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ArtsEmerson presents "Neva"

Jeffrey Limoncelli  ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Bianca Amato, & Luke Robertson star in ArtsEmerson's "Neva." Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Bianca Amato, & Luke Robertson star in ArtsEmerson’s “Neva.” Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg.

Theatre. Activism. Revolution. I am not stating the goals of yet another college theatre troupe.  These words describe the intent behind Guillermo Calderón’s Neva, which opened last night at Paramount Theatre’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box after a limited run at New York’s Public Theater. However, Neva is not the traditional “social activism through art” kind of play. Well, it tries not to be.

The play, starring Bianca Amato, Luke Robertson, and Quincy Tyler Bernstine, centers around Chekhov’s widow Olga Knipper (Amato) and two fellow actors (Robertson and Bernstine) waiting for their director to arrive for a rehearsal of “The Cherry Orchard”. Upset with her poor acting skills, Olga demands that the three of them reenact her late husband’s death in order to help her “live” the role she is playing. Basically, she’s just another self-absorbed drama queen. Additionally, Masha (Bernstine) has her own feelings about “acting”. Delivered in a powerful final monologue, Masha explains that, with a revolution about to happen outside the walls of the theatre (Russia in 1905, you get the picture), to really live and become cultured means going out in the world and making your voice heard, not simply seeing or acting in a show.

Masha’s monologue is Calderón’s main point. However, upon exiting the theatre, I wondered why it took 80 minutes for that point to be made. Sure, hints were dropped throughout the show pointing in that direction. But most of the show involves Olga’s self-absorbedness. Although her diva-personality is used to strengthen Calderón’s point, the point was made clear after the first 20 minutes. I did leave the theatre contemplating the show’s message, leading me to re-think the power (or lack thereof) of theatre. However, if theatre is not a legitimate means of social activism according to Calderón, then I wonder why he bothered to put his energy into writing this play? Most likely, it is to directly address theatre fans, who are “blinded” by the illusion of theatrical power. If that is the case, I would have preferred to see an actual lecture on the subject, as opposed to a lecture disguised as a play.

Neva, also directed by Calderón, is visually appealing and impressive. Lit with a single light (and, at times, no light), I was presented with a theatrical experience with which I was unfamiliar. This was likely done to remove the glamour and theatrics of the theatre to enhance the overall message. The direction was the most impressive aspect of the show.

Although Neva covers no new ground in telling its audience that the world has problems, this theatrical lecture is well-acted and visually appealing. However, I’m quite sure Calderón would say you are wasting your time seeing it when you could be out in the world fighting injustices. But hey, the tickets are cheap.

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