Originality in a theatrical production comes in many forms– content, structure, unique casting and acting choices, a novel use of space, an unexpected twist on a familiar trope, etc.
Waxwing, written and directed by Evan Silver ’16, is a simultaneously familiar and original piece of work. The story is immensely simple: two parallel love stories that eventually converge, one ending happily, another, not so much. An elementary plot comes as no surprise; after all, the show runs only 45 minutes long, hardly enough time for plot intricacies and complex character development.
However, Silver’s originality lies in the presentation, in the characters he’s constructed to tell these stories, and in an effective use of space and music to tease out tension from even a tired, old love story.
First off, I’ll address space. Silver, who triples as set designer, transformed the room into a runway, utilizing the tennis-court-arrangement of the space to evoke a love story that verges at times on a duel. It is an inventive use of the Upspace, and one not commonly seen.
From the moment the lights, subtly designed by Jordana Rosenfeld ’17, dim, you’re thrown directly into Silver’s world. This universe is one in which a bird and a boy not only converse, but also have sexual tension, and the sea and the sun are personified as starcrossed (see what I did there) ex-lovers with a juicy history.
The bird, played with vigor and a commanding stage presence by Sabrina Imbler ’16, and the boy, played by Ezra Dulit-Greenberg ’18, serve as the centerpiece of the story. The bird is lonely, and so is the boy. He wants to fly, and she can get him wings. But this is not where the richness of Waxwing truly lies; rather, it is in the secondary love story, between the Sea and the Sun.
Hassani Scott ’17, the Sea, steals the show, slipping effortlessly from a charming smooth talker to a lover in the depths of despair. Her voice is beyond beautiful; it’s rich, flitting over riffs and expertly striking high notes. Her singing is not a portrayal of emotion; it is emotion incarnate. And yet, she is also understated, displaying wells of emotion just with a look in her eyes.
Her partner, Stephanie Randall ’15, is equally subtle, and works as an effective counterpart to Scott. She is urgent at times and quiet at others. Their chemistry is undeniable.
The music, also composed by Silver (which is just damn impressive), is an asset to Silver’s telling of the story. Although the genre is semi-unintelligible (sort of tense modern RnB meets Broadway), the play’s two songs and the semi-constant musical underscoring provide the show with a rhythm that keeps it moving.
The three-person pit (Ryan Segur ’17 on violin, Theo Follini-Press ’17 on piano and Aaron Whitman, RISD ’16, on percussion) is instrumental (I did it again) to Silver’s telling of the story. Segur on violin is a particular highlight; the eerie sound effects he conjures using his instrument heighten the tension in the show’s already-tensest moments.
At times, the source of Silver’s originality is also the source of some tired material–an excess of nature puns, for example, comes off as trite sometimes. There are moments that seem rushed and not deliberate–like when Scott sings Phil Phillip’s 1959 “Sea of Love” (although I could listen to Scott sing for days). But the accomplishment of a wholly-student-generated piece should not be overlooked.
Waxwing isn’t groundbreaking, but it provides 45 minutes of good fun, even-better singing, and occasional moments of pathos in a world that is entirely Silver’s.
Waxwing will be shown in the P.W. Upspace tonight at 8 p.m. and tomorrow at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are available a half hour before each show.