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Burning Coal Stages Tom Stoppard & Pink Floyd’s Challenging, Stimulating Darkside

Davitta Singletary and Cody Hill (left) star in Burning Coal Theatre Company's production of <em>Darkside</em> (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

Davitta Singletary (left) and Cody Hill star in Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s production of Darkside (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

In 2013, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s 1973 progressive rock album The Dark Side of the Moon, the BBC enlisted British playwright Tom Stoppard to adapt the work for radio. Pink Floyd gave Tom Stoppard, known for philosophical plays such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Arcadia, and the mind-bending 1985 film Brazil, clearance to develop a play merely “inspired by” the album, focusing on mood rather than lyrics.

The result was Darkside — a one-hour radio drama combining the cerebral with the emotional. The original The Dark Side of the Moon serves as its underscoring.

A few years later, Stoppard completed the inevitable stage adaptation. Raleigh, NC’s Burning Coal Theatre Company presents the second production of Darkside through Oct. 29th in Murphey School Auditorium.

Our hero is the young Emily (an apprehensive but very promising Davitta Singletary). In a nod to Pink Floyd fans’ habit of listening to The Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz, Emily dons ruby slippers to visit a miscellany of fantastic individuals — each representing a different ethical dilemma for her to grapple with. Climate change, war, and social justice are just a few of the problems that she must combat.

Guiding her across the otherworldly terrain is the professorial Ethics Man (a sincere Brian Linden). She encounters a Fat Man (a gruff Juan Isler) and a recently deceased Boy (a wonderfully lively Cody Hill), while trying to dodge capture by the Witch Finder (a menacing Marc Geller). Stoppard’s story syncs up with Pink Floyd’sMoney” as a Banker (Fred Corlett) and a Politician (Mac McCord) dance a nefarious vaudevillian duet.

Marc Geller (left) and Mac McCord star in Darkside (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

Marc Geller (left) and Mac McCord star in Darkside (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

Director Pálína Jónsdóttir reflects The Dark Side of the Moon’s themes of mental illness and the passage of time in her surreal and fluid staging, enhanced by the work of technical director Barry Jaked. Scenic designer Margaux Maeght has constructed a tall, snaky, gray wall. It appears like little more than a monolith … until characters begin to emerge from the wall as if through liquid. Doorways and compartments appear and disappear with dreamlike ease. Maeght’s highly inventive wall is this production’s most distinctive component.

Video designer Elliot Storey projects swirling, psychedelic artwork reminiscent of a 1960s rock concert. Sadly, the effect was muted on opening night, thanks to a buffering and crashing video system. I pray to Dionysus that this has been remedied; what I glimpsed was practically intoxicating.

Matthew Adelson’s lighting designs are particularly striking on a smoke-filled stage, and sound designer Cristina Bejan admirably keeps Pink Floyd’s 1973 album in a supporting role. Director Pálína Jónsdóttir’s costumes denote characters clearly, though some are too outlandish for even this environment.

The play walks a line between provocative and didactic, growing moralistic at times. Tom Stoppard tries to fit too much play into the 60-minute running time, preventing some of his philosophical punches from landing. While I cannot call it entertaining, Darkside proves to be intellectually challenging and stimulating. Rare praise indeed.

Burning Coal Theatre Company's East Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard & Pink Floyd's Darkside stars (from left) Cody Hill, Davitta Singletary, and Marc Geller (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

Burning Coal Theatre Company‘s East Coast premiere of Tom Stoppard & Pink Floyd’s Darkside stars (from left) Cody Hill, Davitta Singletary, and Marc Geller (photo by Mina von Feilitzsch Photography)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8666; Oct. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/darkside/Event?oid=8540224; and Sept. 29th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article176145851.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 16th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/10/tom-stoppard-pink-floyds-darkside-at-burning-coal-is-thought-provoking-entertainment/.)

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents DARKSIDE at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19-21, 2 p.m. Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-28, and 2 p.m. Oct. 29 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors), except $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain), $15 Thursday performances, and $15 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/darkside/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/152992585287189/.

PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.

VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://burningcoal.org/murphey-school-auditorium/.

OTHER LINKS:

Darkside (2013 radio drama): http://pinkfloyddarkside.com/ (official website) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darkside_(radio_play) (Wikipedia).

Tom Stoppard (Zlín, Czechoslovakia-born British playwright and screenwriter): https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/tom-stoppard (British Council | Literature bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/tom-stoppard-8912 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001779/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Stoppard (Wikipedia).

Pink Floyd (English progressive and psychedelic rock group): http://www.pinkfloyd.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0969139/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/pinkfloyd/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/pinkfloyd (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_Floyd (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/pinkfloyd (YouTube).

Pálína Jónsdóttir (Icelandic director): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0433593/ (Internet Movie Database) and https://www.facebook.com/palina.jonsdottir (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews