Thursday, February 28, 2013

Identity Theft, Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program

In Identity Theft, a devised work now at the Cleveland Play House, seven grad student performers seek to explore the mysteries of identity in a work written and assembled by Anders Cato. The multi-tasking Cato translated the texts of August Strindberg, which are used in the piece, and also directs the 90-minute production.

The finished work provides often-stunning eye candy thanks to some dazzling lighting effects by Michael Boll and the fluid scenic design by Jill Davis. The non-linear and often fragmented scenes do a good job of mirroring the crazy-quilt nature of identity—how we are all many different people depending on the people we’re near and what the situation is.

And the performers—Therese Anderberg, Bernard Bygott, Drew Derek, TJ Gainley, Christa Hinckley, Sarah Kinsey and Stephen Spencer—are an energetic and committed lot. As a result, many of the individual scenes or moments work well in a vacuum.

But this show, like so many devised plays (which are put together with the input of the cast and designers), has one major flaw: no one on stage has anything at stake, nothing they’re risking.

By using Strindberg as their starting point, Cato and company have found a compelling and richly contradictory focus, as that playwright swung from pole to pole in his private passions and relationships.

But Strindberg had to deal with the consequences of his fractured identity. And so do characters in a more traditional play. But Identity Theft gives everyone a free pass as they try on different identities and personas, holding and dancing with pieces-parts of store mannequins as they move and sing and, at time, settle down for a bit and actually talk.

But that talk never leads anywhere because there is another, completely different identity gambit rushing up to take its place. The true nature of identity, and of discovering who you really are, is not just a child’s game of trying on different faces.

In reality, even small identity changes can create monumental ripple effects for the person and for their friends and loved ones. This is a complex reality more suited to being conveyed through storytelling, not a collage of impressions—however interesting on the surface they might be.

To sum up, Identity Theft a bold and often riveting theatrical experience. But it brings the audience no closer to understanding the volatile chemistry of identity because it chooses to ignore the human toll that such changes often demand.

Identity Theft
Through March 9, produced by the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program, at PlayhouseSquare, The Helen (Lab Theatre), 1407 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000

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