Playwright: Russel Niessen, Stephen Ingram, River Guard, Emma Greve
Cast: River Guard, Russel Niessen, Rachel Estok, Kit Simmons, Camille Intson
Jennifer Francis, Nora Fenton, Jaqueline Gruba, Radu Ciobor, David Gibble, Bart Ronde
Director: Russel Niessen
Warning: Mature Content, Strobes
Performed at The Staircase/The Players’ Guild
Review by: Nicole Williams
What to say about Asylum? A high school production, Asylum centers on Eli, a self-committed patient in a 1940’s mental hospital. During his stay, Eli meets token rebellious patient Tom, and May, a girl who has yet to remember her past with whom he falls in love. Though there are genuinely talented singers amongst the cast, the score and acting of this play unfortunately fail to escape the cheesy nature that one tends to expect from high school productions.
What the play promises is insight into mental hospitals during the 1940’s, accompanied by a rock genre musical score. The insight the audience is given is a “dramatic” view of patients becoming numbers on a form and being harshly subdued with electroconvulsive therapy. Every turn in Asylum is something I have seen before, which makes taking the play seriously particularly difficult. As for the score, I found the never ending tinkering of piano tedious and distracting. The genre of music is more classically broadway-esque than anything I would ever describe as “rock”.
All in all, there are some genuinely enjoyable moments in Asylum, but those moments are quite few and far between. This play is for the extreme musical lover only.
I find it necessary to address a number of things, in defence of a show that is truly undeserving of the negatively, sometimes ignorantly so, commentary in this review.
“Everything in Asylum is something I have seen before, which makes taking the play seriously particularly difficult.” Really? So just because you didn’t find anything you would consider innovative in a play, that means you can’t treat it like a serious and legitimate piece of art? I can’t help but find this extremely confusing and disturbing. It almost reads like you were digging for a reason to dislike this show.
“I found the never-ending tinkering of piano tedious and distracting.” I feel like this severely discredits Stephen Ingram’s quite astounding work as a composer. Keep in mind he is only a teenager, and he has actually written some very impressive, mature, and layered music. It’s complex, rhythmic, at times pleasingly discordant. Also, for a Fringe show, a piano is plenty, especially for a musical that is still brand new and in its very early stages. Additionally, without the benefits of an orchestrator to flesh out Ingram’s compositions, they had no choice.
“The genre of music is more classically broadway-esque than anything I would ever describe as “rock”.” Yes, it is Broadway-esque. It’s supposed to be. It’s a musical. And it 100% falls under the category of rock. Just because the score hasn’t been orchestrated for and played by a rock band featuring guitars, percussion, etc., does not mean the music isn’t rock.
While ‘Asylum’ is undoubtedly a work in progress, I consider it a 45 minute mini-version of something that could seriously be a terrific new musical. Yes, I’m a musical theatre fan, but the audience I was in, who gave the show a standing ovation, would probably agree with me on all of this.
Stephen Ingram and I appreciate the support, and look forward to seeing Jamie’s Gone again. We adore you.