“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
When is a mannequin not just a mannequin? When marionette strings make it dance and tell an unforgettable love story that begins with death. This is “Flora/Dora,” Jennifer Crooks’ first act in “Grave Love,” the two-part performance by Tas de Pierre Theatre at this year’s Seattle Fringe Festival. Along with Act 2, “The Juliet Project,” the new theater group hits the Northwest Film Forum for Fringe this weekend.
Capitol Hill plays host to the grab bag of inventive, challenging artists who thrive at Fringe. Four venues along the Pike/Pine corridor will open their stages and spaces for a variety of performances from 22 different artists. In addition to the space in front of the screen at the NWFF, there will also be shows at Annex Theater, Eclectic Theater and the Richard Hugo House.
Tas de Pierre Theatre is a new group consisting of performers Jesse Baldridge, Jennifer Crooks, Aimée Riegel Rasulala, Butch Stevenson and Melissa Topscher, and Stage Manager Maikel Van der Verren. TdP pulls its inspiration from real-life stories of the bizarre and idiosyncratic. Their pieces playing at Fringe are a good showcase of the group’s ability to find moving stories in strange and often off-putting places.
“Flora/Dora” is a one-woman movement performance by Jennifer Crooks that uses a life-size marionette mannequin to adapt the story of Jean Stevens, a Pennsylvania woman who shared her home with her husband and twin sister after they both died. Stevens lived in a remote part of the state and suffered from extreme claustrophobia. When her husband, and later her sister, June, passed away from natural causes, the octogenarian received help from unknown parties to exhume her loved ones and return their bodies to her house where she dressed them, perfumed them and spoke to them. In defense of her actions, Stevens explained her deep attachment to these people and the anxiety that it caused her to think of them in the confined space of a coffin. Despite the morbidity of the subject, Crooks doesn’t intend “Flora/Dora” as a cause for audience discomfort. Quite the opposite, actually.
“To me, it’s this kind of love story,” Crooks says, “I happen to be an only child, and I’ve always been fascinated about what it would be like to have a sister.”
Crooks’ motion-focused performance highlights the close connection between sisters like Jean and June Stevens. After the darkness of the story’s inspiration fades, all that’s left is a close examination of two people literally and emotionally in sync.
The second piece by Tas de Pierre Theatre at Fringe is “The Juliet Project,” a textual response to a series of letters by real people all over the world to Shakespeare’s Juliet of the House of Capulet. In Verona, Italy, where the play “Romeo and Juliet” takes place, a local landmark serves as the “tomb of Juliet.” For centuries, lovelorn readers of the Bard have written letters to the star-crossed lover at her tomb, which are collected by a group called The Juliet Club, established by the local government.
“The Juliet Project” is an ensemble piece that uses scenes from Shakespeare’s play to respond to a selection of these real letters from throughout history. Among those true stories of troubled love, a teenage girl from Sweden begs the spirit of Juliet to enlighten her when she has trouble sneaking her boyfriend into the house from her third-story room, so TdP responds with the “Wherefore art thou?” balcony scene. In another, a 14-year-old girl from India begs for help when her forbidden love for another girl makes her feel hopeless, prompting an application of the bittersweet “tis the lark” scene that finds Romeo and Juliet parting ways, never to be entirely alive together again.
“Stylistically, the two pieces are very different,” Jennifer Crooks said. “It’s movement versus text. But, also, it’s all people connecting with a very deep love. Love that endures.”
Tas de Pierre will play Fringe tonight at 9 p.m., Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m., all at the Northwest Film Forum. Tickets are $10.