The Cave: A Folk Opera

daughters of elysium · Ages 21+ · world premiere · United States

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Review by TONY FRANKEL

June 20, 2014 stage and cinema/bitter lemons original article

My overall impression

CAVE-IN

The press release refers to The Cave as being inspired by Beauty and the Beast and Persephone. In Greek mythology, Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the Underworld. But this Fringe entry takes place not in Hell but an imagined abode of souls who have departed life as we know it: The Cave. The residents are actually alive in this sort of portal to the Underworld, which can best be described as a high-class opium den circa The Wild, Wild West from which you can check out but you can never leave.

In Beauty and the Beast fashion, a girl named Willow enters this strange world of no escape to trade herself for the release of her opium-addicted father. Soon, The Master offers Willow pomegranate seeds (whatever that means) and falls for the comely lass, who replaces The Master’s scorned lover Leila. Later in the confusing narrative, a Spirit comes to Willow and instructs her to simply love The Master (forget that he just choked Leila to death for trying to poison Willow).

Confused? Yeah, me too. While Melanie Rose Thomas has fashioned an intriguing score of folk music (from tango to hurdy-gurdy to coffeehouse folk) and some pretty, poetical lyrics, the completely sung-through “Folk Opera” is missing a libretto. The sketchy storytelling, which never explains why the father isn’t released, is the ultimate downfall: About halfway through this 90-minute work, it seems that Thomas is taking herself far too seriously, eschewing humor and character development (we really don’t know who anyone is) for songs that begin to grow tiresome, as if a stoned band at a Fairy Festival thought singing about light, love, and darkness was equivalent to soul-searching folk from the 60s. The melodies become repetitious and the lyrics become difficult to comprehend. The truly unique premise then borrows from Phantom of the Opera and completely overstays its welcome.

Aside from some lovely songs and beautiful, haunting melodies, what truly intrigued me was Bianca Gisselle as Willow. Positively stunning to behold, she is also a charming and enthralling singer. Nicholas Losorelli also showed some fine chops as some sort of recruiter named Edwin (again, I’m not sure who anybody is). Indeed, the entire 10-member cast was entrancing vocally. The miking was great and accompaniment by Shawn Halim on keyboard and William Peterson on guitar was pure pro.

Ultimately, the experience of watching this show was like being a resident of The Cave itself—I wanted to leave but couldn’t.

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