By Bryan Stubbles
My travels have brought me to Daejeon, Korea. Compared to Salt Lake, Daejeon, with its 1.5 million people, is rather impressive. Compared to Seoul, it can seem a bit wanting. Daejeon is the 5th largest city in South Korea. I heard there would be a performance of some ex-pat theatre while I was in town. Never one to turn down theatre, ex-pat or otherwise, I decided to give it a spin. The Jung-gu Cultural Arts Center seems like a fine venue. My guess is it seats around 100. The main attraction is Men Are from Marzipan, written by Kevin Nickolai. There is an opening short version of Twelfth Night, written by Monica Nickolai, based upon the Shakespeare play.
Covering Twelfth Night first, this was directed by Mr. Nickolai and stars Mr. Nickolai and Rosie Kim (김민정). Live music is provided by Wil Pertz on an awesome green-stringed bass guitar and Raphael Marsonet on what appeared to be a bass sax and a clarinet. The play consists of Mr. Nickolai’s character calling out – perhaps to the Goddess of Music and being answered by what seemed to be a muse (Rosie Kim). I say “seemed” because the whole thing is rather avant-garde, experimental with a huge twist of existential angst. Surprises appear, like a pair of flashing cat ears (worn by both actors at different times). The music is excellent and the actors more than capable of conveying what is required of them. Miss Kim, in particular, does well – especially because she acts in a foreign language. Mrs. Nickolai’s redux/remix version of a Shakespeare standby does offer some pointed questions as we approach Christmas.
The main show, Men Are from Marzipan, offers an interesting science fiction tale set among prospective settlers of the red planet. Kevin Nickolai wrote this and Chris Lowe directed. Musical direction and composition were provided by Wil Pertz.
The show starts with an interview conducted by an unseen Admiral (Carla Spence) of prospective settlers on Mars. There’s the spirited Josephine Jones (Telisa Bryant), the level-headed Sam Martin (Noelle Liszkay), the wise Grits (Billy Thompson) and the pillar of strength Captain Mel Lindell (Dawn Edgecomb).
Did I say pillar of strength? I meant psychopathic pillar of strength. The next scene in the play shows the other three crew members dead and Mel very much alive and trying to cover for everyone’s demise with vague reports back to the admiral. Well, that doesn’t really work. Unless they all died of “stab fever.” The audience is taken back into time and space (pun) where every individual’s story plays out and how they meet their demise is shown…or is it? The play uses perspective to its advantage. The line between reality and fiction – and memory – is erased. There is a love triangle (or quadrangle), jealousy, violence, rage, self-doubt, and self-delusion. All set to an uncanny soundtrack. There will be no spoilers here.
Again, with ex-pat theatre, one gets such a diverse experience that one doesn’t normally have in Salt Lake. Accents represented: American, South African and Scottish. How cool is that? Some of the themes reminded me of Korean horror themes – especially the unreliable narrator.
Lowe’s direction was right down the middle. The piece was not over-directed and actors bring what they have to the table, while at the same time the keeping everyone on point.
Bryant brings a humor and a fierceness to her character. I must note all roles seem to have been written with each actor in mind. This character plays to Ms. Bryant’s sense of the playful as well as the profound. She handles both loud and quiet moments equally. Bravo!
Liszkay brings an earnestness to her character. She projects believability in what could easily become unbelievable given the genre. In humanizing the play and finding emotions where a less competent actor may have failed, she earns plaudits.
Thompson brings an every-man sort of wisdom and innocence to his character, which pays off later in the play. The character has an easy-going way about him, like that one cool cousin everyone has. Not the lawyer and not the ones that never talk to you, but the cool one.
Supposedly this is Spence’s debut performance. One could not tell. She portrays the admiral (through voice only) with authority and humanity. The program states she’s an aspiring voice actor. She’ll excel in her field.
Edgecomb brings a tortured soul to the stage. She has responsibility for the mission…and a voice telling her to knife everyone. She plays both extremes convincingly. Her pain is the audience’s pain.
Mr. Nickolai provides the voice the Captain hears. He stuffs sufficient creepiness into that voice.
Pertz’ composition and musical direction augment the play to the point of becoming the star itself, kind of like how some Morricone or Bacalov soundtracks work. I’d recommend Mr. Pertz release some of his intense, ominous and unusually pleasing music for this play and sell it! Mr. Pertz also handled lighting, which is effective, especially through strobe lights during onstage murders.
Mr. Nickolai’s script tackles some interesting questions about life, perspective and existence through the science fiction milieu.
No set designer is credited. The set is simple: table, sofa, desk, chairs. A minimal set provides all the needs of the play.
There’s only one more performance – December 24th. Men Are from Marzipan at the Jung-gu Cultural Arts Center is a unique way to spend Christmas Eve.
Jung-gu Cultural Arts Center presents Men Are from Marzipan by Kevin Nickolai
Jung-gu Cultural Arts Center, 109 Daeheung-ro Jung-gu, Daejeon 대전광역시 중구 대흥로 109
Men are from Marzipan Facebook Event
Monica Nickolai’s Website