It is difficult to describe a show like The Brink! Or Nobody’s Ever Kissed Me Like That. Part performance art, part experimental cabaret, and all parts surreal, The Brink! is a high-concept production that continually subverts audience expectations to create a genuinely unique and unnerving experience. The show takes the familiar and warps it into the fantastic: old jazz standards and recognizable motown pop are distorted, sped up, and slowed down to provide an uneasy backdrop for inventive acting, dancing, and live music. The works of Gertrude Stein and Ann Carson create vignettes between songs that provide powerful context to the imagery created by the cast. The production is the 60’s pop music of Leslie Gore as directed by David Lynch - a surrealism unlike anything I have seen before.
You would be forgiven for not expecting the bizarre events about to unfold just by judging the set-up of the stage. A grand piano, a cocktail drum set, cafe seating, and an antique radio (later revealed to be a cleverly disguised theremin) make up the entirety of the setting. The questions begin to mount as a man in cocktail dress introduces the audience to the show, a cabaret at a cafe at the edge of the world. The rest of the cast enters the stage and trade roles, instruments, and outfits as they run through a variety of distinctly different scenarios and songs. While the production is very abstract and high-concept, it is objectively clear that Walkabout Theater and Links Hall put in the work to master the choreography and musical elements of this show.
Additionally impressive is the company’s ability to create a plethora of scenes with the minimal stage set-up. The performance space is seamlessly transformed from a speakeasy to a coastline to a bullfight all with smart and subtle introductions of colored light and sound. The technical proficiency of the cast members combined with the excellent stage design form a cohesiveness that allows for the surrealism to have real impact.
I could go further into detail on some of the scenes presented, but to describe them in words here would not do them justice. It can be difficult to articulate why choreography to ‘Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows’ provided me with one of the most unnerving experiences I’ve had this year and why a morose, hollow rendition of ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’ evoked memories and feelings of failed happiness. Just know that The Brink! is an eerie spectacle that creates a highly engaging air of unease from start to finish. The themes of femininity, love, and sexuality are apparent - however, you will be creating your own stories and messages from the highly conceptual performances.
The Brink! is more akin to modern art than traditional theatre, and it will not be for everyone. However, if anything described above sounds appealing in the least, the show is highly recommended. The surreal cabaret crafted by Walkabout Theater and Links Hall exceeds at creating a distinctly unique experience.
Review by Ryan Moore
The Brink! continues at Links Hall through March 30. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreinChicago's Review Round Up.
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