Asylum is an aerial show, the collaboration of Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre Company Only Child Aerial Theatre of Brooklyn, NY. Credit for the story is given to Kendall Rileigh and Nicki Miller, both of whom are also performers. (On a personal note, Chuck feels it necessary to state that having been locked in an institution for the insane provided him with unique insight into the span of the story.)
To begin with, there is no doubt, upon entering the stage space, that we have entered a special place. A fairly bare stage is only adorned by a few very long silky sashes, one at the center of the downstage area, slung from the ceiling and draped down at both ends to about a yard from the floor, and one more hanging doubled in the middle of its arc.
Upstage left hangs another such sash, draping onto a piano, upon which reclines a young woman in white patient togs. All the way upstage center a young man squats reading and or writing in a book, very much in his own world.
Center stage, wrapped in more sash material, is a breathing body. Way upstage right stands a hospital screen behind which is the “office” of the ward. Desolation reeks.
There is no dialog. All communication with the audience and among the players is accomplished with gesture, motion, attitude, aerial acrobatics, and dance, choreographed by an entity identified as “The Ensemble,” and music. Asylum is a creation that is to be experienced, not “seen.”
Perhaps, the best way to define the plot is to say it presents several days’ activity on this ward, which encompass the actions, feelings, occurrences, interactions, griefs, joys, angers, loves, and humanity of the various characters, whom we never have names for. The days are marked by alarm sounds, musical and nonmusical, that seem to start the day; and the Nurse and sometimes the Doctor go through the morning ritual of checking the general health of their patients.
On the second day, a fourth inmate is brought in; and we learn a little of how she was arrested and booked and sent to this place for whatever reason, as she is undressed and put into patient’s clothing and her belongings removed from her. From there, the various dynamics that will occur in any group are played out: people are attracted to each other, develop relationships, struggle within these relationships, and move on in various ways. The ending is not predictable, and it adds the punch of reality.
Director Nicki Miller plays the nurse, a no-nonsense, uptight, square-cornered, cold-hearted type, who interrupts any form of natural behavior and substitutes sitting doing nothing.
Co-writer Kendall Rileigh is the young woman on the piano, who on awakening begins to play it, beautifully — a mixture of modern classical and jazzy stuff — and several times takes to the sashes to display extraordinary agility and skill. She is the one transfixed with making music, and part of her story relates to her violin.
Deon Releford-Lee plays the man in center stage under the sash, and somehow his relationship with that and other sashes adheres throughout the show. He manages to create a huge spectrum of shapes and relationships with his sashes, now writhing on one, then gathering it up into capes, garbs, surprising shapes, even other people. He also does such sculptural magic in the loops of the hanging sashes.
The reader and writer character, with wild eruptions of temper, is immobilized into a hanging restraint from time to time, and is sudden and explosive, frightening and understandable at once. Sloan Bradford captures the manic as well the humane aspects of this character, both on the floor and scrambling about on the sashes.
Samantha Sterman is the “new girl”, completely at sea with this incarceration, and especially with the treatment she receives from the nurse and the doctor. Sterman has a broad range of emotional expression, gestural, facial, and acrobatic, with a strongly athletic approach to her performance.
The doctor and several other roles are easily handled by Mikaela Saccoccio, who gives each character a distinctively individual quality.
A lot of support help make this production successful, including technical direction by Barry Jaked, lighting design by Ed Intemann, costume design by Jan Chambers, sound design by Laura Sisskin Fernandez, projection design by Jesse Garrison, music primary composition by Walken Schweigert, and additional music by Kendall Rileigh.
Asylum is an intensely subjective show for the audience, each one of whom must determine what he or sheeriencing, and why, with little sense of being part of a group, but somehow being forced into the isolation each of the characters feels.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 14th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article39414534.html; and Oct. 14th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Brian Howe: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/asylum/Event?oid=4486398.
Burning Coal Theatre Company, in collaboration with Only Child Aerial Theatre of Brooklyn, NY, presents ASYLUM at 2 p.m. Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20-25, 2 p.m. Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29-31, and 2 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.
TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except $15 on Thursdays, $15 per ticket for groups of 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students valid ID).
BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-834-4001.
SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/asylum/, http://www.onlychildaerialtheatre.com/#!/asylum/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/887196224651291/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ct98MvqqxoA.
Burning Coal Theatre Company: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.
Only Child Aerial Theatre: http://www.onlychildaerialtheatre.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/onlychildaerialtheatre.
NOTE 1: The 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18th, show is a Pay-What-You-Can Performance.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18th, performance.
Asylum (comedy): http://www.onlychildaerialtheatre.com/#!/asylum/ (official web page).
Kendall Rileigh (playwright): http://kendallrileigh.com/ (official website), http://theaterstudies.duke.edu/alumni/rileigh (Duke Theater Studies bio), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2360717/ (Internet Movie Database).
Nicki Miller (playwright and director): http://www.nickimiller.com/ (official website).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.