Photo by Juan Gamero
Lola (Noellle Nicholas) dons a mask when Lauren becomes a camgirl at her home at night.
By AARON KRAUSE
Face it: We humans are complex, mysterious, even frustrating beings. Indeed, we may exhibit contradictory traits (think “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”) And it can be hard for people to accept that folks can possess seemingly opposing characteristics at the same time.
This brings us to a dark, daring, risqué, yet relevant and relatable play by Rachel Greene. Its title is XOXOLOLA. The play, which would undoubtedly receive at least an “R” rating, recently received an impressive world premiere production by a bold Miami-area theater company. Its title is LakehouseRanchDotPng and its artistic director is Brandon Urrutia
It may be a small, relatively unknown company with an unusual title. But the South Florida theater community has taken notice of its work. Specifically, this absurdist and experimental theater company recently received a Silver Palm Award for “Outstanding New/Emerging Theatre Company.” (For a complete list of Silver Palm and Carbonell nominations and awards, go to South Florida theater awards, nominations announced – Theatrical Musings).
For now, LakehouseRanchDotPNG mounts its productions in a tiny black box theater space in the Kendall area in south Miami-Dade County.
If you were unable to attend a performance of XOXOLOLA, there are more productions planned for this season. And hopefully, more theater companies will mount productions of XOXOLOLA. Certainly, it’s a meaty and riveting piece of theater with at least one plot twist. Chances are, you will relate to the play.
Yes, the piece contains filthy language. And it centers, at least partly, on a “camgirl.” She operates a kind of Internet porn chatroom and videocam. But the piece is also about how young, fat women exist in unapologetic opposition to the ways in which people may perceive them. Specifically, in the play, heavyset Lauren is a bookish and shy, yet eager English major by day with a love of classic literature. By night, she is “Lola,” a camgirl operating a suggestive chatroom and videocam from her home. Lauren pays her college tuition through tips that chat room visitors leave her for her work as “Lola.”
Can we, especially the men among us, accept Lauren and Lola as one and the same person at the same time, the playwright asks.
Also, XOXOLOLA is about how, at times, men see women as little more than sex objects to be toyed with and even denigrated. The piece also criticizes the sex industry.
In addition, this layered piece reminds us about the power of literature. Specifically, we can grow so attached to a relatable fictional character that he or she may come alive to us in mysterious and vivid ways.
Further, XOXOLOLA reminds us how art can imitate life and vice versa. Doubtless, live theater, and especially Shakespeare aficionados will treasure the piece. Indeed, the characters enthusiastically discuss Shakespeare, and the playwright briefly touches on the benefits of live theater. And no, you do not have to be a theater lover or scholar of the Bard of Avon to find meaning in the play.
If you are the easily queasy type, no worries either. While the piece centers, in part, on Shakespeare’s early, little-performed gory and gruesome play, Titus Andronicus, there is nothing too gruesome in this production of XOXOLOLA.
In LakehouseRanchDotPNG’s mounting, director and movement director Ali Tallman found a convenient way to express the piece’s supernatural and horror element. She does so without shocking audiences just for that sake.
In the piece, while Lauren studies and thinks about Titus Andronicus, some kind of supernatural force exists in the background. It breathes and grunts.
The audible inhaling and exhaling sounds reinforce XOXOLOLA’s seductive quality and creepiness. Tallman has given human form to this “force” by casting three performers to portray it. At times they speak in unison, sounding as though they are in some kind of trance. As you listen to them, the three weird sisters from Macbeth, or the accusing girls in The Crucible may spring to mind.
Who are these strange women? Maybe they are the ghosts of characters brutally killed in Titus Andronicus. Background on this play may prove helpful. It is the earliest tragedy and the earliest Roman play attributed to Shakespeare. As the Bard’s most violent, bloody work, perhaps it is not surprising that theater companies rarely perform it. Frankly, with all of the book bans and censorship happening, Titus Andronicus is an easy target. The critic Mark Hulse has figured that the play “has 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3 depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism – an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.”
