Thursday, August 22, 2013

Mad Cat Theatre Company: Blow Me (reviews)

Mad Cat Theatre Company opened its production of Jessica Farr's Blow Me on August 16, 2013.
Blow Me is an unbridled take on the life of fashion icon, Isabella Blow. Blow was fashion editor at Tatler and Vogue, leaving an indelible mark on the fashion world, having discovered designers such as Alexander McQueen. Suffering from Bi-Polar disorder, Isabella attempted suicide 7 times before finally succeeding. In Blow Me, we follow Isabella down the rabbit hole as her life comes to an end, which is only just the beginning of the ride. Isabella retells her own story as only she could remember it, through spectacle.
Paul Tei directed a cast that included Emilie Paap, Jessica Farr, Noah Levine, Erin Joy Schmidt, Gregg Weiner, Matthew Glass, Karelle Levy, Veronica Soderman, Melissa Santiago Keenan, Paul Tei and Art Garcia.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Watching Blow wrestle with her past on the eve of her seventh and finally successful suicide attempt provides a cautionary tale in Mad Cat Theatre Company’s insightful, witty and thought-provoking world premiere of Jessica Farr’s Blow Me.
The play swirls around a bravura performance by the superb Erin Joy Schmidt. She creates a memorable portrait of a flamboyant 24/7 persona that was artificially constructed for a world of people seeking celebrity as self-validation.
The evening is not perfect. Farr intentionally spins the evening through space and time with no concern for chronology... Some scenes are wryly funny, but really don’t add to our understanding of Blow. Worse, Farr doesn’t make clear the roots of Blow’s fatal melancholy other than a rotten relationship with her parents and the professional betrayal of some of her friends.

But there’s no doubting the evolving talent of Farr... Her characters speak with that self-aware stylized language that we like to think in retrospect that we actually uttered. She also has a facility with long speeches in which luxurious language wafts gloriously like the smoke from that cigarette.
Tei, whose talent for making sense out of surrealism was evident in Naked Stage’s 4:48 Psychosis, is perfectly in sync. His characters walk up and down the white thrust stage as if it was a runway; characters speak over the audiences’ head from the dark corners of the tiny black box stage.
Supporting (Schmidt) is a clutch of chameleons playing a half-dozen roles each: Noah Levine as the supportive Treacy, Matthew Glass as the working class McQueen and her dead father, Greg Weiner as her husband Detmar, and Emilie Papp as her disapproving mother. Most of the time, the entire cast inject a truthfulness into even the most bizarre circumstances, except when Papp portrays a tabloid reporter whose speeches never land convincingly.
Costume designer Karelle Levy gleefully lets her imagination run wild within the confines of a limited budget... Her work is emblematic of the entire effort in which everyone, Schmidt especially, throws themselves unreservedly and courageously into a difficult tale about a troubled human being.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Mad Cat’s latest effort, Blow Me, at the MTC Sandbox is a prime example of how they operate: Brilliant at times, not so at others. But always fun to watch.
...director Paul Tei has put actors on the stage who fascinate. Even if you don’t know exactly who the hell they’re supposed to be it’s a joy to watch them work. Erin Joy Schmidt as Isabella is on stage constantly. Her command of a deeply frustrated artist, depressed to the point of suicide (six attempts) is the glue that holds Blow Me to the floor.
Paul Tei not only zooms the piece along very nicely but also designed the set. A fashion runway with a bridal bower at one end. Imaginative props prevail. As do costume changes. Karelle Levy designed the many outfits. Matt Corey is the composer and sound designer and the lights are by Melissa Santiago Keenan.
John Thomason wrote for the Miami New Times:
In Mad Cat Theatre Company's new bio-play about late British fashion muse Isabella Blow, all the world's a stage, but not a very glamorous one.
In Farr's treatment, it's Blow's almost-famousness, her proximity to brilliance, more than her diagnoses of cancer and bipolar disorder that drove her to an early grave.
The story is freewheeling and unpredictable, and sound designer Matt Corey deserves a great deal of credit for instilling a sense of place to an unchanging set, creating the soft ambient samples that suggest studios, nightclubs, fashion shoots, rainstorms, magazine offices, Venetian canals, hospitals, and open fields.
Blow Me is a triumph above all, however, for Schmidt, who disappears fully and invisibly into Blow. Clothed in costume designer Karelle Levy's black bob wig, glittering gold dress, meretricious fur coat, and motley feathered hat, Schmidt imbues her character with sartorial beauty and a sense of deep-rooted insecurity. She explodes without a moment's notice and tears up just as instantly, with Schmidt bringing the humanity and pathos to a cerebral exercise that might otherwise hover an arm's length from emotional immersion. 
Weiner likewise expresses his versatility in multiple roles that showcase his comic timing. He plays Detmar like an effeminate, charmingly stiff statue that occasionally comes to life, while, as Blow's flippantly cruel boss at Tatler, he seems to be channeling the wry humor of Stephen Merchant. Add to these an hilarious cameo as a gondolier in Venice and you've got a hat trick of memorable support. Glass, who looks like McQueen's doppelganger, capably contributes four roles, while Levine and Papp perform their chameleonic yeomen's duties in an additional 11 parts.
The play exists in the bubble it satirizes: Characters are introduced with the full assumption that the audience knows everything about the 1990s oeuvre of Damien Hirsch or the controversy of Alexander McQueen's "Highland Rape" collection and is already well aware of the muse/creator relationship between Blow and Treacy. Theatergoers would be best suited to read up thoroughly on the biographies of Blow and her confidants, lest they find themselves as lost as a Harley rider at a Vogue pitch meeting.

Still, Farr can write. Her script is littered with potent quotables of tragicomic angst that ground the play's surrealist structure. When Blow looses a string of profanities against Detmar and receives a weary and reciprocated expression of love in return, Farr, Schmidt, and Weiner create a moment of profound truth that encapsulates the full spectrum of Issi's manic-depression.
Mad Cat Theatre Company presents Blow Me at The Miami Theatre Center through September 1, 2013.

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