The Valentine Trilogy

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday August 17, 2013

The Valentine Trilogy

If you want to know what the future of theatre in Boston will look like, head immediately to "The Valentine Trilogy" at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Boston Center for the Arts.

New to the theatre scene here, I often wonder, what the first productions of the Huntington, the Speakeasy and Company One were like. Now I know.

"The Valentine Trilogy" is not easy theatre. In total it is well over seven hours, and the narrative is complex and gapping, but within this monumental experience is one of the most vibrant ensemble efforts I have seen on the Boston stage. This is a group that is truly living and breathing its work.

The trilogy uses genre to create a literary pastache, or an amalgamation of stylistic elements from other artist's works.

Not only do the well-known elements of these common genres trigger an emotional response in the audience based on our memories of our past experiences with those genres, they also allow the audience to share in the artists' cultural knowledge and therefore smile at the artists' homage to their literary predecessors.

The first play, "San Valentino and the Melancholy Kid," uses what some have called America's only original genre, the Western. While the second play, "Curse of the Crying Heart," uses what is one of the world's more popular genres, the samurai quest. Whereas "Valentine Victorious!," the final play of the series, uses the stylish atmospherics of the crime noir.

Overall the plays are linked through common traits within the major characters, common actors within those roles and structural elements of one of history's most enduring genres, the revenge tragedy.

This production certainly plays on the talent and charisma of the trilogy's protagonist, Ryan Vona. Not only does he pull most of the weight of the plot, he also sings almost all of the 30 songs in the series.

The Circuit Theatre is lucky to have Vona. Like all the protagonists in all of the company's plays this season, Vona is a force onstage. (The Circuit Theatre has produced two shows already "The Amish Project" and "Nicky Park Memorial Park".) Not only does he have the ability to play larger-than-life situations with subtlety and grace, he also commands the lead without ever upstaging the phenomenal abilities of the rest of the cast. His ballads demand nothing short of the vigor of a rock star, but it is his generosity to the whole of the production that makes Vona's work truly shine.

Though Vona has an amazing voice and a celebrity presence, it is very nice when the other characters get an opportunity to sing. It adds tremendously to the charm and variety of show. It would have been nice if the author of the trilogy, Nathan Allen, had provided more of these musical moments.

It isn't often that an audience says, "Wow, I really admire the amazing stage management of this show." But wow! I'm kind of blown away by Lida Richardson, Jake Kuhn and Sara Rosenburg. This series is so packed with cues, music, lights, sound and set movement. Stage management must have almost as difficult a workout as the cast's.

The entire ensemble is so unified and so strong in their roles that no one stood out, a fact that is remarkable and testifies to the leadership abilities of Mr. Fox. But I will give a quick shout out to the characters that resonated most with me. Edan Laniado is a strong and consistent character across the board in a wide variety of roles. Graham Techler has the earnest sincerity of Jimmy Stewart, which is no easy feat. And Natalie McDonald is able to wrangle the audience with one line, even and especially when that line is delivered as a cow.

The plight of Becca Millstein's many characters is by far the most resonant and moving of series. A finer femme fatale you will not find. And since I am reluctant to get a reputation as someone who is not politically correct, I will just sum this actress up in one obscure but pertinent word. Zowie!

This is great theatre because of the company producing it, but it's not great musical theater and it's not great writing. Clearly it was a project in narcissism for Allen, the show's writer that also played the lead role and sang mostly all of the songs in the original Chicago production. The action of the play stops completely for songs that may or may not have to do with the situation at hand.

That being said, pastiche and the strength of a good company will pull you through all of that.

Skylar Fox creates an extremely picturesque show, but his real talent is in the way he unifies the vibrant energy of this amazing group of people.

The Circuit Theatre Company encourages us to use this multi-genre marathon of plays to ask this question: What does it take to be a hero in America?

But for me the series was less about the hero's journey as it was about the most epic subject of all: love.

Love, and the testament of its force through the love story, is what really unites human souls; it supersedes the linearity of time, dimensionality of space and even the perception of individual identity. Will we ever understand love? With their remarkable drive, the Circuit Theatre Company brings us a slightly closer to an understanding.


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