Taking the stage at the Isabel Bader Centre from Mar. 22 to 25, Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom is a double bill that brings the past straight into the modern age.
For playgoers expecting a traditional performance about a historical figure, Botticelli in the Fire immediately smashes expectations.
The audience enters the space to find actor and director Ben Sterlin on stage, silently grooving to 80s pop music. While the lights rise, the flamboyantly sinful Botticelli speaks directly to the audience, demanding they “turn off their f—king cell phones.”
Though slow at times, Botticelli in the Fire is a newly modernized story of the father of the Renaissance as he battled homophobia and ignorance in a world that wants him dead.
The set is gorgeously built to replicate Sandro Botticelli’s studio, displaying some of his most famous paintings. The beauty of the classic Renaissance art in the room is quickly contrasted as Botticelli is seen placing his head under the dress of his model, beautifully played by Keady Morgan.
Awkward staging leaves audience members craning in their seats, occasionally disrupting the action. However, these moments’ saving graces are the comedic chops of actor Evan Lepp and the emotional depth of Kevin Shaw, who portrays Botticelli’s lover, Leonardo Da Vinci.
While sexy and often a little silly, the play set in Renaissance Italy brings the past into the future, as Renaissances often do.
The modernization is jarring at times, depicting Botticelli taking a break from painting the Venus de Milo to show Da Vinci a text message as seen on his pink iPhone. The modernization contrasts and clashes the old with the new, as actor Tyler Doyle is seen playing a 15th century monk, who also briefly appears wearing nothing but metallic silver hotpants.
These moments help the play maintain the audience’s attention while still filling it with real emotion — a standout scene saw Sterlin accidentally crack one of his beautiful set’s walls in a fit of Botticellian passion.
After a brief intermission and a complete makeover of the stage, audiences were brought even further back in time for the second half of the production.
If Botticelli in the Fire is an amusing first half, Sunday in Sodom is a beautiful second.
A masterpiece of staging puts actress Marlisa Hows centre stage as Edith, the biblical wife of Lot, in a city destined to burn.
Hows shines in the role as she demonstrates her incredible acting abilities and a more than impressive talent of depicting emotion using only her facial expressions.
Giving new context to a story told a thousand times, Sunday in Sodom is a treasure to behold.
Maintaining the modern themes of the first half of the night, the scriptural character of Lot remains glued to his TV screen and Isaac, the son of Abraham, is seen on his cell phone and waiting at a bus station. The contemporary twist to this biblical storytelling provides a fresh twist on otherwise dry source material.
This update is at its clearest when Hows gives a voice to a woman that never had one before. The previously silent character of Edith brings the audience through her village, eliciting laughs and breaking hearts without ever moving a muscle.
This sequence is a moving conclusion to the show’s theme of the reimagined past.
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