Fine and Performing Arts Department presents: RIOT

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It’s no big secret that America loves to shop, but in recent years the drive to acquire material possessions has, at times, driven people to commit some pretty deplorable acts. Fights break out, crowds of shoppers bust through doors and people trample one another for the next hot item as utter chaos ensues.

Last weekend the Fine and Performing Arts department presented their re-imagining of “RIOT,” an obscure theatrical experience that puts a cynically humorous spin on the darker side of consumerism. Originally created by the Wardrobe Ensemble, a theatre group hailing from Bristol, UK, “RIOT” retells the experiences of shoppers involved in a mass stampede that occurred during the grand opening of the United Kingdom’s largest Swedish furniture store.

The play was inspired by the testimonies and personal experiences of those involved. Susan Katzoff, guest director for “RIOT,” worked alongside the Wardrobe Ensemble in order to bring the show to MCLA. Together, they made several changes to make the play more relatable to a local audience, allowing for a more immersive experience. The Fine and Performing Arts department is the only group outside of RIOT’s originators to ever perform it.

RIOT kicks off with a handful of new employees about to undergo their first day of work at their local furniture store. James, Jana, Nikki and Charlie, played by John Kelly, Rachel Grzelak, Brianna McDermott and Alex Sasso respectively, are greeted by Gin, the easily alarmable store facilitator played by Andrew Pietrykowski.

Each are given an attempt to break the ice, giving the audience a glimpse in to their character traits, and then sent out to cover different sections of the store. Meanwhile, crowds of shoppers can be seen clawing at the doors in a zombie-like manner, reminiscent of the iconic “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” scene from “The Walking Dead.”

Two other characters are also introduced along the way. Store manager Patricia, played by Lindsay DeWinkleer, comes off as a Bohemian, new-age hippy with an overbearing temper, while store safety officer Toralf, played by Keaira Person, is comically oblivious to the surrounding bedlam spreading through the store. In one memorable scene, she calls out for people to stop rioting so that she can tie her shoe before telling them to carry on.

The colorful cast of characters, each executed charmingly by the Fine and Performing Arts (FPA) Department, really help to set the tone for the entirety of the show. Each of them are quirky, almost cartoon-like at times, and enjoyable to watch, much like “RIOT” itself. Each character has a noticeably different personality all their own that helps to make each of them a pleasure to watch as the story unfolds.

As the show continues, there are a number of interactions that occur that touch on potential romantic endeavors. The store supervisor Calum, played by Sebastian Phillips, finds himself caught in a split-object love triangle between the provocative and tattooed Nikki, Calum’s current lover, and Charlie, whom he’s apparently known from a previous interaction. Meanwhile, the bumbling and unkempt James falls head over heels for Nikki after she makes the mistake of sarcastically commenting on his abs, or lack thereof.

While the latter never pans out, a great amount of humor occurs between James and Nikki, eventually erupting in to an impressive and admittedly hilarious dancing segment after James attempts to resuscitate her. The musical number that ensues all but stole the show, and the use of red Christmas lights throughout this choreographed piece was impressive, to say the least.

While “RIOT” was in fact a riot to watch, it did include a fairly trivial shortcoming in regards to the story itself. The climax is subtle, and some of the engagements between characters never managed to develop in to anything worthwhile, making interaction feel shallow when one realizes that the story between certain characters is never going to amount to anything significant.

However, as far as dark comedy’s go, “RIOT” was a good time. The humor used throughout was authentically funny and the musical numbers were performed with the spirit and energy. For those of us who can’t help but to just shake their heads when they see shoppers pushing and shoving their way past one another, “RIOT” is sure to delight.