Los Angeles Theater Review: THE CAVE: A FOLK OPERA (Three Clubs Lounge / Hollywood Fringe)

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by Tony Frankel on June 20, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


William Max Schneidermann in THE CAVE - A FOLK OPERAThe 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).

Bianca Gisselle in THE CAVE - A FOLK OPERAConfused? 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.

The Cave: A Folk Opera
Daughters of Elysium
part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival
The Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge
1123 Vine St.
scheduled to end on June 22, 2014
for tickets, visit Hollywood Fringe
for more info, visit www.thecavefolkopera.com


Barbara Burgess June 20, 2014 at 10:30 am

It sounds like you think you know the Persephone myth but just to clarify-the pomegranate seeds are from the Persephone myth. Hades feeds them to Persephone and they are what make her stay in the underworld for half of the year. Look it up. I also saw Thomas’ show and I think it is deep with metaphor and you might have missed most of it. The spirit is obviously Willow’s inner voice telling her something like “give love to darkness, and light can come to him.” It seems intentionally ambiguous who the “him” is and this is why Willow accidentally (?) kills her father while serving him opium. I also think this is intentionally ambiguous and almost invokes some Freudian psychology. Willow and The Master’s relationship is like any other Beauty and the Beast fable, easy to criticize but full of symbolism. Beauty and the Beast as well as the Persephone myth are about a young, virginal girl who learns to love a man who seems monstrous but has actually just been suffering. This lesson of compassion isn’t supposed to make acts of violence and fear okay, but it is more of a lesson to accept “darkness” because with acceptance comes understanding and the ability to change. Ultimately, I think the metaphor of The Cave is about that acceptance; maybe acceptance of others or maybe it is acceptance of the self. If you actually listened to the lyrics or did your research about the mythology before trying to criticize it, you might have understood this piece.

Tony Frankel June 20, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Barbara, that’s some lovely writing there! However, you insinuate that if I understood the piece, it may have worked better for me. I did look up Persephone myths and there are dozens of versions, but knowing more about the myth does NOT make the show work better. Metaphors, symbols, and an “intentionally ambiguous” (per you) narrative with songs that wear out their welcome and lyrics that land clunky on the ear grow wearisome. And frankly it’s not an audience’s job to research a show to get it. Honestly, does one need to read The Book of Mormon to get the musical? No, because they take the time to explain it so that we’re on board with the parody.

But thanks for blaming me for poor dramaturgy. And by the way, how did you know that Willow’s father died? He just leaned back and closed his eyes with no explanation of why he was still in The Cave or whether or not he was dead, to my recollection. I suspect that you are not a patron who just walked in off the street, but know MUCH more about this show than you’re letting on – correct me if I’m wrong.

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