REVIEW: THE WILD PARTY

at The Denver Center 

by Owen Niland

F.O.M.O.  Fear of missing out.  In our interconnected world of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and any of a 1,000 other social networking apps, we get carefully curated impressions of things going on around us – the amazing party you missed, the dinner that was so good you wouldn’t have believed it if you were there, the dramatic breakup just after you left.  This constant barrage of information leaves us feeling like there is something absent from our own experience, something that – had we been there, in the thick of it all – would have meant a better, more fulsome experience.  This is of course a fantasy, a narrative carefully crafted and curated to create the most interesting and “like”-able impression possible.  Authentic experience is never so cut and dry, it’s messy, uneven, and as likely to disappoint as to enlighten.

It’s kind of a theatrical F.O.M.O. which immersive theater attempts to address.  Bring the audience into the action where, without a fourth wall whatsoever, the production becomes more immediate, engaging and ultimately fulfilling.  

DCPA tackles this style of immersive theater with its Off Center production of The Wild Party.  The Wild Party has something of storied past.  Written as a poem in 1926 by Joseph Moncure March, its salacious account of the gin-soaked party thrown by Queenie & Burrs earned it resounding condemnation in its time and enduring fame to this day.  Competing musicals were written, each premiering a handful of blocks from one another during the 1999-2000 Broadway season.  DCPA has chosen the LaChiusa version which originally appeared on Broadway over the Off-Broadway Andrew Lippa version which appeared on Denver stages several times in recent years.

Vaudeville star and clown-extraordinaire Burrs (Drew Horwitz) is fighting with his on-again/off-again girlfriend, fading chanteuse Queenie (Emily Van Fleet), so to overcome or avoid the simmering blowout, the two decide to throw a party for their various eccentric and ego-centric friends.  Naturally gin is served in abundance, dancing is had, clothes are doffed and pairings in various numbers and among various genders ensues – all leading to a catastrophic finale.

The cast here is a true ensemble, each contributing their own unique personality to their characters, and pulling double duty as both performer and tour guide to the audience as they bring the audience from the space’s entryway into the main performance space.  

Of the performances, I was truly struck by Sheryl McCallum’s Dolores Montoya, a powerhouse of character brought to life, who dominates her scenes with Gold and Goldberg (Wayne Kennedy and Brett Ambler, respectively) as two Broadway producers undergoing an identity crisis.  Leonard E. Barrett Jr. and Trent Hines also dazzle as the musical duo Oscar and Phil D’Armano, with Hines pulling double duty as both actor on stage, as well as conductor and pianist for the production.

The performance space designed by Jason Sherwood is the real star of the show.  An enormous, colorful multi-room apartment with seating integrated throughout, it is the little details in the space that create the world of Burrs and Queenie.  The little notes hidden among the props, the trinkets of affection, records played on a working Victrola, are all open to the audience to explore.  Don’t miss Queenie’s closet, which is a delightful little Easter egg-filled space just off the main room.

The lighting design by Jason Lynch is similarly spectacular, it’s truly breathtaking to watch the sunrise from outside the windows of the apartment, although an unfortunate concession to the lighting design are the columns in the center of the space, which occasionally obstruct full view of some scenes.   

There is so much going on at The Wild Party, though, that the audience can easily be overwhelmed, swiveling their head around trying to keep track of the action as it takes place around the apartment.  Although it does force the audience to invest in the performance and stay alert to the plays goings on, I did feel at times that due to the staging I wasn’t getting the full picture, either because the action was across on the other side of the space or because I was distracted by the details of the set.  However, all in all the production was a rousing success, but be wary, keep your eyes open, so you’re not left with a sneaking feeling of F.O.M.O. as you leave the theater.

The Wild Party plays through October 31st in The Hangar at The Stanley Marketplace

Tickets: www.denvercenter.org

Box Office: 800-641-1222

PHOTO CREDIT:  AdamsVisCom

 

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