The Vanity Project– High School Myth Musical
I sincerely hope that whatever Vanity Project Productions brings to the Gladstone’s upcoming season is better than what they’ve brought to this year’s Fringe festival, because The Vanity Project, written, directed, and starring Tim Oberholzer , is easily one of the weakest musicals and performances I have ever sat through.
It starts with a poorly written script that’s meant to be a “cautionary tale for an isolating age” as the narrator named Katoptros, played by Oberholzer, tells the audience over and over again though we’re never given any sort of context for this tagline. The text takes Ovid’s myth about Narcissus and Echo and basically turns it into a staged version of High School Musical in which Narcissus, where the word ‘narcissism’ comes from, isn’t actually all that vain he’s just really shy about talking to girls.
This particular girl is Echo, who in the original myth was a nymph punished for being so talkative that her curse was that she was doomed to only repeat the voice of another, hence, where we get the concept of an echo from. In Vanity Project she is reduced to a vapid girl who instead of simply talking to Narcissus herself, decides to seek vengeance on him having felt spurned by their awkward first encounter.
Music is another big problem with this show. Yes, the performers are talented enough to hold a range of notes, but none of the songs felt natural. Set against, what sounded like, a DuWop quartet recording in the background, the actors try to put so much vibrato in their voices that it creates a huge disconnect in the harmony of the piece. The strongest song is the music of the Fates and it happens at the top of the show, though after seven minutes it too becomes increasingly annoying with one actress, Rachel Eugster, singing the word “spin” for the majority of it. I’d also like to mention that this song is the only time we see Eugster on stage, which is a shame because she has the best voice in the entire cast.
The acting in this production is incredibly unfortunate especially because I’ve seen Nicholas Amott, Holly Griffith and Tess McManus deliver much stronger performances in other productions (Mercutio and Ophelia, False Assumptions, and Donkey Derby respectively). There are no real moments of dialogue or interaction between actors on stage, which I suppose goes along with the “isolating age” bit, but really just makes for a convoluted story and one dimensional characters.
These characters have no real motivations or stakes or even backgrounds, I still have no idea who these people are or what they want other than what I already know courtesy of Ovid. Knowing that these three performers can do better, I can only assume that they’ve done the best they could with what they were given (which doesn’t seem like a lot).
This leads me to conclude that the major issue with The Vanity Project is the directing. The choices I saw on stage boggled my mind. From the design concept where the black and red motif was seriously undercut by a sad looking beige bed and the hanging frames that don’t really add anything interesting to the piece; to the staging that lacks any sort of variety or stage pictures except for in maybe two or three moments, one of which is the song of the Fates, but, again, they’re only on stage once at the beginning of the show and never seen again.
I think what infuriates me the most about this production is the seeming lack of respect the director has for his actors and this bold statement can be embodied in one minor character: Nemesis. Played by Griffith in a red fringed dress and singing her song of vengeance to Narcissus she often turns her back to the audience and it becomes apparent that the dress doesn’t even come close to fitting. Zipper busted wide open reveals Griffith’s black tank top underneath. There is the possibility that the zipper may have broken that very night, but after convening with Meaghan Flaherty, of the New Ottawa Critics, who saw the show on a different night, I know this not to be true.
I can’t even comprehend why a director would block a scene that willingly shows a wardrobe malfunction of that magnitude, let alone let the actress walk on stage in something that was so obviously ill-fitting. It was so blatant that I couldn’t even concentrate on the scene at hand and my heart goes out to Griffith who gives it her all anyways.
Maybe Tim Oberholzer hasn’t directed a lot of theatre plays and these mistakes can be blamed on a lack of experience. However, considering the fact that Oberholzer remains on stage literally throughout the entire performance, I think the real problem lies in his own personal vanity project and wanting to be the star of his show. Though this review is particularly harsh I am confident that it remains valid as once the show had ended, the complete stranger I was sitting next to turned to me and genuinely asked, “What the hell did I just watch?”