Mystery/thriller excites KC Rep audience

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By Bob Evans

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Sit back and watch as a new world premiere takes the stage in repertory style as Christina Anderson’s new play, “Man in Love” presents a new, staggering production that displays something not seen on stage with mixed genres and mixed story lines.

“Man in Love” presents different aspects of love to three different men. One presents a sweet, honest, sincere love; one a sexual desire for immediate gratification as love; and another presents a tormented, dominant male aggressive love. All come together in a new piece reminiscent of Robert Altman films where different story lines become parts of a bigger piece.

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Even though three men remain the focus of the story, three women who pair with them equally add to the drama of the piece. And the beauty of this play lies in its unpredictability. At any point, one story could quickly change to resemble another story line.  The plot can be as thrilling and mysterious as the Jack the Ripper story or as tender as a toughing love story.

The scenes, crafting, staging all intermingle to create a new theater experience. Is it a drama? Is it a thriller? Is it a mystery? Is it a love story? Is it universal in appeal? The numerous aspects keep the audience minds and eyes laser focused.

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As for the female characters, they face burdens so different from the men. One suffers agoraphobia and cannot deal with life. One knows her body, parties, and personality can pay the bills. The other values education and the only way to survive is to succeed in a career. All three women present desperate needs to be fulfilled.

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The array of characters causes six different characters to come together in a stunning story that just keeps leading the audience through the tormented lives of each character. All characters have depth and layers that keep unveiling new interesting information about them. Each presents sincere needs created by loneliness and isolation and fear. The only way to conquer their demons may lead to their success or failure. No one knows until the final scenes what happens to each.

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Give lots of credit to playwright Anderson who crafted this piece and also to Marissa Wolf who envisioned the physicality of the play and staged it with creativity. The set works, the entrance and exits work, the lighting helps direct the audience, and most stunning costumes cement the time period of the 1930s. Along with those technical pieces, the background music track create a targeted time of the early Great Depression Era. The Depression-theme resonates with people who have no job, few prospects or jobs, and rely on soup kitchens and rent parties to survive.

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Selecting a favorite character and/or actor is impossible. All six of the cast members give standout performances. Dianne Yvette, Emily Shackelford, and Bianca Leigh amaze with their characters. Each is different and unique, yet they blend in so well with their men counterparts. For the men, Rufus Burns is chilling from his opening monologue to his final monologue. Justin Barron is charming, funny, endearing. He’s a joy to watch in a very different male character from others in his resume. Michael Pauley gives a gritty, desperate character the heart needed to make his appealing. Hearts hurt for his desperation to be employed, worthwhile, and secure. The mix is astonishing. The chemistry among the cast sells the piece, and the dialogue sounds so easy and non-forced. “Man in Love” is ready to move forward. Perhaps some more story and a few more scenes could be added to craft a two-act play. The one-act version leave the audience wanting more.

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At first the short scenes and character introductions were awkward, but after adjusting to them, the story carried the piece and this reviewer looked forward to the next scene to see what it further revealed. The only downfall was some auditory problems as several scenes opened. The first few lines were not picked up well by the sound. That’s a quick resolve.

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The cast is: Justin Barron as Leigh; Rufus Burns as Paul Pare Jr., Bianca Leigh as Bernice, Michael R. Pauley as Walker, Emily Shackelford as Hazel, Dianne Yvette as Darlynn. The production team was led my Marissa Wolf, director; Antje Ellerman, scenic design; Caroline Allender, costume design; Jeffrey Cady, lighting design; Cliff Caruthers, sound design; John Wilson, fight choreographer; Paul J. Mesner, puppet consultant; Lilly Rider research dramaturg; Stephanie Klapper, New York casting; Jason Chanos, Kansas City casting; Chip Miller, Kansas City casting; Rachel M. Dyer, production stage manager.

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“Man in Love” continues in repertory style through May 28, rotating with “What Would Crazy Horse Do?” More information about tickets, pricing, dates, show schedules, can be found on the Kansas City Repertory Theatre website.

 

Tags:  KC Rep, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, “Man in Love”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment,

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