‘RSVP’ at Glass Mind Theatre

FOUR STARS
Please, Thank You, bow at the waist. Miss Manners herself is back in town. Way, way back in the 1920’s where the peak of high society began to crumble out from beneath itself. How has society fallen away from the lessons of cultivated sophistication that Emily Post published in her book Etiquette so long ago? Find out by attending the Glass Mind Theatre production of the original devised work RSVP. Directed by Ann Turiano, this time-traveling guidebook for the rules of living in proper society transverses the planes of the roaring 20’s and the modern age drawing parallels between the two lifestyles and making it clear that ‘proper etiquette’ has no place in the present day, or does it?

Kerry Brady (Mrs. Younger) and Vince Constantino (Cornelius T. Moneybags). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Kerry Brady (Mrs. Younger) and Vince Constantino (Cornelius T. Moneybags). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Having two Choreographers working the show is a subtle tribute to the fact that the show takes place in two time streams. Caitlin Bouxsein and Lorraine Inwold work in tandem to orchestrate the trippy scene changes, which often involve some sort of peculiar and jarring movement to transition characters from one location to the next all within the simplistic confines of the loading dock stage. Their main body of work in the performance falls at the top of the show. Bouxsein and Inwold choreograph a stagger-build dance routine referred to as the ‘etiquette dance’ which includes gestures of sipping high tea with the pinky out, the butler waddle, and other gesticulated images that pay homage to the existence of proper high society.

Sound Designer Eric Honour fills the production with fabulous hybrids of songs that represent both the 1920’s and the present day. These remixed blends of 1920’s style swing and jazz songs with a modern bass beat thumping through the background creates an amalgamation of time paradoxes, which is a perfect parallel to the traveling paradoxes created humorously throughout the production. Honour uses modern pop singer Lorde’s “Team” for the popular ‘etiquette dance’ which is strikingly symbolic as the song discusses proper manners and things that fall apart within those well mannered societies.

Director and Lead Deviser Ann Turiano brings a great deal of comedy into the show while still making the overall topics relevant and relatable to the modern audience. While there are jokes in places that feel as if they speak solely to the cast or in other places feel as if they were placed specifically for the sake of having a joke, most of the humor is topical and works well within the confines of the work. Turiano’s overall concept is well executed though at times the way the play acknowledges itself as a play with the fourth wall completely dissolved between actors and audience becomes a bit hokey. The inconsistency with which the performance breaks through the fourth wall feels imbalanced in a shifting limbo; there either needs to be much more of it, playing up the camp factor to the extreme or it needs to be dialed back completely for as it stands it just feels out of place.

Turiano’s ability to articulate the similarities of etiquette practices between the 1920’s and modern times is impressive; her storyline flows exceptionally well despite the moments where the play acknowledges itself, and the characters are fully developed in a satirical nature that makes them entertaining to observe. Even the creation of the names, “Lady Worldly” and “Missus SoandSo” add layers of symbolic hilarity to the production. As a devised work, using text along the lines of a script is an intriguing choice that works well in this case.

Performances of note include that given by Kerry Brady as the effervescent Miss Ida Younger. Brady has that jazzy 1920’s pulse racing through her character right up until she becomes reformed. The catatonic robotic approach to her character’s reform is a scream and steals the show when she starts her monotone recitations over dinner with Lady Worldly.

Justin Lawson Isett taking on a series of roles also gives a stellar performance in the production. Appearing as a time traveler and an indentured servant it is his comic delivery that makes his characters worth mentioning. Isett’s ability to improvise a situation is particularly engaging and well suited for the happenings of the play.

Vince Constantino as all three generations of the Moneybags men gives a rousing good performance, particularly in the scene where he plays his own father and grandfather all at the same time. The vocal switches to make these characters distinctive become wildly entertaining and his overall character composure of the posh upper crust of society is spot on with stuffed-shirt elegance. Constantino’s interactions with the young Lyndsey SoandSo (Marcella Di Pasquale) are the epitome of proper manners finding their niche in modern times.

Keep an eye out for Ephilia von Neumann (Caitlin Bouxsein) better known as Pitty Pat, the socialite cat. While Bouxsein spends a bit of time in the show being an upright human her most notable character is the sophisticated pet of Lady Worldly (Liz Galuardi.) Pawing around on all fours with a strictly rigid strut that displays her proper pedigree, Bouxsein creates some of the most entertaining moments in the production as this fanciful feline. Her body radiates a prim and proper attitude that is the prime example of these mannered days gone by.

Marcella Di Pasquale (Mrs. Soandso), Liz Galuardi (Mrs. Worldly), and Lorraine Imwold (Mrs. Kindheart). Photo by  Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Marcella Di Pasquale (Mrs. Soandso), Liz Galuardi (Mrs. Worldly), and Lorraine Imwold (Mrs. Kindheart). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

RSVP is an edgy new piece of theatre that makes you consider society and manners in new light It’s a great ensemble piece where the cast is involved with quick changes and multiple characters for the sake of generating evocative notions in the audiences’ minds. It’s well worth investigating during this brief run.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

RSVP plays through June 15, 2014 at the Glass Mind Theatre playing at Area 405— 405 East Oliver Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets may be purchased at the door, or online.

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