On April 7, Strange Creatures opened its three-day run in the Bolton Theater. While the show entertained the audience with its song and dance scenes, the show’s lack of cohesion seemed to confuse audience members.
Associate Professor of Drama Anton Dudley wrote the script and lyrics for the musical, while Faye Chiao, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music in New York City, composed the music. The musical centered around Hart Crane, played by Jed Levinson ’25, a young person trying to make it as a poet in New York City during the Roaring Twenties. The plot was a bit confusing as the show was very abstract, but the individual scenes were certainly entertaining.
The show opened with a music number by the city docks, with the crew dressed in dark clothes, except for Crane, who was in white. After arriving in New York, Crane developed a lust for Emil, a sailor played by Drew Sutherland ’25. Act I ended with Crane having to choose between going out to sea with Emil or staying back to pursue his writing, leaving the audience in suspense going into intermission.
Act II started abruptly as Crane drunkenly walked around the stage with the lights still set for intermission. As the lights returned to their normal white color, Act II was already underway.
Crane chose to stay in New York to pursue poetry, though his life soon started to fall apart. After taking a trip to Paris, Crane developed a sexual relationship with a married couple, but after the husband died by suicide, Crane’s erratic life choices caught up to him and he considered doing the same.
At the climax of the play, Emil returns to the stage as a figment of Crane’s imagination. The lighting on stage turned to a green color for the first time, and helped to highlight the struggle that Crane was grappling with in the climax. He wanted to be with Emil, but it wasn’t possible as Emil was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
In the following scene, white and red tissue paper representing newspapers fell from the catwalk above the stage, which were caught and read by Hart’s friends, Frank and Williams, played by Bo Huang ’25 and Gideon Malherbe ’24 respectively. Through this, the audience learned about Crane’s decision to drown himself.
The costume designs by Assistant Professor of Drama Tatjana Longerot were effective in conveying the 1920s on stage. The lighting, designed by Emily Blanquera ’20, was a neutral-warm white color throughout the first part of the play and, like the costumes, was also effective in transporting the audience to the Roaring Twenties.
While the musical was mostly realistic with the props and set design, the resolution featured ensemble members dancing on stage as sharks with cheap paper fins as their costume. While this was one of the more puzzling moments of the play, there were plenty of scenes that stood out.
In recurring interludes, Crane read letters from Underwood, played by Joey Martens ’25, a correspondent who also was gay. Martens really brought the character to life with his charming monologues. Additionally, moaning sounds occasionally played over the speakers, helping to convey Underwood’s hedonistic image as a person who frequently engages in sexual intercourse. The character made all of his appearances via a trap door on stage left, surrounded by plastic legs and arms. Every time the trap door opened, Martens was greeted by applause and cheers from the audience.
Additionally, the play’s choreography by Professor of Dance Julie Brodie did not disappoint. Some of the dance numbers were representative of characters making love, while others were big group numbers. Both elements were very creative, with the audience bobbing their heads along to the beat.
The biggest issue with the musical was the two competing plots: One was focused on Crane’s love life, while the other focused on his writing. Before intermission, Crane could have left to go with Emil on a journey in the South Pacific. However, he declined in order to pursue his writing. When he is offered to publish what would become his best-known poem, “The Bridge,” he cannot complete it in 10 weeks. In the end, his erratic lifestyle catches up to him and he decides to take his own life.
Overall, the show was enjoyable as it showcased many compelling characters, and each scene was entertaining and evoked emotion in the audience. Put together, the musical left the audience confused as there was no central plot throughout. However, each scene was impressive in its own right. The musical provided the audience a glimpse into the Roaring Twenties.