When Jay O’Berski is at the helm, you know you’re in for a unique experience. The bold and fearless creator of Manbites Dog Theater’s production of Paris 76: An Original Cabaret is the artistic director to the always inventive Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern; and when he moonlights at Manbites Dog, a leading producer of alternative theatrical experiences in the Triangle, fireworks can fly.
Manbites Dog’s current offering is a collaborative theatrical piece billed as “une nuit de folie” (or, “a crazy night”); and in that respect, it definitely delivers. There’s dancing, singing, spoken-word, a clairvoyant, a gender artist (or two?), and more. Though the ensemble boasted a strong measure of talent across the boards, the evening feels a little flat by the end due to a lack of structure.
Performers weave in and out without a strong thru-line. The title of the piece would lead you to believe you’re in Paris, though there’s no actual set-up or sense of place that roots us in that spot — or in any spot. One may also be led to believe you’re in 1976 — or is it 1876? — but those questions remain unanswered as well.
There’s only one real Parisian in the lot — the dashing Germain Choffart. He plays the gender artist, Claude/Claudette La Beau-Jolie, and provides some of the evening’s biggest laughs. But most of the rest of the cast seems to be American.
So where are we? It really began to nag at me after a while. I couldn’t figure out why we, as the audience, were here, and what brought this particular group of artists together for this evening of entertainment. Shelby Hahn’s drunk clairvoyant, Shelton Lambert, the All-Knowing Sha Bi, wants us to believe his will lured us all to the theater, though who’s to say if the bourbon-sipping hack can be trusted.
But you forget about those questions when the solid performances of Dana Marks and Hazel Edmond are in play. Edmond’s mixed spoken-word/sung rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is a mesmerizing, haunting number. Marks, an immeasurable talent, sends chills through you while performing the opening number “Close Your Eyes” and “Tonight You Belong to Me.” Watching her navigate through the sea of audience while having a verbal altercation with her partner, the lukewarm Liam O’Neill, is an acting lesson in itself.
Samantha Rahn (Esmeralda Rhone), who has made quite a name for herself in the Triangle arts scene, despite still being in high school, proves her talent once again, though her character’s placement in the world of the piece is never fully realized. Rahn stops the show with a stirring performance of “I Wanna Be Loved by You.”
Jay O’Berski’s designer alter-ego, Sir Lionel Mouse, has created a grand tiered stage for the performers to work on. Skillfully lit and costumed by Lisa Suzanne Turner and Noelle Lai, respectively, the creative team has set up a visually beautiful evening.
All in all, Paris 76 is an enjoyable night of talented artists showing off their skills, although the piece itself could have used a bit more structure to support the telling of the tale.
SECOND OPINION: March 18th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/paris-76/Event?oid=4348813.
Manbites Dog Theater presents PARIS 76: AN ORIGINAL CABARET at 8:15 p.m. March 21 and 26-28, 2 p.m. March 29, and 8:15 p.m. April 1-4 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $10 weeknights and $20 weekends, except $5 weeknights and $10 weekends for students with ID and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Nick Karner): https://vimeo.com/121855614.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
2014-15 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2014-15-season/. BLOG (The Upstager): http://theupstager.wordpress.com/.
Jay O’Berski (director and assistant professor of the Practice of Theater Studies at Duke University): https://theaterstudies.duke.edu/people/jay-oberski (Duke Theater Studies bio).
Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. He recently directed and starred in Mortall Coile Theatre Company’s March 20-22 and March 27-March 1 presentation of British playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell’s first play, The Pride (2008), which won the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre. This spring, he will direct Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on May 1-3, 7-10, and 14-17 in RLT‘s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/.)