Love is merely a madness. Quoted by the Bard and then put into action like you’ve never seen it as Strand Theater Company presents a compelling new one-woman show, U Probably Think This Play is about U. Written by Maija DiGiorgio and Adam Greenbaum with DiGiorgio as the solo performer, the work explores the overarching theme of love as a whole and how deliciously messy it can be. Paralleling life experiences with various epic Shakespearean tragedies the show combines elements of humor and character work to spread the message in the form of a meta-play; all about how exactly you tell one person you love them. Directed by Rain Pryor, the work is in its first full run on the stage since its initial development.
Set Designer Ryan Haase brings an edgy fresh atmosphere to the stage giving DiGiorgio’s work a place to feel modern and natural. Working with Director Rain Pryor to keep the ambience of the performance space casual and intimate with inviting jazz music and low lighting, Haase uses spray-graffiti style tagging on the painted brick wall to highlight some of the more poignant messages that are threaded carefully into the production— “All The World’s A Stage,” coming to mind. Together the design work of Haase and Pryor help fit the production with an overall feeling of revitalization; that even though these love stories are some of the oldest in the book, we the audience can still expect something crisp and new from them.
Maija DiGiorgio’s work still feels very much like a work in progress. There are moments in the production that really connect with the audience and have a solid functionality to them and there are other moments that fall away from the overall piece with a disconnectivity to them. With further work to the production this piece of artistic interpretation on love has great potential. DiGiorgio uses five distinctive characters to tell stories of love as related to various tales of the Bard’s romantic tragedies, as well as a sixth voice (her own as a playwright) to bridge the gap between the audience and her intentions. Some of her character work is wildly successful and some of it does not hit the mark for which is aiming, but overall it can be said that her character choices are clearly defined and her commitment and connection to them is well grounded.
DiGiorgio has a consistent energy about her that rushes the play on a spastic level. At moments this fast-paced continual movement really works to jettison the production along its way, but at other times it gives the performance a rushed feeling overwhelming the audience as they try to keep up. Finding the perfect balance between the two is not easy and this is one of the struggles that recurs throughout. The other main issue that DiGiorgio encounters is the intensity with which she addresses the audience. While certain characters seem to fit naturally into this ‘in-your-face’ interface, there are other moments where it feels like too much coming at you at once; an actor unfettered and unrestrained just wailing into us with her body, her voice and her facial expressions.
The spastic energy that rules several of her personas during the performance often make it difficult for the audience to relate to the character. The main character that comes to mind is the “nephew” offering his street-wise retelling of Hamlet. In constant pacing, slamming her body all over the place you lose text and character intention despite playing up the stereotype of a street crazy urban boy.
Despite some of the energy and intensity issues, DiGiorgio is extremely focused in her character choices, each one having a distinctive existence including vocal approach, physicality and even speech patterns. For the friendly retelling of Romeo and Juliet done with a modern New York-Latina feel she adapts a perfectly still physicality and a broken accent that adds to the hilarity of the story. This particular character has emotional diarrhea that just comes splattering out of her mouth every time she speaks, spraying the audience with wave after wave of tragic love.
And when she takes to the flighty drunk character of Lady M, however deeply veiled, she hits a level of obnoxious that makes your skin crawl. This routine is clearly meant to have a comic element to it, but don’t worry if you aren’t laughing, she keeps the character cracking up like a loon here, particularly when she starts singing about flying first class on her airline. It’s a character that irks the audience but is deeply rooted in her zany passion.
The two best character profiles utilized in this production are saved for the end. A stoic no-nonsense Italian grandmother, whose Shakespeare tie-in is unclear— but who brings the most comedy to the performance with her stifling physicality, rich accent and brass tell-it-like-it-is attitude. The rant delivered here about how birdseed is the modern marriage killer is uproarious and the funniest moment of the show. DiGiorgio closes out the production on a much more mellow note, the character of Old Uncle Henry reflecting on the story of Othello like a beatnick at open mic night in a poetry joint. This character in particular is such a stark contrast to the others that it’s a refreshing blast of cool air just to watch him stand still and puff his fake cigar.
DiGiorgio’s attempts at channeling all the emotions of love into one evening of comedy is a successful venture even if it is a bit jumbled and needs a good polishing, it’s certainly an experience that should be looked into.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.
U Probably Think This Play is About U plays through April 6, 2013 at Strand Theater Company – 1823 N. Charles Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (443) 874-4917, or purchase them online.