When I compare it to other theatres, what sets Cleveland Public Theatre apart is that I never know what to expect when I walk in their doors. When I see a show there, I get the same on-edge excitement as when I stick my hand into a mystery box at a fair, not knowing what I’m going to pull out.
From a transatlantic love story that bears witness to the tragic consequences of extremist ideologies to experimental dinner theatre that’s not really dinner theatre – their shows often take the audience on a wild ride challenging our views on certain topics and sometimes even the fabric of reality itself.
I love this element of surprise, and CPT delivered on it again when my friend Kate and I saw their latest production – Akarui – last week.
Before we headed to CPT, we stopped at nearby Reddstone to try their revised menu and see the newly renovated space. I really enjoyed the bulliet black cherry sour and o*y*o mule served in mason jars, while their goat cheese and chorizo-stuffed mushrooms were the highlight of our meal.
With our whistles wetted, we headed over to Detroit Ave. for opening night of Akarui’s world premiere. Written by up-and-coming playwright Jen Silverman, Akarui is a contemporary tale of transformation that transports its characters across time and place to a rave where DJ Akarui spins beats for the lost, the desperate and the dangerous.
Among those that answer the call are a pre-op transboi, a beautiful musician, a victim of violence and a fearsome scientist caught up in her experiments. Everything comes at a price, though, in this world led by the hypnotizing sounds of DJ Akarui.
When we walked into the theatre, we were struck by the set’s industrial, urban feel. Designed by Great Lakes Theatre’s Marketing and PR Director Todd Krispinsky, it featured three sets of scaffolding platforms and graffiti artwork by Christopher “Pokes” Cook.
Over the next couple of hours, this well-utilized space would be the backdrop for a town in America, Brazil, Dr. Baba Yaga’s hut in the middle of a swamp, and finally DJ Akarui’s rave-cave at the end of the world.
As everyone settled into their seats, thumping music started to swell and a veiled, androgynous chorus entered the stage. With echoes of a Greek Chorus, DJ Akarui’s rave children weaved the seemingly disconnected storylines of the play together until they all collided with one another in the second act.
Akarui had a very entrancing cadence to it thanks to the rhythmic nature of the script and a percussive songscape influenced by the Afro-Brazilian Candomble Tradition.
In Executive Artistic Director Raymond Bobgan’s Director Notes, he wrote about traditional music’s ability to ease humanity through moments of transition – to transport and guide us. The music was central to Akarui because it is a play about people, who (like all of us) are half done.
While some of the transformations in Akarui were physical (like DC’s and the Mantaray’s), others were emotional such as the killer who sought redemption and his victim who sought revenge and then forgiveness.
These characters were all guided in their change by either DJ Akarui or Baba Yaga who were excellent foils as to how to achieve a successful transformation. Whereas Baba Yaga sought a scientific, “easy” and immediate approach to change, DJ Akarui embraced an organic process in which the person seeking something new needed to fully want and accept it and be willing to give up their former self.
I’ve always been intrigued by Roman and Greek myths about transformation (that’s what 7 years of studying Latin will do to you!) and Akarui was a very interesting, contemporary take on it. The notion that you have to be truly open to your change before you can undergo it successfully really hit home for me.
There were a couple of spots within the performance that I thought could possibly be smoothed out. Specifically, the very end – which admittedly had the challenge of wrapping up so many intertwined story lines – left me wanting something more.
I felt that there was such an incredible peak in energy leading up to it which didn’t carry over to the last note. Regardless though, the rest of the journey more than made up for it.
The performing arts revolve around the notion of transformation – from the writing of the script and the transformation of a bare stage with props and sets, to the emotional experience actors and audience share during a performance. Akarui is a strange, beautiful ode to this Transformation that takes place not just onstage but also in our lives.
Akarui is at Cleveland Public Theatre through June 9th with performances at 7:30pm on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Tickets range from $10 to $25 and can be purchased at www.cptonline.org, by calling 216-631-2727, ext 501 or by visiting the box office.
Because this is the last production of CPT’s season, join them after the closing performance on June 9th for their End of Season Party. Starting at 10pm, the event is free, open to the public and features dancing, free desserts and a cash bar.
Disclosure: All production photos courtesy of Cleveland Public Theatre – credited to Steve Wagner. A guest and I were invited to attend Akarui’s opening night in exchange for blogging about the experience. As always, though, my opinions are 100% my own.