Saturday, March 24, 2018

Outstanding Performance Boosted by Technical Elements in The Other Mozart

In turns amusing and heartbreaking, The Other Mozart—presented by Texas Tech University and The Little Matchstick Factory—refuses to loosen its grasp. Every aspect of the production under the skillful direction of Isaac Byrne—from star Sylvia Milo to production designs from an all-star team of artists—aligns well with each other, providing a beautifully consistent experience.

The Other Mozart tells the true story of Nannerl Mozart, the sister of Amadeus—a prodigy, virtuoso, and composer who performed throughout Europe with her brother to equal acclaim. However, her story has faded away, lost to history. The story unfolds in the form of a one-woman show starring, conceived, and written by Milo.

Milo’s script, in addition to its entertainment value, mirrors our contemporary society in terms of systemic oppression of women. She speaks of her brother in tones both prideful and withdrawn, often deflecting attention away from herself by claiming, “I am only my brother’s pupil.” In her world, a person cannot escape their fate. As her mother says in the play, “God can find any man, and no lightning rod can spare him.” The prison of oppression screams for attention.

Milo provides heart-filled life to Nannerl, even if her dialect makes her difficult to understand at times. Milo has more success when switching to the other characters in her family: Wolfgang, father Leopold, and mother Anna Maria. Each of the family members are given a distinct physical and vocal presence, and Milo moves with agility between them. Characterized by bowed legs and a hunched stance, Anna Maria embodies the oppression of women. Leopold stands tall, his fluid movements denying the opportunity for indifference. Wolfgang exudes a child-like mania, bouncing and squealing even as his character ages into adulthood.

Though Milo captivates, the design team steals the show, especially the costume design by Magdalena Dabrowska and Miodrag Guberinic. The billowing white fabric of the skirt emanates from a cane bustle as if an invisible woman kneels in an eternal state of genuflection. Dotting the cloth are pieces of music, letters, and props. One particularly useful item finds itself used in multiple ways including as a fan, a bow and arrow, and Wolfgang’s phallus on his wedding day. The skirt also serves as the set for the show. In a particularly effective moment, Milo binds the garment to her body as a physical representation of the confines of marriage. As the show comes to an end, the dress engulfs her, and she carries it with her as she walks into infinity. Hair design by Courtney Bednarowski resembles a towering smokestack that would make the Bride of Frankenstein jealous. The visual effect delights, especially in a clever bit of staging when Nannerl rides in a carriage, her hair thrashing wildly. Music by Nathan Davis and Phyllis Chen fills the space with youthful melodies on marimba, crystal glasses, and toy pianos in one moment, the next providing a chilling shock with fuller orchestrations that at times overpower the voice of Nannerl until she must scream for attention. The lighting design by Joshua Rose ranges from the pure whites of performance, the sepia tones of nostalgia, the dim flickers of ghostly tones, and the hellish reds of damnation. His work takes what could feel like a limited space and transforms it, making any location in the world accessible.

But society prohibits Nannerl from accessing a life outside of her grasp. In the closing moments, she once again tells us her name before disappearing into the darkness, as if she defies us to forget her story. But how can we?

It is unforgettable.

--Shane Strawbridge

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