Added on 21-Feb-2006
Rock legend Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, is the Mercury of the show's title, and Pig Iron Theater Company's mission lies somewhere between riff and homage.The ensemble pays its respects in its own distinctive way in Mission to Mercury: No "We Are the Champions," no endless "Bohemian Rhapsody," no screaming audience of 72,000, no glam leather. This is a small, funny, haunting show, Pig Iron's second in its Drexel University residency.
We enter through the set-building shop of the Mandell Theater. The seats form an improvised backstage auditorium, and there is much thumping and drilling and muttering from under the newly built wooden floor. Two beleaguered stagehands (Geoff Sobelle and Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel) appear, schlepping music stands, amps, huge bundles of orange cable, and a bunch of other stuff, all with hilarious ineptitude and sotto-voce complaints.
They haul out two guys (Bradford Trojan and Dito van Reigersberg) dressed in black rocker gear, living zombies who hold mikes and sing "Killer Queen" while a groupie (Sarah Dohery) clings to their legs.
The plastic sheeting that has been the upstage wall suddenly falls, revealing the empty Mandell Theater. James Sugg and his accordion appear surreally in a doorway, singing - his voice is thrillingly melodic - and then he and Dohery sing "Under Pressure" while the two stagehands scurry around setting up more equipment.
Each of the performers will slide from song to song, style to style, costume to costume - straw boaters, '50s prom dresses, leopard underwear - and character to character, until they are united in heartbreaking four-part harmony, singing "Prophet Song" a cappella while we watch the two stagehands reunited in sweet relief.
Before that, there is much to wonder at: Dohery and Christie Parker sitting alone in the theater opposite our seats, singing "Radio Gaga," and Sobelle and Parker, accompanied by Sugg, singing "39," creating a tiny, moving drama of longing. ("Don't you hear me call, though you're many years away?") The most eye-widening moment comes when Dohery, suspended from a hook, twirls slowly in the air reprising "Under Pressure."
At under an hour, Mission to Mercury is a minor work; the time in the dark is funny but overstretched, and the company is leaning heavily on its charm and its loyal following. As part of that loyal following and (full disclosure here) as somebody who knows next to nothing about rock music, I was once again amazed by Pig Iron's ability to choreograph chaos, to reshape reality with imagination and an apparently endless supply of talent.
Mission to Mercury
Conceived and created by Pig Iron Theatre Company in collaboration with the Ensemble, directed by Dan Rothenberg, scenery by Hiroshi Iwasaki and Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, lighting by James Clotfelder, costumes by David R. Gammons and Millie Hiibel, sound by Nick Kourtides.
Cast: Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel, Dito van Reigersberg, Geoff Sobelle, James Sugg, Christy Parker, Sarah Dohery, Bradford Trojan.
Playing at: Mandell Theater, Drexel University, 3210 Chestnut St. Through March 4. Tickets: $20-$25.
Information: 215-627-1883 or www.pigiron.org.