The Baltimore Annex Theater is shaking things up with an adaptation of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy written by Guo Tai Gong. Adapted and Directed by the company’s Artistic Director Evan Moritz. This bizarre piece of theatre explores a mountain and its surrounding villages of Northeast China in the winter of 1946 with soldiers and control groups attempting to create terror as they struggle for possession of the territory.
While the tale as a whole is not terribly clear or concise, as a fair bit of the struggles get lost in translation, the story is an interesting one. Director Evan Moritz’ choices to include sung bits authenticate the fact that the performance is an opera. His decision to have only bits and pieces of sung lines included in a seemingly random pattern throughout the performance feels slightly jarring and detached. There is no method to why certain segments are sung verses spoken other than every time a character sings they appear to be emoting their internal monologue as opposed to formal dialogue communications which happen only through spoken text. The disconnect between the spoken text and the text that is sung makes the storyline a bit more difficult to understand.
The Design Team, quickly becoming a hallmark of Annex productions, is stunning; creating elements that are enchanting and intense that frame the performance. Lighting Designer Mason Ross creates the projected image of snow every time the mountain comes into question and has other sharp and stunning lighting effects used throughout to create tension in a dramatic moment. Assisted by Video Designer David Crandall with the snowy projection, fire projections also become a key component during a pinnacle scene of the show.
Set Designers Claire K. Brooks and Victoria Spain craft the mountain in the center of the stage. A metaphysical representation of the mountain, sprung forth from the minds of Brooks and Spain, is represented in a large and ornate wooden carving that looks a bit more like a tree-snowflake hybrid than a mountain. It’s beauty is that it spins around its own center access— a notable moment for characters throughout the show when they move it— and that it is painted white, reflecting the various projections cast upon it.
It’s Sound Designer Lyndon Cordero that really pumps the atmosphere full of flavor. Despite the setting being listed as 1946, the modern techno-electronic ‘junk’ sounds that echo through the performance speak of a modern or even futuristic time zone.
Many of Cordero’s instrumentations that are used to underscore the various scenes sound like intense pieces of sound-work used in video games or Anime films. Combining these aural elements with Costume Designer Anna Tringali’s outrageously space appropriate threads, the piece feels as if it has moved location to a foreign futuristic gaming society. Tringali uses vibrant colors that clash like pastels on navy blues and purples to delineate the good guys from the bad guys. Square clasps on cloaks and capes are also saved for the bad guys while the good guys get O-ring clasps. The costumes possess an animated feel to them; particularly the high shoulder pads on Chief of Staff and the bejeweled accessories seen on Vulture.
Choreographer Sophia Mak brings a great deal of interpretive dance and movement into the piece. Focusing more on the interpretive movement and less on finding places to sing might have made the piece flow more fluidly and translate more readily. Mak’s finest moment is during the ascent of Tiger Mountain where Chief of Staff (Jonathan Jacobs) leads the soldiers in a fearless crusade involving all sorts of slow motion actions all down with rhythmic synchronization until they reach their destination.
Jacobs, as the leader of the good guy group, creates a strong presence upon the stage, rivaling the mortal antagonizing enemy of the show, Vulture (Maria Radulescu.) With pulsing nefarious evil tendencies, Radulescu portrays the exact opposite of Jacobs, a nasty, vile incarnation that growls and barks nearly every word she speaks. Jacobs, on the other hand, remands positively optimistic throughout the performance, using his character’s leadership qualities to boost overall morale.
Yang (Sarah Jacklin) is a point of focus, delivering clear and concise messages throughout the performance. Her character’s mission is the clearest of all that are divulged throughout the show. Playing a double-agent, Jacklin is easily able to shift from one extreme to the other, maintaining a frosty exterior so that she never lets on of her deception. Luan Ping (Ishai Barnoy) is the other performer of note worth mentioning. Truly understanding the concept of creating a character, Barnoy fleshes out this sneaky rat and makes him both intriguing and functional as the comic relief in this convoluted show. His antics, particularly the physicality with which he carries his character, are both engaging and entertaining.
Running Time: Approximately 65 minutes, with no intermission.
Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy plays through June 8, 2014 at The Baltimore Annex Theater at Station North Chicken Box— West North Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door, or in advance online.