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Review: ‘The Mistress Cycle’ at Creative Cauldron

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Creative Cauldron presents The Mistress Cycle, with Book and Lyrics by Beth Blatt and Music by Jenny Giering. Matt Conner directs a cast of five women in this ambitious musical that, while an interesting concept, falls short in its overall execution.

With its small cast and modest scenic design, The Mistress Cycle is a logical choice for Creative Cauldron’s intimate black box theater. Emotion and nuance are conveyed through lighting, designed by Lynn Joslin. Joslin uses subdued hues and spotlighting to enhance the atmosphere, while Costume Designer Marge Jervis dresses the women as they lived. From a simple linen tunic to a heavy corseted dress, each character’s ensemble is unique and creatively crafted. All technical elements for this production are proficient, and provide a solid and sound foundation for this piece.

The cast of The Mistress Cycle. Photograph by Keith Waters, Kx Photography.

The musical’s premise revolves around the “other woman,” focusing on a mixture of historical and composite characters that span centuries and share different cultures, but carry the same label. Erica Clare begins the show as Tess, a 30-something Manhattanite who finds herself in a difficult situation. Abby Middleton plays Diane de Poitiers, mistress to King Henri ll during the 15th century, and Iyona Blake is LuLu White, a New Orleans Madame from the early 1900s. The cast is rounded out with Justine Icy Moral as Ching, a concubine from 12th-century China, and Julia Capizzi as Anaïs Nin, an essayist recognized as one of the forerunners of female erotica. The women serve as each other’s narrators as their stories unfold through song. The Mistress Cycle aims to delve deeper into the psyches of these women; to bring insight, empathy, and humanity to characters who are usually written off without much thought or care. While thrilling in concept, I believe this show harbors a lot of unfulfilled potential.

for a different take on The Mistress Cycle, check out David Siegel’s “In the Moment” column here.

Piero Bonamico directs the music for this production, and while the live music is played beautifully, the songs are too similar in nature. The result is the feeling that you are listening to one very long, very drawn out composition. The majority of the songs are heavy and slow, and full of melancholy melodies that range from bittersweet to desperate. Capizzi shows off powerful vocals in the nostalgic number “Your Eyes,” while Icy Moral is poignant and expressive in “An Offering,” where she turns fear and resentment into steely resolve. While both pieces are lovely, they mirror each other in range and tone—an unfortunate theme that trickles on throughout the song list. Performances suffer in a couple of instances as well; there were noticeable moments where singers struggled to hit their notes, and times when they fought to keep in time with the beat of the music, most noticeably in the numbers “Incandescent Trapeze” and “All Your Life.” A notable exception is “Divine,” a lively number sung by Blake, whose commanding stage presence makes her an easy audience favorite.

While the overall performances are cohesive and well-done, the plot is thick and muddled, and it does feel like too much is attempted to be squeezed into too little an amount of time. I would almost prefer to further explore one or two character’s stories than to merely scratch the surface of several, which is what this experience feels like. Creative Cauldron’s The Mistress Cycle’s main downfall lies not in the creative team or cast, but in the material itself. It is my opinion that this musical should undergo several revisions before seeking another stage.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without an intermission.

The Mistress Cycle plays through October 29, 2017 at Creative Cauldon- 410 South Maple Avenue in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

 

 

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