Metro Weekly

Happenstance Theater’s “theatri-visual” productions offer whimsical escapism

The Juxtapose Tenement and A Rose for Ergensburg are both available to stream now

Happenstance Theater: A Rose for Ergensburg
Happenstance Theater: A Rose for Ergensburg

One of the first and most successful professional organizations to sprout from Capital Fringe, the Helen Hayes Award-winning Happenstance Theater was all set to make a splash last year with a new work co-produced by Capital Fringe.

After the pandemic put an end to all that, the Maryland-based devised theater’s five artists and performers — who work collectively throughout all phases of production returned to the drawing board. Together, they’ve reimagined what was to be called Juxtapose as The Juxtapose Tenement, dubbed a “theatri-visual, website-collage.”

The work is inspired by the visual, poetic world of renowned assemblage artist Joseph Cornell. “Using simple video techniques, Georges Méliès-inspired film magic, manipulation of objects, puppetry, physical theater, theatrical clown, sound layering, and vintage spectacle, we have conjured portals to hope,” says Sabrina Mandell, who leads the company with her husband Mark Jaster.

Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, and Alex Vernon join the couple to realize a quirky, whimsical, and imaginative production in which they each portray different residents of an urban tenement, initially seen from windows at street level. The viewer is granted voyeuristic access into their apartments, presented as individual shadow boxes, where we’re invited to rummage through their collectibles and watch them act out in generally eccentric fashion.

Happenstance’s other virtual production, A Rose for Ergensburg: A Short Film Inspired by Fairy Tales and Hard Times, was developed with videographer Sharon Crissinger. The 20-minute work is full of childlike wonder and whimsy right down to its enchanting scenic design and quaint musical score.

Appearing almost as mimes with no dialogue, Jaster and Mandell play two eccentric, expressive traveling players rehearsing various scenes and roles on the outskirts of a nondescript European village under lockdown during an earlier pandemic. It makes for a nice, short escape from our own pandemic time.

Tickets for The Juxtapose Tenement are pay-what-you-can with a suggested donation of $15, while A Rose for Ergensburg is $10. Both productions run indefinitely. Visit www.happenstancetheater.com.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @ruleonwriting.

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