Stop, Rewind, Play It Again

​Review of Ernest Shackleton Loves Me by Balagan Theatre by Leah F.

Ernest Shackleton

It’s Winter in Brooklyn — so naturally, it’s freezing as I walk into the theater and it’s snowing on stage.

Enter Kat, a purple and blue-haired punk rock vixen with a ridiculously filthy mouth. Kat, played by Valerie Vigoda (who, according to the program, is Disney’s go-to lyric doctor!) brings the energy and verve from the very second she steps on stage, stomping around in combat boots in her sleep-deprived stupor. Kat is a video-game composer, and her apartment is strewn with instruments, mixing equipment, and loop pedals. “OK,” you think, “that’s just the set. There’s no way she’ll use any of that.” BUT SHE DOES. THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE SHOW. Within the first minute, she’s rocking out and live-mixing the hilarious first number, “This Sucks.” Every part of the song is created by her with the equipment — and then it gets better. She walks over to an electric violin and begins shredding, which is awesome, but then she tops herself yet again. She starts singing and playing at the same time! The audience’s collective jaw drops.

Framed by a video blog, each of Kat’s songs express her exhaustion with single motherhood, relationships, and work. She pours out her soul, electro-pop-punk style with crisp contemporary lyrics and catchy refrains. Bruce, the father of her baby, skipped town a few months ago. We get a little taste of his slurring idiocy in a phone call, but Kat’s just not having it. This launches her into my personal favorite of her songs, “Stop Rewind Play Record.” I’ll be humming it for days! My only gripe with her non-stop playing is that it sometimes gets in the way of the character. I’d love to see her put down the violin for a few minutes and give us a straight up ballad, really address the audience — but then again, she’s kickin’ so much butt up there that it’s low on my priority list.

You’re probably wondering where Ernest Shackleton, the infamous Antarctic explorer, comes into all this. Well, actually, it’s more of where he comes OUT. After a few dodgy phone calls, a Skype serenade, and professions of love, Shackleton jumps out of Kat’s fridge. Yup, just like that, he’s in her apartment. (Nice job, set designers!) He’s been watching her blog, and he and his British dialect are smitten. Wade McCollum, who plays Shackleton (A.K.A. the hunkiest dead explorer you’ve ever seen) is a ball of well-directed energy. His comedic timing is spot on, and it’s really enjoyable to watch. Plus, I may have had a little crush on him. Who wouldn’t?

I’d like to give a huge shout out to the tech crew: For a show as technically complicated as this one, there were some major achievements. And let me also say, ALL HAIL THE STAGE MANAGER. Whoever called the cues in that show was spot on. Every time. Beautifully done! As for the set, it was simple yet evocative of the cold, and everything was put there for a reason. If you’re gonna have a ladder-like frame around a video screen, you’d better have lots of projections and people climbing on it. And they do! Well-executed, intentional use of space makes this theater-goer happy as a seal in a school of fish.

So, I know what you’re thinking. Video blog? Dead explorer? How can these things exist in the same room? This show is magic, pure and simple. They don’t waste time trying to explain how time and space are transcended, they just do it. No time for explanation, only bravery! Courage and hope are two major themes in the show, tying into Shackleton’s resolve to lead his men to safety and paralleling with Kat’s eventual decision at the end (no spoilers here.) The script also lends itself to repetitive motifs that bring you back even when the pacing slows down. Now that’s good writing!

This laugh-out-loud roller coaster ride through the centuries is a symbiotic feast of theater and pop music synergy. See it before it sets sail—and wear a jacket!

Ernest Shackleton Loves Me
Balagan Theatre
April 18 - May 3

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