Review by Brittany Crowell
Quicksand, a novel by Nella Larsen, has been adapted for the stage by writer Regina Robbins and director Anaïs Koivisto in Everyday Inferno Theatre Company’s world premiere production. The play, slated to run just over two hours, ran at about three and suffered from attempting to translate the full details of the novel to the stage. What resulted was less theatrical adventure and more a step-by-step summary of the book.
Larsen’s story is quite epic, as our tragic hero, Helga Crane, travels from Naxos to Chicago to Harlem to Copenhagen, back to Harlem, and finally (but not indefinitely) to the American South, looking to fit in and further discover herself by exploring the various parts of her biracial (Dane and African-American) identity. The story, told through a cast of twelve, featuring a leading lady and an eleven-person chorus, felt long and clunky (though never uninteresting), as it focused on unnecessary details which got lost in the epic journey of Ms. Crane.
Gabrielle Laurendine (Helga Crane) gave a charming, but one-note performance that didn’t hold the weight of Ms. Crane’s journey towards discovery and search for acceptance. The ensemble cast was uneven, excelling in some roles and remaining flat in others. This may be due in part to the writing and directing, as each cast member impressively navigated multiple roles in the epically long piece full of set-move choreography, three part harmony, and fast-paced transitions.
Koivisto, along with choreographer and movement consultant Allison Beler, meticulously choreographed each moment of transition, moving set pieces to designate shifts in space, even when the pieces were not used in the scene and felt arduous and unnecessary in their effort put upon the ensemble. The incredibly adaptable set, by Tekla Monson, served a few too many purposes, some with more success than others. Most success was found in the backdrop quilted skyline of peak Renaissance Harlem, whose twinkling lights would shine bright whenever Helga Crane was again joining in the cultural rebirth.
Music director Simone Allen asked a lot of an ensemble of varying musical abilities, and delivered a sometimes beautiful, often messy sound in her a capella harmonies and varied rhythms. Despite the unevenness of the cast vocally, Monica Rodrigues stood out with a beautiful rendition of ‘I’m a Little Blackbird,’ which was reprised throughout the piece.
Similarly uneven, was composition and sound design by Grace Oberhofer. The sounds of Ms. Crane’s various environments were sometimes too soft to be heard, sometimes too loud, came in at unexpected moments or fell to silence at unusual times in the middle of a scene.
Quicksand is undoubtedly an interesting story, with many themes still incredibly relevant today. Everyday Inferno Theatre Company’s attempt to bring such an unknown epic to the stage is no doubt admirable, and the audience will get an idea of the novel and be interested in following Helga Crane on her journey. That being said, too much of the novel has been laid out on the stage, which has created an unnecessarily long piece that gives us the facts of the story, but in doing so, misses the struggle at the core of Ms. Crane’s travels and doesn’t contain the heart that it could.
QUICKSAND – written by Regina Robbins; directed by Anaïs Koivisto
WITH – Tommy Coleman (Anderson/Ensemble); Malloree Hill (Aunt Katrina/Ensemble); Veronique JeanMarie (Mrs. Hayes-Rore/Ensemble); Tyler Johnson (James/Ensemble); Michael Anthony Jones (Green/Ensemble); Gabrielle Laurendine (Helga); Synead Nichols (Sary/Ensemble); Sam Ogilvie (Al Jolson/Ensemble); Michael Quattrone (Axel/Ensemble); Monica Rodrigues (Karen/Audrey/Ensemble); Marissa Stewart (Anne/Ensemble); Chris Wright (Uncle Peter/Uncle Paul/Ensemble)
Music direction by Simone Allen; assistant director, Deonté Babb; choreography and movement consultant, Allison Beler; assistant stage manager, Dayvis Ferreras; production stage manager, Elliott Karliner; costume designer, Asia-Anansi McCallum; scenic and properties designer, Tekla Monson; composer/sound designer, Grace Oberhofer; lighting designer, Gilbert “Lucky” Pearto. Presented by Everyday Inferno: Anaïs Koivisto, artistic director; Katherine Sommer, producing director; Meghann Garmany, director of social media; Sam Ogilvie, casting associate; Regina Robbins, company manager; Jamie Wylie, director of public relations. At IRT (154 Christopher Street); www.everydayinferno.com; (800) 838-3006; Through December 15.