By Marcina Zaccaria
“Feather”, a Musical Portrait at New York Musical Theatre Festival
Charleene Closshey, composer and actress, presents a smart score including folk music, pop songs, and blues rhythms in “Feather”, an official selection of the 2013 New York Musical Theatre Festival. Sometimes light and fluffy, sometimes heartfelt and soulful, “Feather” conveys what happens when struggling rescue workers have much more to give.
Catherine, a human rights attorney portrayed by Closshey, learns her husband, Eli, a photojournalist, has been abducted from a child refugee camp. Her story comes together using mixed media, cutting between past and present, stage and the screen, dialogue and song. Within a two act structure, the place changes frequently and includes An Office, An Apartment, A Coffee Shop, and The Rebel Jail. Through the eyes of the characters, including The Artist and The Musician, we are asked to see how your eyes, like a feather, can see the portrait of a human being facing tragedy.
When acting, Ms. Closshey is intelligent, soulful, and inspiring. Her songs deal with the opposite of pain – quiet determination, heartache, and desperation are all present onstage. Eli, played by Richard H. Blake, portrays the struggling journalist. Their love story does not wear thin or lack resonance within the larger context of the play. Their courtship unfolds throughout the play in song and in previously recorded video, including some stunning scenes shot in NYC’s Central Park. Blake, previously seen on Broadway in “Wicked” and “Aida”, is polished, and carries the message of the play without grandeur or excess.
The Man in Black interrupts the world of the journalist, who is there to capture not only the human struggle, but also the day-to-day occurrences in the African village. In a song with Dr. Peterson (Peter Rini), Catherine recounts moments in her past on both sides of the globe. She relays chilling accounts from her husband’s journey. Escalating threats become border crisis that finally erupts in the African village covered by the journalist. A militia storms the village. Violence, perpetrated in a rebel jail, is a great juxtaposition to the calm, happy go lucky, world presented earlier in the play.
Although there is basic attention to costume and lighting design, Projection Design by Aron Deyo is contemporary, glossy, and dynamic. Video of Africa uses classic documentary style, as well as sweeping stop – motion photography. Choreography adds to the story, providing punctuation and moments of surprise. Clossey’s music includes ballads and simple harmony structure, played by the gifted Derek Wieland. A child’s choir and ballet dancers surround the lead actors. At the end of the show, we are able to see the story in layers, as performers on stage, people in the video, and a portrait created onstage throughout the show, revealing aspects of the human condition.
Live painting is the greatest revelation of the play. Blotches of color become a painted portrait distilled from a journalistic photograph. Images combine rather than collide with the action on the stage. As a storyteller, Jeffrey Feeger (The Artist) is both performative and practical. With live painting, Feeger has performed in Sydney’s Opera House, and the UN Women’s Exhibit during the Pacific Art Festival in Honiara. The reigning champion of a live performance competition in Shanghai in 2010, Feeger has rivaled artists from all over the globe. In his work we see the tension of the drama, as well as the fundamental modesty and humbleness of the play.
Though the thematic material can seem a bit formulaic, it is quite emotional and often compelling. Both Catherine, the human rights attorney, and the people that surround her are left to deal with what happens when you are empty but there is so much more to give. If the message of the play sometimes fails, perhaps it could be because the book and lyrics are too simple and lack the complexity for the larger issues presented. The simplicity is intelligible, though, and it provides a backdrop that is less psychological and more heartfelt. When Closshey sings, “Your mind is floating like a feather, as it rises and falls,” it leaves the audience understanding the emotion and sadness of the past, while looking ahead towards the future.
“Feather” is presented as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival. It will be running at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center until July 16th. www.nymf.org
Tuesday, July 9th at 8PM
Wednesday, July 10th at 9PM
Saturday, July 13th at 1PM
Sunday, July 14th at 9PM
Tuesday, July 16th at 9PM
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre
At the Perishing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street