Review: The Symposium at Sudden Satyrs

TheatreBloom rating:

Come, blessed deities, share our minds on the thoughts and praises of love. Experience Plato the way he was meant to be experienced; in a 70’s style conversation pit. The love nest is open, so to speak, as Agathon invites the whole of Athens into his home for a celebratory dinner and wine party wherein the finer points of love may be discussed among good learned men. Sudden Satyrs, an ephemeral production company that may be swept in and out of Baltimore with the change of seasons, presents their inaugural and perhaps their only production here in Charm City, a stage adaptation of Plato’s The Symposium. Adapted for the stage and Directed by Jeffrey L. Gangwisch, this riveting conversation about love and its praises is a scintillating way to spend the evening with food, wine, and merriment all around. Prepare to settle into the air-puffed couches and let the conversation begin!

Director Jeffrey L. Gangwisch conducts the performance as experimental and experiential theatre; a collective of performers improvising and working with text in a hybrid format the result of which is fascinating and informative entertainment. Plato and all his contemporaries and their theories of love can be quite boring when spelled out directly, but this new medium which Gangwisch has concocted serves as a lucrative vessel for exploring these topics. Set in the heart of the Terrault Contemporary, a modern art gallery on the outskirts of Station North, the ‘party’ unfolds in the main room with a 70’s vibe coursing through the action.

The ensemble of Symposium at Sudden Satyrs
The ensemble of Symposium at Sudden Satyrs Shealyn Jae Photography

Audience members are invited to sit among the players in the circle of blow-up couches. Players are lounged about in true 70’s style and are eager to be joined by the evening’s guests. Have a seat next to Socrates, if you can find him among the many marvelous minds present. Costumes are resplendent and give that added push to the 70’s era, designed by lead performer Kat McKerrow. Between the leopard print dress she saves for herself and the pristine white togas used on the servants, McKerrow blends the eras of ancient Greece and Rome against the “modern” 70’s resulting in a curiously intriguing amalgamation of the two that one might call RetroGreek.

Immersing oneself in the dialogue exchanges between the players becomes the treat of the evening, in addition to the free libations of the food and beverage variety. A carousing performance of the Barrage Band Orchestra will be featured throughout the course of the evening. Gangwisch has concocted experiential theatre at its finest while remaining unobtrusive for those that wish simply to be a part of it without having to do so actively.

Socrates (R- Stephanie Joyal) and the ensemble of The Sympoisum at Sudden Satyrs
Socrates (R- Stephanie Joyal) and the ensemble of The Sympoisum at Sudden Satyrs Shealyn Jae Photography

The beauty in Gangwisch’s work is that it creates conversation points and provokes thoughts and discourse thereof on the topics covered throughout the evening. One cannot leave the performance without feeling thoroughly intellectually stimulated, or at the very least emotionally stirred. Everyone has something to say about love, whether it be in love or in praise, and the format in which Gangwisch and his company present these notions is a smashing success.

Stellar performances of note include Ishai Barnoy as the loquaciously pedantic Eryximachus, and Nicholas Parlato as Aristophanes. Dithering and bickering in a jovial nature these two take up a great deal of the conversation, particularly Barnoy’s character who takes on the laborious task of being an annoying and pontificating swot. There comes a point in Barnoy’s unending speech where the other characters begin pleading, albeit with humor, for his discourse to meet its end. Both Barnoy and Parlato are engaging and give compelling arguments that entreat the mind open for debate. They understand how to address their peers and make the conversation pit burble with good vibrations.

Pausanius (L- Jeff Tegeler) and Eryximachus (R- Ishai Barnoy)
Pausanius (L- Jeff Tegeler) and Eryximachus (R- Ishai Barnoy) Shealyn Jae Photography

Pausanius, played by the fluid-tongued Jeff Teleger, has a flavored favoritism for what some might call polyamorous tastes. Teleger, with his burgundy open-chested shirt, has a fleeting flirtation with the notions of love, which makes for a delicious opposition against the way Barnoy’s character meticulously dissects the ideology of the god and its worth of praise. These three men, Parlato and his charm, Barnoy and his clinicality, and Teleger with his poeticism make for intriguing counterpoints throughout the performance that keep the conversation moving at an endurable and enjoyable pace.  

Diotima, played by Ilona Wittenberg, gives a resplendent, albeit lengthy, tale of love and how it was born. This is the result of Socrates (Stephanie Joyal) and his extrapolations on the topic. Featured during Wittenberg’s tale is the ensemble performance (featuring Abby Cocke, Ellen C. Jenkins, Ann Tabor, Chris Kojzar, and Jeffrey L. Gangwisch) of this fable. These ensemble performers double as household servants and also fall into place to enact the tale of mighty Zeus splitting humankind.

Kat McKerrow as Agathon in The Symposium at Sudden Satyrs
Kat McKerrow as Agathon in The Symposium at Sudden Satyrs Shealyn Jae Photography

There are intriguing points made throughout the performance, but there is one performance that captivates the mind, ensnares the senses and draws rapt attention to the notions of love as they are delivered at her lips. Kat McKerrow, playing the host Agathon, delivers a commanding presence, with haunting eyes that read into her guests’ souls as she pontificates from an emotional and logical standpoint on love. Sweeping away any romantic detritus in favor of emotional fact, McKerrow stirs up a vibrant life into the conversation pit and brings audience members to the edge of their seat, hanging on her every word. A true gift to Plato’s text and to the fast form of improv, even in her silent and lounging state it is evident that she will be a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Draped over the couches as if not only the conversation pit and the gallery are in her possession, but the entirety of the city and all its denizens, McKerrow owns the evening and all there is to be understood about love.  

Don’t let yourself walk unlit by missing this event, remember he whom love touches not walks in darkness. Get down to the conversation pit and as the old saying goes, let’s not talk about anything else but love!

Running Time: Roughly 80 minutes with no intermission

The Symposium plays a limited engagement on February 7, 8, 13, and 14 2015 with Sudden Satyrs at the Terrault Contemporary— 1515 Guilford Avenue in Baltimore, MD. Tickets are available at the door or in advance online.

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