Yellow Sign Theatre’s mission promises “pranks with a B-movie aesthetic” and low art, and usually they deliver productions that are unapologetic, kitschy fun. Surprisingly, however, their current production is a high-art homage to German expressionism, a supernatural metaphor of love and death, and a flawless feast of movement and imagery. Aaron Travis, as writer and director, presents his audience with the tragic love story of Cili and Deszo, or more accurately, presents the audience with a tale of the creation of a silent film about the tragic love story of Cili and Deszo. It is this framing device, that the audience is literally watching the film being shot, that adds just the right amount of humor to a chilling take on classic cinema.
Egg begins with the lovers on a fast track to happiness. We see the production team shooting scenes of a blissful picnic, a happy wedding, domestic bliss, and Deszo’s farewell as he enlists to “fight the Czechs.” Of course, tragedy strikes as a fellow soldier brings news of Deszo’s death in the war. Unable to stand life without him, Cili visits the mysterious Mme Tzaganas, who gifts the grieving widow with a black egg. The egg hatches a creature that looks like her fallen husband, but has an endless sexual appetite and no memory of his former life. During the remainder of the stage time, we see the film scenes tracing the mystery of this new Deszo, as Cili attempts to care for him and satisfy his insatiable lust, teach him language and social etiquette, and even reconnect with the friends who witnessed their nuptials.
The script strikes a balance between tribute to and the macabre (a demon is summoned, a heinous lynching is retold, and an oath of vengeance is fulfilled), as the story marches toward the secret of Deszo’s rebirth, one that is even darker than Cili could have imagined. As with Yellow Sign’s other productions, what truly makes the show work is the blending of a nostalgic script with original music, creative movement, and image.
Jeffrey L Gangwisch, Mike Jancz, and Emily Ward’s visuals, and the original score by Bent Knee, do not merely complement the events, they seamlessly blend to create a point/counterpoint feast for the eyes and ears, from an abstract stallion/doll animation that mocks the lovers’ bliss, to the shrill violin and keyboard underscoring of Cili’s grief.
As always, it is the performance that brings all these elements together. The acting work is first rate, with each member of the cast mastering the exaggerated poses and delsarte stylized facial expressions of early film, such as Jess Rivera’s perfect embodiments of grief and passion in the lead role of Cili, along with specialized physicality, such as when fourteen-year-old June Keating bends her limbs to capture the ancient frame of Tzaganas, or when Gangwisch struggles to evolve from a zenomorphic double-ganger to some semblance of the Deszo he was in life.
Company Artistic Director Craig Coletta provides characterization, improvisation, and movement coaching. His hand and the precision of a consistently talented cast shine throughout every sequence, whether showcasing Cili’s spiritual and physical deterioration, or the couple’s firey lovemaking. Even the minor players, Michael Stevenson and Kathryn Eidhnean Bateman (Kristof and Sasa, the lifelong friends of our ilfated couple), and Scott Burke who fills multiple ancillary roles) deliver the stylized physicality to perfection.
A collection of German union stage hands (performed by YST mainstays Dave Marcoot, Mike Jancz, Greg Gliterati, and even Colletta) set up each scene, grunting in German and arguing about which backdrop or chair is needed, as their stage manager, Lucas Gerace (serving as both the actual PSM of Egg and the fictional stage manager of the film) complains about anti-Semitic incompetents, and reminds the filmmaker (played of course by Aaron Travis) that next time he should hire Gerace’s crew. This added touch allows the audience just the right amount of Brechtian detachment, permitting laughter and reflection that would otherwise be lost in the heavy narrative of the film.
In some ways, this is Yellow Sign doing what it always does and achieving perfection in its own idiom. Yet it seems that on the other end of popular culture nostalgia lies a high-art masterpiece that no one (even the members of Yellow Sign) may have predicted, but everyone should see.
Watch this preview below:
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.