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Theatre in Wake of COVID-19: A Review of CCM Acting’s Transmigration 2020

 Review by Alan Jozwiak of “Transmigration”: CCM Acting

In a time where social distancing has closed down Broadway and darkened most theaters in Cincinnati, a small ray of theatrical light still shone bright on the boards—CCM Acting’s Transmigration 2020. Billed as “A Festival of Student Created NEW WORKS,” Transmigration consists of six half-hour plays, only four of which can be seen on any given evening. Because each of the four classrooms for the show can hold under fifty people, CCM allowed Transmigration to proceed during a time when almost all the theaters were shutting their doors.

This review will give you a sampling of what an evening at Transmigration could be like by focusing on four out of the six plays. These plays were what I was able to see and they are a good representation of Transmigration as a whole. The four plays I will be reviewing for this year’s Transmigration include “(Im)mature,” “Phantasmagoria,” “Hint!: A Play About Clue,” and “Dirty Laundry.”

“(Im)mature” was anything but what the title would suggest. The play centers around the hilarious aftermath of a Sex Ed (oops, Family Life) talk about human sexuality which gets the ten-year-old students who saw it to come to some outrageous conclusions. They start asserting that women poop babies and if you are someone’s Valentine, that means you automatically must have sex with them. While this sounds like immature hijinks unbecoming of a theatrical piece, in the capable hands of the cast, this play takes what is immature and transforms it into a humorous and poignant examination of an important life transition. This tightly crafted ensemble piece was clearly one of my two favorite Transmigration plays from this year. Everyone, from the two teachers to the ten-year olds learning about human sexuality, was distinct and well-crafted. I applaud the cast for creating a charming, poignant, and funny look at being immature and learning about life.

By contrast, “Phantasmagoria” took its audience into a fairy tale world where two temperamentally opposite sisters learn to rely on one another through a series of tests they face while driving to their father’s house for the weekend. This show was adept and skillful in utilizing a combination of video and theatrical elements to create arresting visuals. For instance, when the sisters have to grapple with being thrown into water, we see waves projected on the screens behind the sisters and clear plastic sheets are manipulated by other actors to resemble billowing waves. Also arresting was the last scene where the sisters finally have a respite in a land with colorful creatures and an improbable, but loveable, Cactus-girl (Cactus-girl was awesome). While this play took a while to get going and does not explain the shift into this fairy tale world, “Phantasmagoria” was still an entertaining piece of theater.

The next show I saw was “Hint!: A Play About Clue.” This show was tied with “(Im)mature” as my favorite because it is one of the most inventive and audience interactive shows I’ve seen. Dividing their playing space into four sections of a board game similar to that of Clue, “Hint!” had actors playing roles similar to that of Clue with the two facilitators asking the audience to be players in the game. Audience members then had different roles. One chooses the killer from an array of posters and the whole audience then decides which scenes get to be shown for clues. The audience then finally votes on who the killer might be. The cast wrote multiple pathways in the play depending on who is chosen as the murderer, which makes this impressive production even more so.

Finally, “Dirty Laundry” was a guilty pleasure play where the audience gets to see various contract killers kill each other on stage. Before all the contract killers begin shooting each other in an impressively choreographed fight scene, they are given their week’s list of contract kills, which accidentally ends up being their assignments for Secret Santa. The actor playing Crystal, the New Age contract killer, stole the show with her wild antics, as well as the actor playing the newcomer contract killer, whose name gets chosen by the audience. He was dressed like he walked out of the film “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly”. While this piece was a strong ensemble work, it needed some editing and tightening. Sometimes I felt the plot and direction of the piece was less important than having the various killers engage in hilarious unrelated hijinks.

Overall, this was a strong outing for “Transmigration”. Sadly, it will also be the last time for this series. Citing the desire to evolve “to meet the demands of our industry, our programming and pedagogical efforts,” CCM Acting will move the creative energies of “Transmigration” into different arenas. This is a shame because over its history, “Transmigration” has produced some memorable work. One hopes what comes next will shine just as bright. CCM “Transmigration” played March 11-13, 2020 nightly starting at 7 pm nightly. Because of the COVID-19, CCM has suspended all performances from March 14 until May 31, 2020. For more information on future CCM productions, check out the CCM website on https://CCM.uc.edu/.