"Mystery" play

Not What It Seems to Be

Based on Works by Julio Cortazar
Directed by Slava Stepnov
Steps Theatre Production Company
Yama Stage at the Orange Bear Club
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

Not What It Seems to Be was a stage experiment by the Steps Theatre Production Company that attempted to blend a wide range of theatrical elements into one meaningful production. However, the lack of unity in subject matter and style made for an incomplete and disjointed presentation. If the goal was to provide an evening of absurdist and nonsensical scenes, then the group partially succeeded. If not, then what exactly they wanted to accomplish is a mystery, at least to this viewer.

Based on short stories and dramatic scenes by the Argentinean writer Julio Cortazar from his book Cronopious and Famas and other one-act plays, the script mixes serious observations and humorous scenes that, while individually hitting the dramatic or comic bull's-eye at times, never quite jell together.

Director Slava Stepnov kept the actors occupied with interesting movements and vocal exercises, and redeemed the production with a satisfying second act. Cortazar's story of what happened to the title character of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday after they were rescued was told with little interruption. This sequel of sorts to Daniel Defoe's classic tale (acclaimed in the program notes as "the first prose novel and ... the first great English novel") reveals what might have transpired if the twosome had gone back to the island and found it a developed, burgeoning metropolis. It is a whimsical and insightful story, told in a sensible, straightforward manner.

The first act, on the other hand, comprises such vignettes as a speech about sameness, a restaurant scene, a chorus of exclamations and musical riffs, cryptic questions about life, and adventures with embalmed monkeys. Add to this several confusing references to beings called Cronopious and Famas, which are never fully explained, and it is easy to see why the first half is so hard to comprehend.

Stepnov did his best to come up with intricate stage pictures and other clever uses of the set. A piece of string that symbolically connected all the actors together was an unplanned metaphor for what was missing from the production - a playwright who could have connected all the disparate stories together. As for the actors, they are all accomplished performers who juggled both funny and serious moments with commitment and enthusiasm. The ensemble included Tyree Giroux, Stacy Lee Tilton, Richard Binder, William David Johnson, Livia Llewellyn, and Alexander Sokovikov.

Behind the scenes, Uta Bekaia deserved credit for the eclectic set and costume designs. Choreographer Mariana Bekerman created some interesting visual movements to the music of Arcady FreeMan (musical consultant Sergei Dreznin). Jullian Lowenfeld served as translator of the Spanish text.

The troupe will soon be taking this show on the road, as it heads to the Fourth International Theatre Festival "Kyiv Travnevy" in Kiev, Ukraine. Hopefully some clarity and cohesiveness will be gained in the translation.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac