New venue, new tunes, new moves, and one old, timeless story. What happens when one man finds fame and fortune, only to see it fade away to someone or something bigger and better, along with his sanity?
Chicago Dance Crash again teamed up with Culture Shock Chicago to open The Trials of Busta Keaton last week at a new venue, the Hoover-Leppen Theatre on Halsted (good move Crash!). The show examined the rise and fall of Buster Keaton, the famed silent film era star, who saw his fame slip away as color and sound took over the film industry and pushed him to the emotional edge.
I can’t quite put my finger on this show. It was smart, no doubt, and now that I’ve let it marinate over a good night’s sleep I might even call it brilliant. But how it made me feel is a different story. Did I laugh? Yes. Did I cry? Yes. Was I scared? Yes. Was it disturbing? Yes. At times Busta was so creepy and intense that I wanted to go home and watch Black Swan to make me feel better.
Buster himself–played by Artistic Director Mark Hackman (scheduled performer and director/choreographer Christopher Courtney could not be there due to an emergency)–was the melancholy centerpiece of the show. Incessantly trying to recapture his past, represented by the entire cast painted gray or “monotint” to appear in black and white. I have to say I wasn’t expecting much when I heard about the monotint feature, but it really, really worked. And it definitely added to the creepy factor.
The Next Big Thing aka color pictures was played by Chantelle Mrowka, a tiny girl who dances bigger than her body, certainly a standout performer last night. Her back-and-forth play with Hackman as he struggled to embrace a new era was well-played.
Another standout was Lyndsey Rhoads (senior company member and choreographer), who played Buster’s third wife. As Buster struggled with letting go of his past and embracing the present, he met Rhoads’ character and she brought light back to his life. This was depicted with the two of them engaging in playful flirting and slapstick comedy. It was cute, but I prefer her when she’s dancing. I don’t know, maybe because she’s ripped and a fantastic dancer. She choreographed a large part of the first act, which is easy to tell. Movement flows through her like water.
One of my favorite parts of the first act, and one that I thought summed up the show, was the ensemble piece set to “Moment 4 Life” by Nicki Minaj. It was set to the song in a literal sense, and represented Buster’s days of success. Another one of my favorite moments was the company repertory duet “ex-pired” choreographed by Lindsey Brenner, featuring a couple in a love, hate, and turmoil relationship. Truly moving.
I like to think of Crash as an audience-pleaser because even if you can’t quite follow the conceptual complexities of their shows, the dancing takes over and you don’t really need to follow. With that said, you can count on Crash to bring everyone full circle with cheeky stints like a sign that says “Busta Who” when the film industry left him behind and girls dressed in sparkly multicolored tanks to depict color pictures.
Usually I am a stickler for the movement. I focus on choreography, technique, and placement. But this show caught my attention in so many different ways. I’d venture to guess this is the most intricate, well-developed and technically involved show of Crash’s history. From the monotint paint, to the interview dialogues (the Charlie Sheen interview was incredibly fitting..and timely) mixed into the soundtrack, to the blacklight, to the glowing/spinning/crazy colored ball that represented the future of the film, television, and technology industry…it was heavy with over-the-top detail. Mostly in a good way.
Busta is a culmination of fear, regret, sadness, and far away moments, captured by movement and enhanced by incredible conceptual development made possible by a seemingly stellar crew of talented minds. I bet Crash wishes they could have this moment 4 life.
The show plays through May 1, at Hoover-Leppen Theatre. Get your tickets here!