"Shelly's Spherical Journey" at The New York International Fringe Festival
“Shelly’s Spherical Journey” Written and Directed by Cassandra Victoria Chopourian Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
This brilliant performance piece is what FringeNYC is all about: risk-taking; creating avant-garde theatre; challenging the imaginations and minds of patrons and the communities in which they live. “Shelly’s Spherical Journey,” is the surrealism of Dali coming to life on stage. Cassandra Victoria Chopourian and the Van Reipen Collective use surrealistic images, performance art, improvised movement and improvised music, well-crafted choreography, imaginative props, and a well-developed script to expose the vicissitudes of life and the psychodynamic responses to those unexpected changes of fortune.
Tired of maintaining the Sunshine Motel gifted to her by her family, Shelly decides she needs to leave behind the moth-ridden light fixtures and the plethora of dead pool animals and move on to a new life. Though there is numbing comfort at the Sunshine, namely, Mrs. Schiller the one long-term guest; the ghost of her grandmother Nane, the occasional interesting motel guest, and the tube socks she dons to communicate with Chet, who though dead, is still Shelly’s active love interest. But that comfort is not enough: Shelly burns down the motel, grabs the deed to her inherited property in Circassia, a gun, and other essentials for the journey and leaves the embers behind.
What follows is a phantasmagoric fantasy of achieving self-fulfillment and not much in this extended fantasy goes as Shelly anticipates. Anything that could possibly go bump in the night does so. Shelly’s idol Valaida Snow (“Queen of the Trumpet and Song”) gets discredited (despite Shelly’s solo trumpet performance); Chet, though still dead, decides he does not want to marry Shelly; Shelly’s deed to her inherited property in Circassia is a fake and she will never live there or become one of Circassia’s ‘beauties;’ even clicking her magic tap shoes does not transport her to someplace like a home. It is like “Metamorphosis” on speed! That’s correct; Franz Kafka is now in the mix.
Whatever else Chopurian’s important work is, it is about the health, wellbeing and future of art and all artistic endeavors. In Blue Octavo Notebooks, Frank Kafka writes, “Art flies around truth, but with the definite intention of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before.” It is easy for artists to become distracted from their goals (their ‘moons’) and aim for what seem to be ‘bright opportunities,’ ‘bright lights of success,’ and ‘luminary status.’
Avoiding substantive self-realization did not work for the “Shell.” Her spherical journey ends as she joins the moths she once cleaned out of light fixtures at her Motel. This important work concludes with Shelly sporting moth wings and starting yet another spherical journey of self discovery which will include “wonderful joy.” Maybe this humanesque-mothesque persona will this time be able to connect with the human race in a significant way: “fly away and start again?” No regrets.
As Shelly, Cassandra Victoria Chopourian is joined by the Shelly-ettes Cari Bell and Christina Gulick and the “band” consisting of Richard Gross (guitar), Frank Marino (percussion), and Steve Wishnia (bass guitar) to make this “fantasia” work. Cari Bell eloquently provides the voice of Mrs. Shiller and Nane and Richard Gross steps off his guitar chair to portray Chet. This ensemble cast could not be more connected to one another and to the script. Kudos to all. What about Friedrich Schiller – this critic did not fail to see that connection? Like the Shell’s ongoing spherical journey, there is more about Schiller to come. For now, think of Schiller’s belief: “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in any truth that is taught in life.” Enough said for now. Keep your eye on the Van Reipen Collective.
SHELLY’S SPHERICAL JOURNEY
Presented by The Van Reipen Collective and The New York International Fringe Festival. Written and Directed by Cassandra Victoria Popourian.