I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard about “The Street,” a down home DIY theater production created, directed and choreographed by local performer Shara Free. It was described to me as being geared towards a “younger generation,” whatever that means. Images of a breakdancing hip-hop-flavored love story just left a bad taste in my mouth, like the “Step Up” 3D trailer. However, what I saw wasn’t anywhere near that, thankfully.
“The Street” is a fusion of burlesque, jazz, live action play that follows a group of characters who are under the rule of gangster pimp Cirque. There’s a love triangle, outsiders, prostitutes and a fight scene or two. But easily the best thing about “The Street” is the music.
Local act Audiafauna, an indie folk band, who composed all of the music, brings the show to life. The players act as if they are integrated within the setting, reacting to the actors on stage, and playing the role of a typical street band, only with flasks and cigarettes. They pulled out all the stops and eventually introduced a washboard and banjo, immersing the audience into the rough urban setting of the play.
The music gives the play its soul. You can see in the way the band plays that its muscians are passionate about their art, and it translates over to the audience. The music moves from jazz to salsa and some honky-tonk country and all work within the confines of the show.
There was one moment during the show when the band broke it down and started singing the final few verses of song a cappella, accompanied only by the beat of themselves and the audience clapping. Diverse and original, the band sits less than 40 feet away from the audience and steals all the attention.
The production is as local as it comes, which really speaks volumes about Santa Cruz.
However some problems also arise out of that.
The venue was intimate, which works in the sense that it helps the production break the fourth wall and interact directly with the audience. Actors walking up and down the aisles, inches away from your face in some instances, allow for some laughs and direct communication between the two parties. At some point members from within the audience got up and danced along with the actors.
However, this interactivity became a problem when seeing what exactly was occurring was a stretch, due greatly to seat and stage set up and use.
Many in the crowd sat as straight up as possible and crooning their necks to see past the person in front of them, yet it was still a troublesome effort to see what was going on at these points. The fact that the audience made such an effort to do so though says a lot.
Hearing what exactly the actors were singing or speaking was equally as difficult, though the band lent itself to the plot by allowing the mood of the music to illustrate what was going on.
The storyline was confusing. I didn’t know whose story arc the play was following, and the ending came quite abruptly. There was really no character I could relate too, except the villain Cirque, who is played as if he was Samuel L. Jackson, which was both entertaining and funny.
Otherwise the main protagonist, Rose, a troubled prostitute trapped within the confines of street life until visited by a masked stranger, was too one-sided. By the end of the show she has two boyfriends, instead of the one she started out with.
Now don’t get me wrong — I enjoyed myself at this show. The music and the dancing were of real quality, and should make any local proud of the artistic talent pool in Santa Cruz. Anyone who enjoys movies like “Moulin Rouge,” or is just looking for something to do on a weekend should go check out “The Street,” preconceived notions be damned.
“The Street” plays Oct. 2 and 9 at 6:30 and 9 p.m. at the Pacific Cultural Center. General. Admission is $19. Tickets can be purchased at brownpaperttickets.com.