What was clear with Theatre VCU’s “Shadowplay” was that it was still a work in progress. In his curtain speech, David Leong essentially said as much. And as the evening unfolded, there were several moments that did not quite pop. However, the raw material is there for something pretty awesome.
As it turned out, the one scene in the production that I had seen during rehearsal was my favorite part of the show. The interaction between the “artist” and a large square that splits into multiple shapes and then reconfigures into different images was funny and clever and, particularly when the dancing started, very lively. My only complaint would be that it comes and goes too quickly.
Beyond that, I enjoyed moments where light and action were able to escape the screen at the back of the stage. One light on a long cable that gets used to project shadows was cool. As for onscreen action, the 3-D animation was pretty groovy.
Two long sections got on my nerves. First, a magician / audience interaction bit needs a pacing uptick and some focus to make it work. And even then, I was not 100% sure what the big trick was. The student handling the scene had a winning enough personality but to go on as long as it did, it would be nice to have a true showman and accomplished magician to engage the crowd (sorry, I don’t have the program or I’d mention names). Then, the life story of the guy & girl done in shadows was fine – and some of the animation interesting – but it seemed to go on and on. Compare that with the “Top Secret” adventure which also went on for a long time but had energy and action to keep you engaged.
The show seems like it could be a technician’s nightmare – a lot of coordination needed between light, music, projections and actors on either side of the big screen. There was a lot of dazzle but sometimes the timing was off just a beat, drawing attention to the underlying technical components and distracting from organic story that was unfolding.
Theatre VCU should be applauded for taking on something so ambitious and the show is worth seeing to appreciate the wacky things that can be done with light. And, considering it in a bigger picture context, Shadowplay is the kind of multimedia experience that could bring all sorts of different people into the theater. And that’s a good thing.