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Travels

More than a travelogue, a multimedia, multi-part tale of people and places.

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Ashley De La Rosa, James Harrison Monaco, El Beh, John Murchison and Mehry Eslaminia in a scene from Monaco’s “Travels” at Ars Nova (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Travels at Ars Nova isn’t just a story of the many places James Harrison Monaco has been.  That’s part of it, the most superficial part.

Travels is far more:  a deep look at the people in his life, two in particular, whose fascinating and moving stories emerge from a torrent of music, videos, lights and words.  In eight songs/scenes a very personal saga unravels until a chilling coda.

On the tiny Ars Nova stage, a console contains the control center of the production.  Constantly moving images give the illusion of flying into a vortex, soon replaced by more informative images that illustrate the stories told by Monaco and his very talented compatriots: El Beh, Ashley De La Rosa, Mehry Eslaminia and John Murchison.

Monaco begins with an innocent tale of a conversation with a driver who picks him up at LAX with whom he shares a love of Middle Eastern music.  It also turns out that the art of porcelain tiles is another obsession Monaco shares with his new friend Sa-eed.  Sa-eed is fascinated that Monaco might turn their conversation into a play.

Mehry Eslaminia and John Murchison in a scene from James Harrison Monaco’s “Travels” at Ars Nova (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

Now others take over the narration, starting with El Beh.  She takes on Monaco’s journey to Rio de Janeiro where he meets a Swiss man named Thomas who tells him a love story involving Gerhard, a passionate affair that ends suddenly.  This leads improbably to a tortuously complex tale of a deadbeat Swiss man fathering children in the Dominican Republic, focusing on Leopoldo whose life eventually intertwines with Thomas’ back in Switzerland.

Story 3 introduces R whom Monaco meets at a party in NYC.  They manage to share their love of literature which R knows mostly in Persian translations including Proust’s magnum opus Á la recherche du temps perdu.

This begins R’s story which takes up most of the rest of Travels along with a brief return to Thomas’ tale of intrigue and Monaco’s romantic interlude in Mexico.  R’s epic saga about being imprisoned as a political opponent of the Iranian regime and his intriguing adventures, near-death experiences and epic journeys are told in brilliantly personal episodes.

Eh Beh, Mehry Eslaminia, Ashley De La Rosa, James Harrison Monaco and John Murchison in a scene from Monaco’s “Travels” at Ars Nova (Photo credit: Ben Arons)

There’s no way of going into all the fascinating details and observations that make Monaco’s stories live vibrantly in Travels.  He is helped immeasurably by the music made by Murchison and others, supervised by Monaco and Or Matias and the extraordinary contributions provided by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew (lighting), Stefania Bulbarella (projections), Nick Kourtides (sound) and Sarita Fellows (costumes).  This is a total and moving work of art using a multimedia approach that enhances the storytelling.

Andrew Scoville, the director, skillfully molded all the elements of the show into a moving whole.

Ars Nova is a respected source of innovation in theater.  Recent productions include Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, KPOP and Freestyle Love Supreme, all of which left Ars Nova’s nurturing bosom to move to larger venues with bigger productions.  Could that be the fate of Travels?

Travels (through April 20, 2024)

Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.arsnovanyc.com

Running time: 105 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Joel Benjamin (560 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

1 Comment on Travels

  1. Ashley De La Rosa tells Thomas’ story in Rio, not El Beh. Other than that, this is lovely review!

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