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PerformanceStage ReviewMythic TikTok: Ancient heartbreak gets a Gen Z update...

Mythic TikTok: Ancient heartbreak gets a Gen Z update in ‘Red Red Red’

OTP's staging of poet Anne Carsons retelling of the Greek tale of Geryon nails eternal youthful crushes.

Oh, to be young again. Everything seemed so much grander then, didn’t it? Days seemed like years, adults seemed like towering icons, and love felt intense enough to crack the world in two. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the enduring appeal of Romeo and Juliet lies in the way it nails down a youngster’s idea of love. When you’re a young ball of raging hormones, of course falling in love—which is usually just having a super-strong crush—feels nothing short of volcanic.

That’s certainly the feeling felt by the eponymous lead of Red Red Red (world premiere through May 19 at FLAX art and design, Oakland). Based on Anne Carson’s verse-novel retelling of the Greek myth of Geryon, Amelio Garcia’s one-act adaptation finds the shepherd killed by Heracles to now be a young trans boy (Romeo Channer) who makes the mistake of falling for a bad boy. As one does at that age.

“If you’re looking for a happy gay story, this won’t be it,” Red tells us. He’s well aware that he’s a character in a play being performed for the audience, telling us so early on. We’re joining him in his messy bedroom (which seems to rest on the lip of a cliff) as the possibly-ADHD-addled youth waxes on about, well, everything.

He has listed rules—practically a manifesto—about himself and how he believes the world works. He remembers Helen of Troy as “a bitch.” He simultaneously chastises modern audiences for not knowing gay people were major parts of Ancient Greece, yet he erroneously declares this story to be the first about an openly gay character. (The set itself seems to reply back by dropping books about Gilgamesh and others.)

He’s also the product of a dysfunctional family, with an aloof mother (Anthony Dean), an asshole brother, and an invalid grand-mother. It’s no wonder that when he gets to that age of lust and rebellion that he catches the eye of “H” (also Dean), lookin’ like Fonzie and up to no good. Against his mother’s wishes, Red shacks up with H, who immediately reveals himself to be a heartless dick.

So, Red starts travelling, eventually coming under the wing of waitress Anna (also Dean). Anna’s much more empathetic to the emotional youth, but their relationship will cross paths with Red’s old relationship soon enough. It won’t be pretty.

There’s a lot shoved into this one-hour show, so I’m trying to avoid spoilers. It can be hard to keep track of everything, what with Red often bloviating at great lengths about this and that. This is probably Garcia’s way of immersing us in Red’s scattered mind, but a bit more focus would have worked wonders in the play’s favor. It’s not bad, just full—=perhaps too much so for a one-act.

Anthony Doan (left) as Brother and Romeo Channer (right) as Red in ‘Red Red Red.’ Photo by Ben Krantz Studio

Under the direction of Michael Socrates Moran, Channer nails down the positive and negative idiosyncrasies of being an energetic youth. Red has a heart, but he’s impulsive; he’s intelligent, but easily manipulated; he’s familiar with how harsh the world can be, yet easily taken in by a few sweet words. Making a mythological character even remotely realistic is definitely a win for all involved. Same for a Gen-Zer.

Dean’s performances seem to lean more toward the exaggerated. Whether this was an attempt to match Channer’s energy or a pre-planned choice by the director and writer, I couldn’t say. Red’s mother and Anna aren’t just done in drag, they’re pretty much performed as such. H is the personification of “bad boy charm,” but he at least gets a shade of humanity later on when he drops that pretense in favor a more conservative ensemble.

Once again, OTP’s tech does wonders in the cramped garage of FLAX. I didn’t quite get the impetus for placing Red’s slanted bed on top of the edge of a cliff, but it was an interesting sight all the same (Red doesn’t step off the platform until the very end). Set designer Christopher Fitzer and prop designer Lilia Kuroda must have had a blast in trying to create a method to the madness that is a youngster’s unkempt bedroom. There aren’t really any pop culture items to date it at any specific time, but the ruffled sheets, strewn-about clothes, and even the red BuzzBallz container at the foot of the bed tell a story.

Anthony Doan as Mother in ‘Red Red Red.’ Photo by Ben Krantz Studio

Once again, I went into opening night knowing I’d be one-of-few (if any) attendees wearing a mask. On that note, I not only coordinated my primary-red MaskC mask to match my shirt, but I noticed that one of the other maskers attending had done the same—being safe doesn’t mean sacrificing fashion or individuality, folks. By the end of the roughly one-hour show, my Aranet4’s CO² readings were at 1952ppm.

The very youthful energy that defines Red Red Red is going to be the same thing that might some people off about it. There’s nothing wrong with someone young making bad decisions, particularly in drama. But the manic youthful energy of the piece also makes it a bit unwieldy at times. It’s skillfully directed with a fine pair of actors —particularly its title character—but be prepared for the one-act equivalent of a TikTok rant. Not everyone has the mental stamina for it.

RED RED RED’s world premiere runs through May 19 at FLAX art and design, Oakland. Tickets and further info here.

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Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III
Charles Lewis III is a San Francisco-born journalist, theatre artist, and arts critic. You can find dodgy evidence of this at thethinkingmansidiot.wordpress.com

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