Generic Theater likes to challenge the norm and take risks. Some risks pay off, while others do not. I commend Generic for taking a risk on The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, but I do not feel it paid off. This is a story that travels through time following the life of a young black girl who wishes she were white.
There are several historical references that offer an opportunity to open a challenging and engaging dialogue, but the script is poorly written and presents a splintered story that is difficult to follow. Add to this challenge a cast that is not cohesive, poor technical execution, and poor choices with missed opportunities and it’s a recipe for disappointment. The most telling revelation is that the crowd who was present that night did not say a single word about the show. There were no words of praise or disappointment. It was silent. Normally I hear other patrons sharing their insights of the performance. For Bubbly, the silence was deafening.
Photo Credit Brad Rudacille
I attended opening night. The pre-show music was engaging and diverse. It pumped up the crowd and you could hear several people singing along to a few of the songs. I was able to soak in my surroundings while waiting for the show to begin. The set was rudimentary and not what I expected to see when I walked in. While it was a good use of space, it lacked character. For me, the set should be its own character and sweep you away to sights and scenes you wouldn’t normally imagine. I was underwhelmed with the risers in the center and two side tables on rolling platforms. There was no color to speak of and it left you wanting more. I’m not sure if this a directorial choice or a design choice, but it was not something that enhanced the performance.
The show began on time. I loved the musical segue from Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” into the opening notes of the show itself. I thought it was very smart to have that transition. For me, that was the best part of the show. There was a lot of individual talent on the stage, but as a whole it was an overwhelming cacophony of noise that was unbalanced. You could not hear Janae Thompson, the lead character, perform as she was drowned out by the ensemble singing background. This was a continuing theme throughout the entire performance. Some people wore microphones, but the music overpowered the performers or the ensemble made it impossible to hear any solos. These songs were an integral part of the story and missing any part of the performance created a deficit in the storytelling.
Photo Credit Brad Rudacille
Another challenging element was the lighting. The cool blues and reds were not complementary to the cast. It created a very dark and unflattering presentation. Other issues arose where actors were acting in areas that were not lit at all and lights would come up after the actors left the stage or on a couple of occasions, they wouldn’t come up at all. There were a number of missed cues with both lighting and sound that were evident by the actors visibly looking around and waiting for something to happen. In some instances, the actors would wait a couple of beats and then take the plunge only to have whatever cue they had been waiting for come in late.
Costuming was another issue. The cast appeared slovenly, and quite a few of the costuming choices did not flatter the cast or advance the story, while a portion of the costumes didn’t fit properly. Fittings ran the gamut of either being so tight you thought a button might be popped or they were too loose and it looked like a tent on some of the performers. Suits and shirts were wrinkled and lacked the meticulous presentation I expect when watching a show. Overall the costumes seemed haphazard and thrown together last minute. Why so much disarray? The best part of the costume design were the costumes worn by Thompson. My favorite was the one she wore during the opening scene of the second act. It was elegant and the transition was smooth as she transformed from an office worker into a dance student right before your eyes. It was a creative move and one of the few choices executed well.
Photo Credit Brad Rudacille
There was creative choreography for dancing and fight scenes that provided some standout performances, but as a whole it was executed poorly. I honestly felt like I was watching a rehearsal and not a finished product. I would like to be encouraging and chalk it up to opening night jitters, but there were cast members on stage who couldn’t keep up and were looking lost and superfluous. They didn’t have a defined reason for being on the stage at times, they did not successfully advance the plot, and overall, they added to the confusion of the storytelling.
The lack of attention to detail spread beyond the set and costumes to the props. Newspapers were used to share a key part of the story, but the actors were holding the papers upside down and “reading” from them. Some of the papers had a key headline, but the main prop paper held by the lead character was lacking this information and failed to convey the reasoning for her fear of the situation. The mirrors utilized during the final transformation were filthy and much of what you could see in them was a reflection of the cluttered second floor, which was very distracting.
I desperately wanted this show to be inspirational and offer a voice that would transcend the time periods of the script and create a conversation that would allow people to engage on different levels of the current racial tensions in the country. Instead I was left with a fragmented story that didn’t fully explain why she was bubbly and projected a distinct hatred for white people through the representation of the KKK during one tumultuous scene, the placing of a gun by a white man into the hand of a young black man who shot another black man during another scene, and in yet another scene a white police officer was presented harassing an innocent black man and saying “I’m sorry. You’re the wrong guy. You all look the same to me.” Between the script and the direction of the show that final “a-ha moment” was never provided to allow the audience to understand how a young girl was finally able to embrace her true self after so many years of wishing she was something other than who she was born to be.
Photo Credit Brad Rudacille
Overall, it is my impression that there was a lot of talent both on stage and behind the scenes. The tragedy of this production is that there is no cohesion. I’d love to be able to compliment the choreographer and fight scene choreographer for their vision, but there was no one listed in the program. I’d love to encourage the music director and voice coach through constructive criticism of the placement of the cast and their projecting while praising the talent they chose to be part of the show, but again there is no one listed in the program for me to direct my comments to at this time. I received an email about an update to a change of the scenic director for the production, but I don’t want to come off too harsh because this person wore A LOT of hats for this production. I feel like they were overwhelmed and didn’t have the production support they needed. This does not mean they are a bad person or not worthy of working on another production. What it does mean to me is that they took on too much and the project suffered because of the lack of focus. I’m not naming the director because I feel that there was more than meets the eye with this show, and I don’t feel that naming them will do anything more than cause that person hurt and leave a bad taste in the community who may question trusting them with another production in the future. It is not my intent to tear down or destroy anyone. It is my desire to encourage and strengthen anyone involved in a local production. It takes dedication and huge personal sacrifice and investment to do what you do to make something jump from a page of a script and come alive in front of an audience. I encourage you to learn from this experience and apply those lessons to your next performance.
Generic Theater has a rich history of defying the odds and producing some amazing shows from quirky scripts. Unfortunately not all risks can be winners and Bubbly fails to follow in the footsteps of those successful productions. I commend all involved for taking the risks and wish them many broken legs in the remaining performances.