CasablancaBox

Theater, Experimental
2 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(1user review)
Casablanca Box
Photograph: Benjamin Heller

Theater review by Helen Shaw

When something flickers, even at the edge of awareness, our hindbrain forces us to look at it. We're all still twitchy from spending millennia on the African grasslands, so it's difficult not to pay attention to a screen as it flashes, imperceptibly, through images and blackness. We're wired for alertness. This is why you can't ignore TVs in bars, and it's also why video on stage so frequently overwhelms the live elements around it. Sometimes theatrical components compete with the lights and screens; sometimes the tension is interesting or valuable. But in the case of the multimedia CasablancaBox at HERE, the physical production simply can't put up enough of a fight.

Playwright Sara Farrington and director/video designer Reid Farrington have made CasablancaBox as a sort of “exploded view” engineering diagram of the classic Casablanca, in which we see both the finished 1942 film (projected onto moving muslin flats and mesh handheld screens) and the action of filming those scenes. Actors play not only Humphrey Bogart (Roger Casey), Ingrid Bergman (Catherine Gowl) and Peter Lorre (Rob Hille), but also director Michael Curtiz (Kevin R. Free) and Mayo Methot (Erin Treadway), Bogart's increasingly distraught wife. A cast of 16, dressed in '40s flat caps, hustle props and lights across the tiny HERE stage. We're on the hectic Warner Brothers lot, though we sometimes also glimpse private moments, like bit players (who were often refugees from WWII) kvetching about their roles. The scrambling grips hold poster-size screens in front of actors' faces, so we see and hear the live performer moving behind it, replicating the shot we see from the real film.

As a visual object, CasablancaBox has moments of beauty. Lighting designer Laura Mroczkowski uses blackness as well as she uses light; sound engineer Travis Wright deserves his own round of applause. Reid Farrington is a past master at projection work, and as always, it's precise and glowing. But he's less deft with the non-pixelated performers. Sara Farrington has frequently written them scenes that seem nearly impossible to play—like an actor portraying two men simultaneously (this is accidentally comic), or sudden, devastated refugee monologues that sound ridiculous inside the piece's generally farcical mode.

Still, there are moments: Methot and Casey act a painful scene together beautifully; Gowl and Casey achieve some their models' legendary chemistry. But for the most part, the live elements swing among tonalities and genres—many of which are too broadly delivered—and the performers fade beside the film fragments around them. How could they not? Every screen is alive with clips from Casablanca, and that ain't exactly a hill of beans.

HERE. By Sara Farrington. Directed by Reid Farrington. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through April 29.

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Event phone: 212-352-3101
Event website: http://here.org

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Here’s Looking at Us

CasablancaBox, a transformative new work of innovative multi media theater turns the camera’s lens on us, the America of 1942 as well as the America of today. Created husband and wife team of scriptwriter Sara Farrington and Director and Set and video designer Reid Farrington, CasablancaBox takes us on a journey at breakneck speed behind the scenes at the creation of this quintessential American film. Transforming brief clips from the film by projecting them around the actors on stage, the show gives the audience a behind the scenes glimpse the public lives as well as the inner lives of the film’s creators and actors.

Just 8 words from the film’s Sam, soulfully played by Toussaint Jeanlouis, evoke the entire history of racial discrimination in Hollywood and the groundbreaking nature of Dooley Wilson’s role as the entertainer Sam in Casablanca. After complaining to director Curtiz , (thunderstorm Kevin R. Free raging over the production) about being paid half of what the white actors are earning, Sam shrugs, saying, “At least I'm not playing a Pullman Porter.”

When the luminous Catherine Gowl portraying Ingrid Bergman, struggles between her responsibility to her dentist husband and her attraction to director Roberto Rossellini ( both are played nearly simultaneously in a marvelously disturbing way by Zac Hoogendyk) the tension between art and life is thrown in the face of the audience in a brief and often hilarious scene.

Stephanie Regina’s Irene, a messenger on the set, and a creation of Farrington’s imagination, speaks in the vernacular of the 40’s but has such a modern sensibility that she will not allow us to forget that this is all happening now.

Roger Casey as Rick embodies an America that in 1942 as today, struggles with bravery and cowardice, responsibility to remedy injustice in the world and a desire to just be left alone to live our lives. Roger Casey both captures the essence of the ineffable Bogart and makes the role his own.

The plight of the refugees in CasablancaBox could not be more timely in this day of xenophobia both at home and abroad. CasablancaBox attacks us with serious and timely issues, while allowing us to laugh at ourselves and our struggles.

