Jace Casey is, put simply, a wunderkind. This young DC area teen with Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, and Olney Theatre Center performing credits, has directed, composed, arranged, and co-written a multi-genre theatrical piece entitled Mindset. As if that’s not enough, he also performs in the play, along with many other talented local teenagers- some of whom also have professional stage credits. Though the piece is certainly not without structural flaws and could benefit from a bit more division of labor, in many cases, it far surpasses most any Fringe show I’ve seen in the DC area, including those that involve artists who have had years of experience under their belts. Production wise, it is also quite astounding. Overall, there is a solid foundation from which to build and refine.
Mindset is an exploration of the creative process and the inner-struggles that those who have artistic inclinations face. Casey explores, though realistic and fantasy-like universes, the fears, wants, and experiences of those in the arts both as individuals and as a collective with original and popular music, dance, and dialogue. Four artists, each at a different stage in life (a child, a teenager, a middle-aged person, and an elderly person) answer to an omnipresent voice and reflect on their struggles throughout the course of a quick 60 minutes. Through this sharing of experience, we can ascertain common experiences across all age ranges and conclude how life influences art just as art influences life.
Dancers, singers, and actors comprise Casey’s 13-member ensemble (some of whom also helped with the technical/creative elements or play in the band). There is also a solid and rocking band of talented young instrumentalists (Devin Divecha- guitar; Matt Griffith- music director, piano; Jake Grolig- guitar; Abbi Han- keyboard; Dario Maciera Mitchell- accordion; David Nussbaum- drums; Shelton Siegel- keyboard; Cora Stern- violin; and Lulu Fangyi Xu- keyboard). All of the teenagers are given a chance to shine in one way or another.
Of the performers on stage, most successful in combining solid singing, dancing, and acting are Jace Casey, Brittany O’Grady, and Sophie Nicholakos. Imogen Thomas also deserves special mention for demonstrating considerable stage presence and song interpretation skills as she traverses through several cabaret songs, including “La Foule” (Edith Piaf). Other ensemble members include Akram Abudheer, Logan Bernstein, Taylor Dawson, Noah Habenstreit, Noah Harrington, Cassandra Kendall (who is also the assistant director, assistant choreographer, technical director, dramaturg, and lighting designer), Leora Lihach, Charlie Mai, Julia Russo, Shelton Siegel, Caitlin O’Grady, and Nadia Ross. They all have bright performing futures ahead of them.
To say this show is musically and choreographically diverse would be an understatement. Act II (The Teenager’s World) is perhaps the most successful in terms of fusing the modern with the traditional musical and dance influences. In this section, Brittany O’Grady (Siren) exudes charisma and Jace Casey (Teenager) proves he is a triple threat. Structurally, Act III (The Adult World) and especially Act IV (The Elder’s World) require some work, but both are solid starts. Jace Casey and Shelby Smout show promise as playwrights.
On a technical level, this production incorporates impressive lighting (Cassandra Kendall) including strobe effects and a follow-spot, multiple costume changes (Morgan Shotwell’s designs are unexpected and encompass both traditional, modern, and avant-garde affair), and interesting sound design (Jace Casey and Ibby Han, who also served as an associate music director, dramaturg, and music arranger). Far more full production than Fringe presentation, all of the teenagers deserve kudos for a professional effort even in the midst of a few technical problems on opening night.
Put very, very simply, this show is a ‘Must See’ in the Fringe. I look forward to seeing what all of these young performers do in the future. All of them deserve praise and accolades for what they are accomplishing.
Read Glenn Cook’s article on Jace and Mindset in his ‘Stage Dad’ column on DCMTA.