FRINGE 2019 REVIEW: 'The Consciousness'

Bethany Dickens’ "The Consciousness" plays out as an intriguing sci-fi thought experiment through a high-stakes game of art, fame and romance. Unfortunately, the script and production don’t quite ascend to the loftiness of the play’s concept

click to enlarge "The Consciousness" - Provided by Cincinnati Fringe Festival
Provided by Cincinnati Fringe Festival
"The Consciousness"

If the consciousness of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could be immortalized in a computer program, free to create new music in perpetuity, what real shot would an aspiring composer — even a brilliant one — have at achieving relevance?

Like Mozart, Reece (Jason Pavlovich) is a wunderkind, a polymath who had conducted a major symphony orchestra by age twelve, and now finds himself as a prized pupil at a prestigious East Coast music school. He gets both the grades and the girls with ease, but when it comes to capping his undergraduate portfolio with a full-length symphony, Reece develops a serious case of writer’s block. Looking for a little inspiration, he secures permission to visit the library’s shadowy 11th floor, where he can digitally commune with the consciousness of past composers. It isn’t Mozart whom Reece summons in computerized séance, but a far more obscure composer, Theo Price (Samuel Adams), from whom a few borrowed musical phrases might not draw accusations of plagiarism.

Unfortunately for Reece, Theo is a self-centered prick, who nonetheless agrees to share wisps of compositional genius in exchange for vestiges of corporal life, like the smell of the seashore, a linen-bound book, or the sweet ache of falling in love. But it could be that the education Theo has to offer is something a bit broader than notes on a page.

Bethany Dickens’ The Consciousness plays out as an intriguing sci-fi thought experiment through a high-stakes game of art, fame and romance. Unfortunately, the script and production don’t quite ascend to the loftiness of the play’s concept. Dickens’ school of music is more Grey’s Anatomy than New England Conservatory. Melodramatic backstory and stilted romantic dialogue add to the crescendo of the piece, but chip away at its honesty in a way that director Ryan Steffen’s promising, but youthful, cast do not surmount. In the Sunday night performance, delivery was stuck in high gear, with actors rushing through lines and often talking over each other in volumes that were either loud or louder. For any musicians in the audience, disbelief will have to be willfully suspended as the actors annotate and read symphonic scores with a mere flick of the pencil or glance at a manuscript. And perhaps most discordant for a play about music, not a note was heard in the entire sixty minutes.

Nonetheless, Steffen’s cast invest remarkable energy into their roles, and shine when each given the opportunity to introduce the four “movements” of the play in direct address to the audience. Steffen keeps the scenework moving with seamless physical transitions. I expect that as the Fringe continues, the players in this orchestra will make ever more beautiful music from a fascinating, if imperfect, composition.


The Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 15. Find showtimes, tickets and more info here. Check out more reviews from our CityBeat team here



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