Last night I had the immense pleasure of seeing eleven new plays by thirteen authors in Variations on Sacrifice. The Variations Project is an annual curated event produced by Rapid Lemon Productions (RLP). Lance Bankerd, the director of this stunning work and the RLP Artistic Director, spoke in his pre-show speech about the importance of supporting new, local theatre. Indeed, Variations on Sacrifice highlights the work of talented Baltimore theater artists.
Sacrifice is comprised of eleven different plays by thirteen playwrights, but was designed and performed by a unified team. There was no set designer – simply a large white backdrop used as a neutral space for the various plays. More than once this backdrop was used to show slides, a powerful way to show the faces of the people discussed in the plays.
Connecting each short play was Meghan Stanton’s sound design. The songs chosen to transition between plays perfectly set the tone for each piece – even when you weren’t sure where that tone was going. Lucy Wakeland’s costume design, and the lighting design by Daniel Weissglass were critical in transitioning from one piece to another.
Variations on Sacrifice was a wonderful look at all the different ways we sacrifice in our lives because every piece interpreted the word “sacrifice” in a unique way.
Turnbuckle by Mike Smith kicked off the evening. I enjoyed the way that it came out with strong characters you were immediately interested in, even though it wasn’t initially clear what they were talking about. In the same way, the costumes were clearly specific to these characters, but didn’t make full sense until you learned more about them. It was nice how there was no set, but the simple prop microphone and the sound effects perfectly communicated the setting.
“Springtime Cyclic” by Lee Conderacci was a thing of beauty, and possibly my favorite piece of the evening. Donna Ibale plays a young woman talking and moving through a terrible breakup. This piece was relatable to anyone who has ever parted ways with a significant other. Ibale committed to the movement fully and transitioned through all sorts of wonderful emotions using her voice and facial expressions.
“Dark Side of Light” by Aladrian C. Wetzel was delightfully bold. The costumes, music, and sound effects instantly transported the audience to a 1970s game show, but now in a not-so-far-fetched dystopian future. It was scarily relevant, and the slide reactions to the questions punched everything home. Justin Johnson as the Contestant had great intensity.
“Turbulence” by Shelby Chapman was a sweet relief after Dark Side… Bankerd’s direction and blocking immediately communicated the airplane atmosphere and situation from the cramped space to the adorable pillow pet the man carried. Chapman’s writing also had a very natural, realistic flow that was compelling. It was unclear exactly where the story was going for a while, but the happy ending warmed me.
New Leaf by Will Trace featured meticulous set dressing and Robinson’s movements as Person were spot on. The real liquid she poured on herself added an extra element of realism. However, I was left craving more information about this Person and why she was making this important decision.
Fabricated Veal by Rufus Drawlings was a moving period piece exploring the diverse ways a war could leave people damaged. The music and costumes make the time period of 1922 crystal clear. This piece was heartbreaking and sweet and hopeful – absolutely lovely.
For Puerto Rico by Naimah Ezigbo was a little uncomfortable in an important way. There are a lot of things in this world we prefer to keep out of sight, out of mind, but theatre pieces like this can force us to face the sadness in the world. I liked the use of the bottom of the backdrop, crawling under it was unlike anything else done with the set in the show.
A Familiar Member by Tyrone Chapman and Archie D. Williams Jr. played nicely with juxtaposition. The upset husband with the ridiculously pleased wife created a playful drama. At times it was hard to see the actors in the low lighting, but Robinson and Smith projected so well their words were always clear.
Sack by Meredith Barr and Max Garner, much like “For Puerto Rico,” forced us to watch a harsh reality. The action of a woman walking home was simple, but its simplicity let the message speak, and gave the audience time to watch the precious projections on the backdrop. The message was clear and left an impression.
Samson by Tatiana Nya Ford was compelling from the start. Conderacci and Johnson had good chemistry and spoke Ford’s poetic words with grounded energy. The characters of Woman and Man were great foils for each other in their opposite reactions to the situation at hand. There was a beautiful, long silence during the piece that was fantastic. Unhurried pauses are uncommon, and it built the tension up to the very end.
Let’s Kill Doug Because he Sucks by Justin Lawson Isett was a fun way to end the evening. It was amusingly polite and dry as hell. The calm, detached manner in which these co-workers spoke was quite a funny contrast to the crazy topic they were discussing. It was also extremely relatable to anyone who has worked in a group or on a team before. The audience loved it.
The various pieces were performed by an amazingly talented ensemble composed of Mia Robinson, Lee Conderacci, Justin Johnson, Mike Smith, Donna Ibale, Tom Piccin, and Chara Bauer. Each actor played leading, supporting, and background roles so that they all had their own time on stage. Throughout the show, one ensemble member stood out from the rest. Lee Conderacci drew your attention in every scene, in the best possible way. She deftly moved from character to character, distinguishing between each one in body and voice, and putting passion behind all of them.
Variations on Sacrifice deserves to be seen this weekend. Those who can’t make it before August 12th can consider attending Rapid Lemon’s staged readings the weekend of August 16th. If they’re as good as the plays that made it into Variations, it’s sure to be another evening of great local talent.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a brief intermission.
Variations on Sacrifice plays through August 12, 2018, with special staged readings August 16-19 at The Baltimore Theatre Project – 45 W Preston St, Baltimore, MD 21201. Purchase tickets at the box office, or go online.