In the play, the titular Roman general returns from war with four prisoners who vow to take revenge against him. They rape and mutilate Titus’ daughter, Lavinia, and have his sons banished and killed. Titus kills two of them and cooks them into a pie, which he serves to their mother by killing her as well. The Roman emperor kills Titus, and Titus’ last remaining son kills the emperor and takes his place.
As Lauren studies the play and prepares for a project for her Shakespeare college class, she sees similarities between herself and Lavinia. Also, Lauren begins to relate to Lavinia…and even discovers that Lavinia’s ghost may be stalking her. The play ends explosively and shockingly. But again, there is no gore and nothing gruesome in LakehouseRanchDotPng’s production.
Despite the play’s foul language, with some directed at Lola, one can view XOXOLOLA as a feminist play. In particular, the playwright sticks up for young fat women such as Lauren/Lola. On her website, located at www.rachelbgreene.com, Greene describes herself as a “fat liberationist playwright, performer, and multi-hyphenate theater artist with a hunger for explosive, brave, and unapologetic works of theater.”
Certainly, Greene represents a fresh, bold voice in theater, unapologetically sticking up for those society may have cast aside.
While this production honored the play’s supernatural element, the mounting also emphasized the play’s poignancy under Tallman’s sensitive direction.
Performance wise, Noellle Nicholas credibly conveyed Lauren’s shyness, insecurity, vulnerability, and eagerness in the classroom.
As Lola, Nicholas could have acted unabashedly seductive; one got the feeling that she was holding something back as the camgirl. After all, one of the points of the play is to show that, as different as they are, Lauren and Lola can, in fact, be the same person.
While Samuel Krogh nailed Simon’s laid-back, charming aura, he seamlessly transitioned into a shocked and angry young man.
As a pair, Nicholas and Krogh demonstrated strong chemistry. One could sense tension and tentativeness when their characters felt uncomfortable around each other. In addition, intense passion was palpable during intimate scenes. Kudos must also go out to intimacy director Nicole Perry. She helped the performers create believable intimacy while keeping the actors safe.
Joey La Valle played JC, the professor teaching the Shakespeare class that Lauren and Simon were taking. Certainly, La Valle deftly captured the professor’s sincerity and compassion, especially toward Lauren. But La Valle also injected the professor with a flamboyant air and enthusiasm that made JC’s past career as an actor credible.
Credit also Michelle Gonzalez, Kaitlyn Dziedzic, and Christina Tsitouris. All three played the strange force or spirits haunting Lauren. They were onstage even before the show started, looking dazed and otherworldly. The directorial decision to put them onstage before the show started instantly plunged us into the weird world of the play.
Scenic designer Tyler Regalado captured the play’s spooky aura by creating a simple yet effective set. It consisted of basic props such as black boxes and a computer, but also a white cloth that hung from above. The cloth resembled the kind of outfit that a ghost might wear. Strands of the cloth moved slowly, like leaves or branches gently swaying in the wind. This movement lent a further ghostly aura to the proceedings. Contrast existed in the set, such as a light-colored cover and black boxes. This helped to reinforce the contrasting personas of Lauren and Lola.
Charisma Jolly’s evocative lighting lent just the right moods to scenes. And the costume design/construction by Kore Coffey was character appropriate. Lauren/Lola wore layers of clothing, suggesting the multiple layers to this character.
Rachel Hall designed the sound. Fast, creepy noises deftly added to the production’s aura.
Hopefully, XOXOLOLA experiences theatrical life beyond LakehouseRanchDotPng’s fine production. In the meantime, the small but mighty company has more productions in store for audiences this season.
For more information, go to www.LakehouseRanchDotPNG.com.
Photo by Juan Gamero
Lauren (Noellle Nicholas) and Simon (Samuel Krogh) interact during a scene.