Friday, December 4, 2015

Margin Notes: POPTART!

Seen on: Thursday, 12/3/15.
My grade: B+
Monique St. Cyr and Allison Strickland as Monique Jackson and Anna Martin.
Photo by Patricia Phelps.

Plot and Background
Monique Jackson is a rising singer-songwriter star acting out the role of a spoiled diva for anyone who will tolerate her. James Pearce is a gifted songwriter with a lofty view of the business of show. When Monique's assistant Anna maneuvers a meeting between the two to negotiate a collaboration, personalities collide in a big way. POPTART! is a new play by Krystle Phelps, co-founder of Girl Just Died, a NY-based theater company "dedicated to bringing to life new, exciting, and honest work that heavily features a variety of voices."

Disclosure, and
What I Knew Beforehand
I've worked with - and am friends with - director Gwenevere Sisco. Beyond that, I'd seen and reviewed her previous collaboration with Krystle Phelps, James Parenti, and Monique St. Cyr, May Violets Spring.


Play: There's always something rather thrilling about a real-time play with an approaching deadline. As Monique stalks about her dressing room, primping, drinking, changing clothes, writing "Bitch" on her mirror with lipstick, we know she has a performance (to a pre-recorded "live track") at an unspecified awards show only moments away. This is borrowed time: a chemistry meet with a new collaborator, dodged calls from her mother slash former manager, and a showdown between a diva and her only friend. Time seems to both expand and contract around moments - music plays and everything holds still. Tragedy strikes, and the show must go on. While Monique does her best to drive everyone away, there remains a moment of hope at the end - perhaps she recognizes that she is worth saving, after all. The final performance is thrilling, a release for both Monique and the audience.

Cast: Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for people singing (musicals are my very favorite thing and you cannot take them away from me), but the chemistry between the players here is at its best when they're playing a song. Whether it's Monique and James (played by, look at that, Monique St. Cyr and James Parenti) composing a song together, or James trying to seduce some intel out of Anna (played by, look at that, Allison Strickland) with an impromptu song about thread, there's a healthy mixture of sparks and sweetness when this uniting thing, this love of music and creation, enters the equation. St. Cyr and Parenti have lovely voices, and it's a pleasure to hear them blend. All three actors bring a rich mix of strength and vulnerability, particularly Strickland as the much-abused but fiercely loyal assistant Anna. While Monique's constant posturing and offense-as-defense behavior can grow frustrating, she earns back our love the moment she begins singing, and earns our respect in her final triumphant catharsis at the end.

Design: So here's what's maddening - my favorite thing about the set design is something I can't talk about, because it's a spoiler. So let's just say halfway through the play, I thought, "Gosh, it would be great if spoiler happened," and then ... it did. So kudos to Jonathan Hartley for that. Risi Werner's costumes are clear, quick snapshots of each character - or at least who each character would have us believe they are. Monique, our starlet, our titular poptart, wears leather mini shorts over fishnets or a glittering gold evening gown; Anna, capable and professional, sports a casual suit with a chunky necklace; and James is the consummate hipster, with draped skinny scarf, loose wool sweater, and, well, a hipster haircut (I don't know if there's an official name for it, but check out the picture, you'll see I'm right). The original songs, by the way, are gorgeous and they should release a CD. Just saying. I'd buy it.


Running: Now playing at TADA! Youth Theater (Girl Just Died) - Opened: December 2, 2015. Closing: December 5, 2015
Category: play with music
Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Playwright: Krystle Phelps
Original Music: James Parenti, Krystle Phelps, and Patricia Phelps
Director: Gwenevere Sisco
Designers: Jonathan Hartley (Set), Risi Werner (Costume), Brian Henderson (Lighting), James Parenti (Sound).
Cast: Monique St. Cyr, Allison Strickland, James Parenti.

James Parenti as James Pearce. Photo by Patricia Phelps.

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