Poetry is in many ways the original form of storytelling. Long narrative poems like The Odyssey preceded the alphabet and were passed down the generations through oral tradition. Oral poets tethered listeners with recitations of Odysseus’ travels across the whale roads (seas). In this way, Amanda Filippelli’s play, Blue Rooms, participates in and builds on a long and illustrious tradition. Blue Rooms is, in fact, a staged recitation of her book of poetry by the same name.
It is performed and recited word for word on the stage, coming to life with the added effects of different actors, staging, and sound. Womb-like, Filippelli returns us to the cadence of poetry we are distanced from in today’s world, a realization that becomes strikingly apparent as you sink into the play’s rhythms. As co-director, she is well-positioned to augment her poetry with layers of visual interpretation on the stage that enrich its already deep cadence.
Filippelli’s poetry is autobiographical, which lends her life a lyricism. That lyricism results from experiences that are poetically abstracted and distilled. Poetry is ultimately a concise form of writing. It has little patience or space for cumbersome details as poems tend to cut to the emotional core. This lack of specificity broadens the accessibility of Filippelli’s work. It becomes about struggles that are essential parts of the human condition. Struggles like identity and love remind us of not how different we are, but of how connected and similar we are. The highs and lows of love are a universal chord.
Blue Rooms is divided into three parts that reflect different phases of Amanda’s growth and maturation. Filippelli wisely chooses to have each section played by a different actress. One by-product is this successfully spreads the staggering amount of memorization each actress still has. This also allows progressively older actresses to play each part, which reflects Filippelli’s own aging as the narrative progresses.
In act one, the quietly lovely Emily Cooper portrays the young Amanda. She is initially hidden behind her mother’s outstretched costume, a visualization of the way Filippelli’s character feels, masked and overwhelmed by her mother’s strong personality. The most visually arresting set piece in act I (and the overall play) is set designer Theresa Baughman’s large-scale tree that becomes interactive. In fact, Cooper physically ascends it in a poem entitled “Trees” as she recites, “Lavender sunsets fade over / cool branches, and I lay/dangling, / draped over bark, / moss-covered lullabies reverberating.” The term recites reduces the actresses and the words to something akin to rote memorization. In fact, they infuse the text with life and make the printed poem become conversational as if one could casually conjure elegant turns of phrase.
Gabrielle Kogut creates an Amanda with even more nuance in act II. She experiences first love and the overwhelming crash of its dissolution. In the poem “Starving Fish,” she lets her ex-boyfriend’s four goldfish starve. Kogut lends her own interpretation to the written word, turning Filipelli’s introspectively declarative line “I was being cruel.” into a mocking question to the absent man, “I was being cruel?” Throughout Blue Rooms, Vaughn-Shane Camarda’s incredibly skillful sound design weaves in an auditory layer that continually intrigues the ear.
In act III, Amanda finds love again, a more mature and stable love. Co-director Kiera Lynn Haaland successfully adds another new layer as Amanda in the final act. Unlike Amanda’s character, Jack Donahue plays two different boyfriends in acts II and III. In act III, Donahue looks stone-faced and disengaged, almost as if Amanda is projecting her desires onto him. Given this is supposed to be a successful romantic story, his portrayal is at odds with the textual narrative and could have used correction by Filippelli and Haaland as co-directors.
When I was growing up, my father was the third most published poet in America. Much of my upbringing was chronicled in his poetry, and I spent countless hours attending poetry readings. I’m an outlier in the modern world; the cadence of poetry was the cadence of my youth. Filippelli freshly reminds us that poetry is anything but old-fashioned. It’s part of our essence if we take the time to listen. Slow your ear, and be absorbed by the poetic luxuries of Blue Rooms.
Blue Rooms only ran June 22nd and June 23rd at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, but Filippelli’s work was both compelling and memorable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her piece continue to morph, develop, and appear in other venues. To learn more about Amanda Filippelli and Blue Rooms, visit her website.
Categories: Archived Reviews