The scenes are presented rapid-fire, leaving the audience no time to recover from one before we are attacked by another, challenging us in new ways. . Not as disturbing as it sounds, the dreamlike show is held together through the masterful storytelling which always brings the audience back to the framework of the film.

Here’s Looking at Us

CasablancaBox, a transformative new work of innovative multi media theater turns the camera’s lens on us, the America of 1942 as well as the America of today. Created husband and wife team of scriptwriter Sara Farrington and Director and Set and video designer Reid Farrington, CasablancaBox takes us on a journey at breakneck speed behind the scenes at the creation of this quintessential American film. Transforming brief clips from the film by projecting them around the actors on stage, the show gives the audience a behind the scenes glimpse the public lives as well as the inner lives of the film’s creators and actors.

Just 8 words from the film’s Sam, soulfully played by Toussaint Jeanlouis, evoke the entire history of racial discrimination in Hollywood and the groundbreaking nature of Dooley Wilson’s role as the entertainer Sam in Casablanca. After complaining to director Curtiz , (thunderstorm Kevin R. Free raging over the production) about being paid half of what the white actors are earning, Sam shrugs, saying, “At least I'm not playing a Pullman Porter.”

When the luminous Catherine Gowl portraying Ingrid Bergman, struggles between her responsibility to her dentist husband and her attraction to director Roberto Rossellini ( both are played nearly simultaneously in a marvelously disturbing way by Zac Hoogendyk) the tension between art and life is thrown in the face of the audience in a brief and often hilarious scene.

Stephanie Regina’s Irene, a messenger on the set, and a creation of Farrington’s imagination, speaks in the vernacular of the 40’s but has such a modern sensibility that she will not allow us to forget that this is all happening now.

Roger Casey as Rick embodies an America that in 1942 as today, struggles with bravery and cowardice, responsibility to remedy injustice in the world and a desire to just be left alone to live our lives. Roger Casey both captures the essence of the ineffable Bogart and makes the role his own.

The plight of the refugees in CasablancaBox could not be more timely in this day of xenophobia both at home and abroad. CasablancaBox attacks us with serious and timely issues, while allowing us to laugh at ourselves and our struggles.

The scenes are presented rapid-fire, leaving the audience no time to recover from one before we are attacked by another, challenging us in new ways. . Not as disturbing as it sounds, the dreamlike show is held together through the masterful storytelling which always brings the audience back to the framework of the Here’s Looking at Us

CasablancaBox, a transformative new work of innovative multi media theater turns the camera’s lens on us, the America of 1942 as well as the America of today. Created husband and wife team of scriptwriter Sara Farrington and Director and Set and video designer Reid Farrington, CasablancaBox takes us on a journey at breakneck speed behind the scenes at the creation of this quintessential American film. Transforming brief clips from the film by projecting them around the actors on stage, the show gives the audience a behind the scenes glimpse the public lives as well as the inner lives of the film’s creators and actors.

Just 8 words from the film’s Sam, soulfully played by Toussaint Jeanlouis, evoke the entire history of racial discrimination in Hollywood and the groundbreaking nature of Dooley Wilson’s role as the entertainer Sam in Casablanca. After complaining to director Curtiz , (thunderstorm Kevin R. Free raging over the production) about being paid half of what the white actors are earning, Sam shrugs, saying, “At least I'm not playing a Pullman Porter.”

When the luminous Catherine Gowl portraying Ingrid Bergman, struggles between her responsibility to her dentist husband and her attraction to director Roberto Rossellini ( both are played nearly simultaneously in a marvelously disturbing way by Zac Hoogendyk) the tension between art and life is thrown in the face of the audience in a brief and often hilarious scene.

Stephanie Regina’s Irene, a messenger on the set, and a creation of Farrington’s imagination, speaks in the vernacular of the 40’s but has such a modern sensibility that she will not allow us to forget that this is all happening now.

Roger Casey as Rick embodies an America that in 1942 as today, struggles with bravery and cowardice, responsibility to remedy injustice in the world and a desire to just be left alone to live our lives. Roger Casey both captures the essence of the ineffable Bogart and makes the role his own.

The plight of the refugees in CasablancaBox could not be more timely in this day of xenophobia both at home and abroad. CasablancaBox attacks us with serious and timely issues, while allowing us to laugh at ourselves and our struggles.

The scenes are presented rapid-fire, leaving the audience no time to recover from one before we are attacked by another, challenging us in new ways. . Not as disturbing as it sounds, the dreamlike show is held together through the masterful storytelling which always brings the audience back to the framework of the film.