The Drowned God
Change usually comes from within. Kennedy Theatre is about to undergo a heavy set of renovations, and that means its mainstage and lab theater productions, including those of the Late Night Theatre Company, would have to find alternative spaces either in or out of the theater proper to produce their plays. The Thin Man on the Ladder, a devised production directed by Nathaniel Niemi and written by Jennifer M. Yoo and the ensemble, found an alternate space to be in one of Kennedy Theatre's makeshift classrooms, Studio S (S standing for Substage). The space was comfy and inviting, seating about 40, with carpets laid out and tons of various accouterments such as trunks, old ladders, crates, and bottles, suggesting that this play won't necessarily be a production taking place in this day and age. With carefully chosen lights on a makeshift grid on the ceiling (remember, this space is a classroom), the stage was set, and the play begins.
Change usually comes from within, unless you desperately need water, and that's when Charles M. Hatfield, historic "rainmaker," strolls into town. Hatfield's story, as well as the stories of those he has affected, is told by a company of energetic and tight-knitted players. The story is told through a series of vignettes ranging in style and varying degrees of reality, with the ensemble working and playing together to make set and scene changes happen, and the set that seemed like an assortment of "stuff" comes alive in countless ways. I must applaud everyone in the production for getting to the point where everyone knew what to do and where to get it, especially in a space where room is sparse-- six people onstage in a corner could get into traffic jams really quick.
Niemi, Yoo, and the company also deserve recognition for the amount of sheer research put into this production. During transitions, they would oft quote actual articles, ads, and poetry pieces from the time (the early 1900s, and the San Diego flood featured in the play happened in 1916). Thanks to this intense research, the vignettes felt textually richer, and a lot of pieces felt more poignant. They ranged from fun to beautiful to satirical to a little too close to home. In fact, even though these events took place a century ago or more, many of the stories echo the world we live in today.
A beautiful unfolding series of events, beginning with a flood. A solid ensemble that works as effectively as a machine, but never feels mechanical at all. A story that maybe you kind of heard of, but you should definitely see now. Change usually comes from within, and Niemi's production is sure to stir up your chemical and emotional composition in some way.
The Thin Man on the Ladder runs now through Sunday, November 19 at Kennedy Theatre. The show begins at 9pm, except for Sunday, where it begins at 7pm. Tickets are $5-10 and are sold at the box office one hour before curtain.
[Michael Donato is a member of the Late Night Theatre Company, where he is a Graphic Designer.]