There was no shortage of things to see at the La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls (WOW) Festival 2019 held at Liberty Station, last Thursday through Sunday (October 17-20).
The array of site-specific and immersive theatrical experiences offered plenty of entertainment for theatre fans.
Some of the original shows that stood out included charming stories about romance and other plays comprised of unique vignettes.
At 90 minutes, one of the more full-length productions was How High the Moon, which was performed in front of audiences at NTC Park. An original folk tale fantasy adventure written by Mike Sears, the story followed a young couple, Buck (Connor Sullivan) and Irma (Samantha Ginn), and their quest to get a moon above their home.
Their journey featured parallels to couples that desperately want children, despite many hardships.
Director, Lisa Berger, staged many fantastical elements, which included talking animals and a man in the moon, in a matter of fact way that was hilariously deadpan. Each member of the cast, Sears and Li-Anne Rowswell portrayed several characters, gave performances full of witty moments and became more moving as the plot unfolded in front of audience’s eyes.
Outside of some mic issues and some sequences with a bird that went on a little too long, the tale was engaging, and made absurd situations funny yet dramatic at times.
Sears plans on reviving the show in the future, and I would gladly see it again, especially if he works with the same cast and crew.
A shorter 45 minute piece from People of Interest also about love was PDA, directed by Jesca Prudencio at Liberty Station’s South Promenade. Described as a “documentary dance theatre piece,” it was headlined by three real life couples, Eden Hildebrand and Bernardo Oacheco, Dana Hooley and Francis Thumm and Erica Mejos and Anna Galavan.
Under Prudencio’s direction, each of the couples reenacted major moments of their lives, set to their own narration and songs like Rex Orange County’s (feat. Benny Sings) “Loving is Easy” and “Be Our Guest” from the Broadway Cast recording of “Beauty and the Beast” (Melanie Chen Cole and Justin Humphres are credited as designers of the show.).
The mixture of music, voice-over and movement added up to a memorable tribute to committed relationships.
Moving on from true love to destiny, an experience made up of vignettes was Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company’s Written in Stone. Theatregoers walked with tour guides around Stone Brewing World Bistro & Garden to witness short plays, which included a script by Shairi Engle and directed by Andrew Oswald, “Littering/Loitering,” about two women, (Mondis Vakili and Megan Carmitchel), who reunited after a painful breakup.
Other short scripts written by Mashuq Deen, Frank Katasse, Daria Miyeko Marinelli and Marisela Orta dealt with strange and sometimes humorous topics such as a potentially risky escape plan from Stone, existential questions about acting and theatre and potentially getting fired from a thankless job. A little over an hour, I was frequently won over by the many surprises in each scene.
Equally ambitious was Blindspot Collective’s Hall Pass, which was presented at High Tech High.
After attending a freshman and transfer orientation at the fictitious Harris-Tingley High, audience members watched a selection of short plays and musicals over five different periods. Individuals were able to choose which of the many stories they wanted to see.
One drama that was uncomfortable to watch, though comedic and touching, was “Last First Kiss” by Chad Beckim. Staged in a girls’ bathroom of all places, Kevin Phan and Julie Meram starred as a couple who were on the verge of a breakup. Both performers played their parts with empathy, and the rapport that they shared resulted in a bittersweet payoff.
One musical highlight of the evening was Make This World, written by Gill Sotu. Rap, R & B and dialogue mixed as two students, a peaceful protester, (William BJ Robinson), and his more ambivalent friend (Marc Caro) expressed disapproval about why high school did not do a good job of preparing them for the real world. Besides insightful writing from Sotu and a passionate performance from Robinson, the piece stunned because of Blindspot’s Executive Artistic Director, Blake McCarty.
His direction built to an ending that took me by surprise in a wonderful way.
The Arts District Liberty Station proved to be a great venue to hold the fourth biennial Without Walls Festival. There was plenty of unique spaces to host the over 20 multidisciplinary and interactive pieces. I just wished I had the time to experience all of them.