene as the confidant of many of the friends and lovers. Hunter also is entertaining as the conflicted physician. But the entire cast is strong and the ensemble piece is compelling from the beginning, well before conflicts heat up in the second half.

Although no one in the audience is more than three rows from the stage, the production uses microphones, and some glitches with microphones suggested the piece would have been better off taking a more natural approach.
It’s not surprising to see such a mature and polished production from the young company, but it is exciting to see an engaging work about a generation that’s so often treated to flat or flimsy characterizations. It’s an impressive and distinct version of a play that’s often produced or adapted.

Uncle Vanya: Quarter Life Crisis runs at 8 p.m. Nov. 12-15 & 19-22 at the Ether Dome.

Rebecca Mwase performs her solo piece Looking at a Broad at Faux/Real Festival of Arts.
  • Rebecca Mwase performs her solo piece Looking at a Broad at Faux/Real Festival of Arts.

Looking at a Broad
Rebecca Mwase’s autobiographical, often poetic, solo piece is informed by a unique set of experiences. Though born in the U.S., she connected with her extended family in Zimbabwe at an early age, and also lived in China as a teenager. The change of environments gave her great perspectives on the borders she crossed. She also dealt with the sometimes negative, if not repressive, affects of the prejudices of others. It doesn’t follow an entirely linear scheme, but the work is a sort of travelogue of discovery, both personal and cultural.

One of the piece’s stronger moments details a sense of betrayal when Mwase was denied a job teaching English in Asia. Her experiences in China had ranged from being flattered by those who saw her as exotic to being humiliated by others who seemed to import anti-black racism from the West. Though the school’s principal acknowledged her teaching skills, the school did not hire her because of administrators’ fears that their clientele of nouveau riche Chinese parents wanted their children taught by white people, associating race with their desired sense of status.

It’s a disarming story, but not the most heartbreaking or difficult one in the deeply personal piece. The work evaluates pervasive exploitation of black women denial of LGBT people’s rights and dignity in many nations, including Zimbabwe.

Mwase uses some evocative props, including suitcases, ropes and flags, and there are video projections and recorded commentary and effects. There also are several interludes of substantial audience contribution and interaction.

It’s a polished piece but Mwase creates many stark and raw moments. Her experiences, travels and openness on stage make it a unique and compelling piece.

Looking at a Broad runs 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-15 & 20-22 at The Theatre at St. Claude


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