By Kelly Maxwell; Music by Meghan Rose; Directed by S.C. Lucier
Part of the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival
Off Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 8.25.16
VENUE #5: drom, 85 Avenue A
by Sarah Weber on 8.22.16
Katie Bakalars, Hannah Ripp-Dieter, and Alex Van Handel in Held.
BOTTOM LINE: Three close friends are trapped by a wizard’s spell, and the only way out is for one of them to die.
The role of fantasy, like most fiction genres, is escapism—to provide a place we can run away to for a while and let reality take care of itself. Fantasy done well also explores the full scope, the good and the ugly, of human nature. In Kelly Maxwell and Meghan Rose’s Held, we watch three close friends grapple with the deep, complicated history of their relationships; just how much are they willing to forgive?
Held opens as the mysterious Blood Wizard has built a magic prison that traps our three friends: Bardo (Alex Van Handel), the hopeful and goofy baker with a penchant for punchlines; Mera (Katie Bakalars), the down-to-earth soldier who sees the world for what it is; and the idealistic Korin (Hannah Ripp-Dieter), a kind of spell-caster with incredible powers called a Dreamer. These childhood friends have found themselves encased within a cube of walls where time seems to stop. Despite being trapped for weeks they never grow hungry, their appearances haven’t changed, and considering there are no windows it’s impossible to tell day from night. And according to the Blood Wizard, the only way out is to kill Korin.
Left with only each other and their memories, the show shifts back and forth between past and present. The more we see the past, the better we understand the characters’ friendship and why they’ve been trapped here. We eventually understand the pent-up frustration between Mera and Korin, and why Korin has become increasingly distant. Does she know something about the Blood Wizard? And why are her powers waning inside the prison?
The non-linear style of Held is a bold move that’s effectively pulled off. Like the magic prison, past and present blur as the tale progresses, but not in a way that’s confusing or overly vague. In that way, the audience can experience the characters’ sense of timelessness. Though the intricacies of this friendship are captivating, certain moments drag for far too long, especially towards the end. In going back and forth in time, Maxwell repeats much of the same information, which may be why Held seems slow in parts. Though repeating some information helps the audience keep track of the story, there’s room to allow the audience to fill in gaps on their own.
Accompanying the actors are three musicans playing piano, cello, and bass, orchestrated wonderfully with John Feith’s sound design to create Held’s soundscape. With no set, Feith's design and Rose’s tragically beautiful orchestrations invite the audience to imagine time and place. To top it off, our ensemble wonderfully brings Maxwell and Rose’s songs to life. If you’re curious to see how fantasy looks in a musical, or if you generally enjoy new musical work, Held is worth checking out.
(Held plays at VENUE #5: drom, 85 Avenue A, through August 25, 2016. The running time is 1 hour 25 minutes. Performances are Tue 8/16 at 9; Fri 8/19 at 5:45; Sun 8/21 at 3; Mon 8/22 at 5; and Thu 8/25 at 7:15. There is no late seating at FringeNYC. Tickets are $18 and are available at fringenyc.org. For more information visit heldmusical.com.)
Held is by Kelly Maxwell. Music is by Meghan Rose. Directed by S.C. Lucier. Choreography is by Suzzanne Ponomarenko. Lighting Design is by Duane Pagano. Sound Design is by John Feith. Musicians are Meghan Rose, Jake Ripp-Dieter, and Kristine Kruta.
The cast is Katie Bakalars, Hannah Ripp-Dieter, and Alex Van Handel.