Constellation Theater “Mysticism & Music” Is Going Nowhere
Mystic & Music, which currently plays at the Constellation Theater Company, is a show that doesn’t work. Despite the undeniably engaging music from the songwriting team of Chao Tian (an intensely focused Chinese dulcimer player) and Tom Teasley (a world-class percussionist) and despite the enduring enthusiasm of the delightfully attractive and young cast, the production does not work.
The scenario does not lack depth. The text consists of meditations and other thoughts of recognized wise and spiritual people and ancient and timeless sacred texts. Some of the sources included are Tao Te Ching, The Book of Job, Genesis, The Bhagavad Gita, Martin Luther King, Toni Morrison, Thich Nach Hahn. Under the direction of Allison Arkell Stockman, the performance consists of these texts glued together and illustrated with choreographic images of changing body shapes (choreography: Tony Thomas II) which are wrapped and swimming amidst colorful fabrics (costumes, fabrics and Fan Designer: Frank Labovitz; Property Designer: George “Tommy” Wang). But the show is not going anywhere.
The show has no plot, which wouldn’t be a problem if the accompanying ritual of movement and sound were enough to connect the audience’s consciousness to the text, performers, and other viewers. But in this case, it is not.
Here is an example of how this connection falters:
At one point, the cast throw imaginary objects between them as the text is spoken. This is a classic theater exercise that anyone in an improv class has performed. It is used to connect performers to each other and to focus their attention. Ideally, the concentration of the performers is such that the spectator who looks “sees” also the exchanged object. In this production, however, the actors never seem to quite “see” the imaginary object. The receiver often seems to lose the object halfway through its journey. The arrival of the object at its destination – inevitably in the appropriate size, shape and weight – is underlined by a percussive emphasis. So we, spectators, accept that the object is presumed to have arrived. But we don’t quite believe in the trip he’s supposed to have taken. It’s emblematic of what, for me, is going on with the entire production. We hear these profound statements about our humanity. But we don’t quite see, feel, or believe how they are meant to be connected to us in our current context.
For the most part, I never felt the performers related to what they were saying or doing. The notable exception to this was the very first moment in the show where the performers read the audience’s written responses to the prompt: “In the past 18 months, I’ve lost or missed ____________.” This moment was clear. The audience and the performers agreed on the source and purpose of the text and what it meant to them to be shared in this space. This understanding was not present with other texts that were shared during the performance.
Likewise, the audience received a rhythmic egg (egg shaker) with which to participate in certain percussion moments with the performers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been made clear when those times should be. It was not catastrophic. It was, however, a connection opportunity that was not realized and another example of what was not working in production.
AJ Guban’s ensemble is aesthetically pleasing, engaging and meditative to watch. It consists of a long platform supported by a neutral colored, textured wall. The wall is punctuated by a series of discreetly recessed inlets / outlets. The wall and the platform extend over the entire surface of the stage. Surrounded by a low wall in front of this platform is the orchestra pit in which the two musicians are seen and heard throughout the performance.
The atmosphere of the space was warm, welcoming and cohesive on this fall evening. It offered a welcome respite from the neon and siren drenched hubbub of the 14th & U Street corridor outside the theater doors.
I was grateful that the speaking voice and percussion weren’t at war in this production. This is in large part thanks to the unobtrusive and seamless work of sound engineer Gordon Nimmo-Smith.
The actors were endearing to watch and hear. I look forward to the next effort by everyone involved in this production.
Duration: about 80 minutes without intermission
Mystic & Music can be viewed in person or on request. In-person performances run through November 7, 2021 at CulturalDC’s Source Theater, 1835 14th Street NW, Washington DC (between 14th and T). In-person tickets cost between $ 10 and $ 49 plus fees. Video on Demand is available from November 2 to 21, 2021. Customers who purchase a Video on Demand ticket will receive a link to stream the filmed production at any time during the virtual race. Customers will have a 72 hour window to enjoy the show. Video on demand tickets cost $ 20 per household plus fees. Tickets for in person or streaming can be purchased by calling the box office at (202) 204-7741 or in line.
COVID SEATS: A limited number of $ 10 tickets for each in-person performance are available for those who have been financially affected by the pandemic. Call the box office or visit our website to purchase. Additional charges apply.
REDUCED TICKETS: Constellation will be offering a pair of free tickets for each in-person performance using a digital lottery, which can be entered on our website 48 hours prior to each performance. Groups of 4 or more benefit from a 25% reduction on regular price tickets. First responders, serving / retired military personnel, teachers and students are entitled to a 50% discount on regular priced tickets. Additional charges apply. Please visit ConstellationTheatre.org/special-offers for more information.
COVID-19 SECURITY PLAN: All in-person audiences are required to provide proof of vaccination at the door and wear masks for the duration of the show. For a complete overview of Constellation Theater Company policies, visit ConstellationTheatre.org/covid-safety-plan.
Mystic & Music
based on a concept by Tom Teasley, Chao Tian, Nick Martin, AJ Guban and Allison Arkell Stockman
Music composed and performed live by
Director: Allison Arkell Stockman
Choreographer: Tony Thomas II
Stage and lighting designer: AJ Guban
Musician and composer: Tom Teasley
Musician and composer: Chao Tian
Costume designer: Frank Labovitz
Property Designer: George “Tommy” Wang
Sound engineer: Gordon Nimmo-Smith
Script supervisor: Nick Martin
Production manager: Katie Moshier