Modehouse 6: Write What You Know?

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The setting…maybe?

Bwog writer Elizabeth Self ventured forth to watch the most recent theatrical effort put forth by Solomon Hoffman and Nick Parker. She emerged…confused and a little alarmed.

This weekend in Lerner Black Box, a cast of Columbia students performed an original musical called “Modehouse Six,” with music by Solomon Hoffman, CC ’14, book and lyrics by Nick Parker, CC ’14, and directed by Katie Cacouris, CC’ 15. Besides that it was, “a story about the delicacy of trust within a group of individuals who are apprehensive about forming relationships,” just what Modehouse was going to be was a mystery, and it certainly threw the audience for a loop. Now, whether that was a joyride or just an upset stomach, I’m not so sure.

What went down, essentially, is that 6 girls live in an asylum/mental health treatment center called, you guessed it, Modehouse. There, they all work hard performing typical prison duties (perhaps familiar to audience members because of the disturbingly recent Netflix series “Orange is the New Black”) and are treated by one resident doctor in mysterious ways, which all occur during “session.” No one talks about what they did to land themselves in the facility, but instead they are told to “save it for session.” As the new girl, played by Damaris Giha, CC’14, soon figures out, though, the doctor is actually employing strangely  twisted methods and sexually abusing some of the patients.  So, she leads the girls in a plot to kill the psychiatrist, which is eventually successful, but then they all have to trust each other long enough to escape.

First of all, the music was inarguably stupendous. Solomon Hoffman’s compositions were eery in the, “this tune is too cheerful for a boss fight,” sense, and I’m quite sure that the haunting numbers will be replayed in my nightmares for a while. The musicians did a great job producing a creepy effect following Hoffman’s remarkable orchestrations, and the lighting was also executed smartly, particularly in the suspense scenes.

Also, it must be noted that much of the acting was impressive. Since I personally know a couple of the actresses, going in I was afraid that I would see them instead of their characters. However, all of the performers truly dedicated themselves fully to their roles and were quite believable in doing so. Olivia Harris, CC’14, was notably frightening, as was Rebecca Farley, CC’16, who made a very convincing psychopath.

However, the talent was mostly wasted on this story. The plot was at once forced and convenient, and, though the play was supposed to take place in an asylum/mental institution/prison, I’m not sure what any of it had with any of these things in the modern world. (If it were set in the pre-Reagan era, I could see how it would be plausible horror fiction, but one of the characters was using an iPad.) Also, I’m not sure if the people responsible for writing these characters know any people with mental health problems or anything about sexual abuse, because it seems like they just sort of created arbitrary people with occasionally disturbing dialogue and a poorly executed last-minute love triangle.

Finally, the ending was completely dissatisfying. At the curtain call, I was genuinely confused. They didn’t kill everyone off, but no one escaped, either, nor was anyone set in a final showdown, nor was there any sort of resolution or climax reached at the end. They just sort of…quit. One character just happened to stop appearing in scenes, and I’m still really bothered because I don’t know where she went.

In short, while some really talented people performed Modehouse 6, I have no idea what happened to the story. So, in the words of Herodotus, enough about that.

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  1. Anonymous

    I dont know, the story sounds interesting. Despite the flaws you mention, I'm not convinced that the story fails.

  2. CC '15

    Totally agree with the reviewer. Lazy, bizarre writing. The show wasted some great music and acting on a haphazard book.

  3. Anonymous  

    inarguably isn't a word

  4. Anonymous  

    I don't know how much I agree with the reviewer. I found the story quite believable and the dialogue was often fast-paced and witty. Especially during the second act, I found myself completely immersed in this bizarre and eery world. There seemed to be a surprising amount of character development for a 1.5 hr musical and by the end I had created my own suspicions about the unresolved aura of mystery around each character. The "dissatisfying" ending I thought was pretty effective at highlighting the degree to which the plot had spun off into a bizarro-world.

    The music of course was as usual incredible. I found the weakest part to be the acting. Six random undergraduate girls? Not much to be terrified of and I couldn't get quite the sense from them overall that they were criminals who had committed heinous crimes and were degrading fast in a mental institution. (The character of Iz is a notable exception.) Maybe this was the intention? By not emphasizing how crazy the other characters are, we are plunged further into suspicion at each character's unrevealed secrets, that they are successfully concealing their messed-up pasts.

    I also walked out confused but that might have been the exact response intended by the creative team.

  5. THIS  

    "I’m not sure if the people responsible for writing these characters know any people with mental health problems or anything about sexual abuse,"

    Exactly. If I hadn't been so busy marveling at the ridiculous writing, I would have been offended by how simplistically and exploitativly the show dealt with some heavy issues.

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