Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: Commencement

Hanna Cheek gave
a towering performance
It's that time of year again, as IndyFringe celebrates the works of female playwrights for DivaFest. The first installment, which kicked off in earnest this past Friday, was propped up by three very different shows, whose performers, writers, and production teams had traveled far and wide to perform here in Indianapolis.  

The first piece on this author's roster was Commencement—a show that was, in fact, penned by male writer and New York City resident Clay McLeod Chapman, and one that boasted a performance of epic proportions from its female star, Hannah Cheek. 

Beginning the story, which explores three womens' individual reactions to a mass school shooting, Cheek immediately invites the audience into this sixty-minute journey with some neatly controlled—and borderline frantic—stage business. Coupling this with the grim and often darkly comic exposition, the character, who we soon discover to be the mother of the shooter himself, draws the audience into a realm of thinking seldom explored by the mainstream media in the wake of these all too familiar tragedies. The sense of anguish created by Cheek in this initial scene is such that we almost feel sympathy for the shooter.

As the story begins to unravel and Cheek's other characters—who she portrays with a degree of versatility some of Broadway's finest would be proud of—come into play, the audience is treated to a tense, deliberate and energized piece of theater, which remains incredibly powerful from its enigmatic opening right through to its rousing and heart-wrenching climax. A work of stunning endeavor, simplicity and structure, Chapman's fine script truly deserves the recognition it has received, while Cheek bears all the hallmarks of a future Tony Award winner.

Commencement was not only a truly wonderful way to initiate my DivaFest fix, but also a terrific and timely reminder that the power to both provoke and challenge an audience is still very much alive in modern theater.

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