‘Pang!’ premiere underscores the connectedness of all of us

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CSPS Hall — Saturday, Oct. 21 at 4 and 8 p.m.

Christopher Rivas in ‘Pang!’ — photo by Will O’Loughlen

Pang! had its world premiere last night at CSPS Hall in the New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids, and I cannot imagine that one person left this remarkable show unaffected.

As the audience entered the hall, we were greeted by the performers and director who chatted with audience members before beginning their captivating performance. The show is presented as three radio plays based on interviews with families in Los Angeles, Cedar Rapids and Miami. The stated commonality is that all of these families face food insecurity, but the layered storytelling performance offers the audience so much more. The stories are also lessons of vulnerability and community.

Billed as a triptych, a trifold work of art, the performance first takes the audience to Los Angeles, directly into a family story relayed through conversations. Christopher Rivas brings the 75 year-old family patriarch Gregori brilliantly to life while also voicing Rex, the man who swindles Gregori, eventually forcing the the family from their home of 67 years.

Next, the audience comes to Cedar Rapids where Donna Simone Johnson shines as Oskar, a refugee from Burundi. Natalie Camunas beautifully voices Oskar’s daughter Naomi as they tell their story, as well as their struggles, in a series of interviews. Based on the oral history of Theo Bampamirubusa and his family, the story brings the audience to the understanding that being a refugee presents more challenges than people might like to see.

Donna Simone Johnson in ‘Pang!’ — photo by Will O’Loughlen

At intermission the audience was treated to a free tapas tasting provided by Liberio Niyiragira. Unlike other performances that I have attended, the actors, musician and director all remained to have a snack and a chat with the audience.

The final panel in this work of art is the story of a young Miami family facing not only food insecurity but neighborhood violence. The character of seven year-old Terrence is portrayed by all three actors speaking in haunting harmonies.

All three actors are integral to every story; they embody the characters, do sound effects and move stage pieces. The thing that kept coming back to me as I was immersed in each story was the absolutely musical way the actors became the characters. In each panel of this triptych, all of the actors handle multiple voices while telling a beautifully crafted story.

Everything about this performance is remarkable. From the very first moment, the audience is drawn into each story, which is accompanied by outstanding music and sound effects. The lighting design intensified each story through varied use of backlighting, as well as front lighting. Truly, as Dan Froot noted after the performance, this is an ensemble piece. As such, the composer, Robert Een brilliantly scores the emotions of characters. Froot and Een collaborate to bring the music to life on a variety of instruments.

Director Dan Froot (L) and composer Robert Een work on the music for ‘Pang!’ — photo by Will O’Loughlen

The layers of human needs for food security, safety and community underscore the connectedness of all of us. The world in which we live is more complex than we realize, and Pang! brings these complexities from real life to stage and then asks us to think about these issues when the show concludes.

Pang! has two shows remaining in Cedar Rapids: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 4 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance; $22 at the door.

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