Despite phenomenal cast, ‘Consumed’ in need of nuance
|Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
It’s obvious that Consumed was put together with a lot of care. The debut work of Sara Maslanka as Artistic Director of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, Consumed is dance and physical theater-based performance art. The production was devised and performed by Maslanka and the rest of the cast, who boast an impressive collective resume of theater, circus and nearly every form of performance under the sun. Judging by the blog posts (printed out and mounted in the hallway of the venue), photography exhibit and the earnest expressions of each and every dancer, Consumed is no doubt a labor of love. Unfortunately, as a production Consumed didn’t quite speak to me. I felt like I was being beaten over the head by a rather obvious message, and would have appreciated more self-awareness and nuance.
Consumed seeks to illustrate and reflect our current technology-based society, where more people look down at their phones than up at the sky. (It’s even affected our posture – look at the slumped shoulders next to you on the sidewalk and tell me I’m wrong). The show opens, rather awkwardly, with an approximation of a street corner preacher telling the audience what we already know: we spend too much time on our smartphones. After that, cast members pop out of the audience and the movement begins. (Here’s the thing about putting cast members in the audience: performers project so much energy that the audience knows they are there, and exactly who they are. It’s a device that very rarely works.) Once the bulk portion of the show, consisting of dance and physical theater, begins, the performers are in their element. If only one could ignore the images of Kardashians, running horses and various other obvious contrasts between the “real” and “fake” worlds, projected on the wall behind them.
The integration and subsequent takeover of technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we’re able to connect and learn more and faster than ever before. On the other hand, are we connecting at all? I wish Consumed had asked more questions and given less definitive answers. As I watched the show, I thought about my own relationship with my phone (It is definitely a relationship!). Has it made me more frantic, less patient? Absolutely. Have email and social media helped me land more jobs than I ever would have without them. Also, absolutely. Maslanka makes a similar observation in her blog post, where she writes about putting together the show while listening to music and writing on one device, while texting with friends in two different countries on another. If more of this mental and emotional tug-of-war, which so many of us experience every hour on the hour, had been a part of Consumed, the show would have felt more authentic and human and less like a public shaming.
As I expressed earlier, the cast is phenomenal: a well-oiled machine who work together beautifully while also standing out in their own right. Their expression and athleticism are truly impressive, and they are gorgeous to watch. Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble’s main component is its arts education program, which reaches many schools and students who need these programs most. Hopefully in future public productions, however, Maslanka will keep in mind that the audience is quite different than a group of young schoolchildren. More gray areas and exploration are welcome; morality policing, less so.
Consumed continues through March 25 at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 W. Foster (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $15 advance, $20 door, $10 college students & seniors, high school students free, and are available through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at DanzTheatre.org. (Running time: 55 mins. with no intermission)
Photos by Constance White, Al Zayed
Michelle Broecker, Gillian Butcher, Scott Dare, Ansley Davis, McKenna Liesman, Sara Maslanka, Emily Rich, Maggie Robinson, Richie Schiraldi, Tony Spring
behind the scenes
Sara Maslanka (director), Andy Berlin (projection design), David Goodman-Edberg (lighting design), Andrew Stefano (sound design), Al Zayed (photography), Constance White (photography, graphic design), Gillian Butcher (production manager), Natalie Wagner (stage manager)