GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
Jul 21st 2:00 PM
They say: A man and his son are trapped in a small town grocery store surrounded by a supernatural mist. Is the danger to be found with the creatures outside or the people within?
Brett’s Take: It’s not that The Mist, the short story by Stephen King (and later film) that this play was adapted from, couldn’t have made a good opera. In fact, there are numerous moments throughout this two-hour vernacular tragedy that point in the right direction: powerful choral counterpoints, piercing arias. The unfortunate thing is that this “Horror Opera” is too consistently a mess to connect the dots between those moments.
For first-time opera writer (but experienced singer) Stephen Pflueger, credited with music and libretto both, it may have been too much of a stretch. He is tasked with making a story which naturally is ridiculous in opera format into something human and serious. It’d be a difficult task for even a master, considering the plot: In a small town in Stephen King’s New England, a score of shoppers get trapped inside a grocery store by an insidious mist, which later turns out to contain otherworldly monsters. The frightful situation leads to the ascent of religious nut Mrs. Carmody (Anamer Castrello), forcing David Drayton (Pflueger) to take drastic measures to ensure the survival of his son.
The film (I haven’t read the story) gains its power from its literalism, capturing real people in an extreme situation, as they very slowly give way from skepticism to Mrs. Carmody’s doomsday cult. By contrast, the opera turns the plot into a headlong rush because, well, songs take up time, so plot has to be simplified to make room, leaving it bombastic where the original was nuanced. At the same time, we get lots of unintentionally ridiculous lyrics (sung, of course, in quivering opera style), like “Hold on, what are you saying?” and “I’m going to punch you in the face,” because the opera also has to be mundane in all the wrong ways. A slight prop mishap later in the show was a good metaphor for the whole enterprise: A character is hurt twice; one wound leaves no stage blood and the other is…very bloody. So, too, this opera is consistently either too plain or too over-the-top.
Also bad: When the monsters are wisely kept invisible, represented by lights (by Brian McCue) and sounds (by Bob Scott), they work by imagination; when they and their bloody effects are made concrete, the results are laughable. (The audience laughed. Often.) Many of the performers, while strong as singers (like standout Alisa Kieffer as the guilt-racked Amanda), are awkward as actorsnearly every one stops emoting when singing, and watches the conductor half the time. Pflueger sells himself short with the ending, cutting out just when he reaches what could have been a justifyingly cathartic emotional-musical climax. Ironically, the ending of the film is more powerfully “operatic” than the opera.
(And for heaven’s sake, somebody in the show figure out just where the stage ends and the backstage begins! Hint: It’s where the audience can’t see you changing costumes.)
Pflueger has taken a bold step in attempting a difficult adaptation into a difficult medium. If he can continue to refine his obvious musical talents and increase his understanding of how to sell the storyline, he could have an ambitious future.
See It IF: You are willing to ignore the awkward-opera-forest for the beautiful-singing-trees.
Skip It If: One hour is the most you’ll donate to an interesting mess, even at the Fringe. Or 90 minutes.