‘The Sparrow’s’ unique vision soars
Review — This weekend I paid a visit to the Shapiro Campus Center theater to watch “The Sparrow,” the latest production by the Undergraduate Theater Collective. The play, written in 2007 by Chris Matthews, Nathan Allen and Jake Minton, revolves around a girl named Emily (Maia Cataldo ’20) returning to her hometown after being the sole survivor of a fatal accident with her second-grade class ten years prior, an accident that leaves her with survivor’s guilt. As she tries with some difficulty to assimilate into the junior class, she befriends her counselor and biology teacher, Mr. Christopher (Rodrigo Alfaro Garcia Granados ’18), and a cheerleader, Jenny (Caitlin Crane-Moscowitz ’20). A few weeks later, when one of Jenny’s cheerleading stunts goes awry, Emily saves her while simultaneously exposing her telekinetic ability. She becomes popular for a while until she witnesses a disheveled Jenny, who has lost her place, kissing Mr. Christopher, who is reminded of his dead wife when caring for her. Emily’s life unravels and reveals to all that she caused the incident all those years ago by using her abilities.
If there is one thing I can say about “The Sparrow,” it’s that it has a creative and unique vision credited to its director Leah Sherin ’19. I really felt immersed while sitting on stage. All of the technical direction, the lighting, the sound, the staging, the props; it was actually more effective than I thought it would be — other than the wooden high school locker that fell on top of me hilariously at one point, but obviously I’m not going to fault anybody for that. The slightly muted principal’s announcements were a nice touch. This play also had a lot more choreography than I thought it would. I really felt that the actors effectively created a dynamic space resembling a high school. So, good job to Sherin and choreographer Hannah McCowan ’19.
As for all of the actors, I’d have to say that the ensemble was good. There were some moments where the dialogue flowed a bit too smoothly, as if the lines were being read in quick succession. You know what I mean? Those scenes where actors leave almost no time in between each other’s lines. It pulls you out of the authenticity of the dialogue. Nobody immediately responds in one millisecond in a conversation. There’s no breathing room. This didn’t happen often, it just initially put me off when I noticed it in the opening scene. Though intermittent, it was noticeable; but that’s not a huge flaw, just a small nit-pick of mine that recurs in most student productions.
I’d have to say the standouts among the cast were Cataldo, Granados and Crane-Moscowitz — the undisputed leads of the play. Cataldo was quite restrained in her performance, which was appropriate for a character that kept to herself. With a few lighting cues and some melancholic music, she pulled off the fragility and the “magic” element of her character. Crane-Moscowitz’s performance was great as well. She believably portrayed the conflicted character whose social standing and self-confidence was dwindling. But by far the best actor on stage was Granados. He added excitement and energy in the beginning when needed, he dealt sage advice when prompted, and he was dramatic when he needed to be. He easily stole every scene and acted the most naturally on stage.
All of that said and done, there were some problems I had. There was a lot of dancing. I’d say one or two of the dance numbers could have been cut. The number I enjoyed the most was the one featuring the song “I’ve Got the World on a String.” It may have been my partiality toward Frank Sinatra, but I thought the group had some creative and fun choreography. A scene that should have been cut was a ballet number performed by Cataldo with just her on stage. It was nice and elegant with the calming music, but ultimately unnecessary. There was so much dancing that I jokingly thought this production was just wish fulfillment for all of the actors to be in “High School Musical.” That’s not really a criticism. I could just see how happy all of the performers were while dancing, smiles extended from ear to ear. It’s just something I noticed that may be the reason why the dance numbers were so abundant.
I also felt the scenes when Emily was home with the McGuckin family were not needed. The best parts of the play were related to the high school community’s dynamic. I witnessed the most hilariously jock-y jocks I’ve ever seen. The mother McGuckin (Sophie Welch ’20) had some moments to stretch her acting chops, but her character unfortunately could have been cut altogether in my opinion. In fact, other than Mr. Christopher, I would have cut most of the adult characters. Not because their actors were not up to par, but because they didn’t really add anything to the plot and my overall enjoyment of the play. The high school scenes were what drew me.
“The Sparrow” was a largely delightful play. Definitely one of the better productions I’ve seen on the Brandeis campus this semester. I’m glad I caught it when I had the chance. This “dark ‘High School Musical’” was executed well enough that I can say I had a good time being immersed in it.