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June 19, 2017
Review: The Reception
L-R: Hannah Heller, Sean Donovan (back), Leslie Cuyjet, Ishmael Houston-Jones. Photo credit: Maria Baranova

Ya know at a party, when it seems like it's all coordinated by an act of God? Or at least choreographed by a real professional? The Reception, a choreo-drama created by Sean Donovan and Sebastián Calderón Bentin all about the feeling of a party, is a bit of comedy, a bit of structuralist pornography, and a bit of divine intervention — clearly some higher power had a part in this process and at their rehearsals.

The minutia of the play is where all the fun is and where all the rigor lives. The Reception is a work about how at a party, it seems like the lights always focus on the drinks table when the cool kids stand around there, and it seems like the repetition was planned within a larger, thoughtful structure, and it seems like the drama is written in Hollywood by some big shot. It’s less like a play and less like a dance but more like Squat Theatre performance that impresses and overwhelms you.

All the while, there are performers working, sweating, hitting marks, focusing together, and really, it is the performers, the party goers, that we are there to see. While all five deserve a Gatorade and recognition, two performers, Hannah Heller and Ishmael Houston-Jones, particularly stood out. Houston-Jones's movement was tense but elastic, dexterous; I didn’t know bodies could really move that way. At one absolutely fulfilling solo bit, he hunched over, tightened his shoulders and performed what must be an improvised dance solo. In his beige suit — with a contemporary cut that made his thighs look like rockets — he seemed to embody the creativity and mystery of the play.

Hannah Heller’s performance, both the rock that held the work together and the star that shot it out of the atmosphere, was funny, energizing, and detailed. She exudes a comfort and a confidence on stage that draws eyes her way, a natural charisma usually left to the movie stars and one's teenage imagination. She is the kind of performer who guides you through a work, hosts you even, and guarantees its all worth the price of admission.

While the performers told the story, the sound design did a great deal of the work. More often than not, designers are asked to buttress, not lead, but Brandon Wolcott and Tyler Kieffer navigated the challenge with seemingly little issue. The sound design worked as a narrator, and like any good narrator, was clear and energizing for us in the house and completely established the atmosphere.

In the end, our party goers are the only people in the world, alone together, enjoying each other. I wish the parties I attended were so fun, so much like being drunk sailors. The Reception is a performance for anyone who has ever wanted to video tape their party, study the elements, and understand it in greater detail. But that’s too much nonsense, go see this performance, it’s a much better evening.

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Written by: Aron Canter
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