Presented, written and performed by Michael John Ciszewski for his 27th birthday
Featuring the talents of Rachel Belleman (she/her), Teresa Langford (she/her), Steven Maier (he/him), Pier Lamia Porter (she/her), Regine Vital (she/her)
Voice work by Kevin Becerra (he/him), Elissa Bonito (she/her), Bryan Guffey (they/them), Sarah Oakes Muirhead (she/her), Noah Simes (he/him)
Music by Nicky B (he/him), Sam Graham (he/him)
Viewed on Oct. 18, 2020
Next screening on Oct. 24, 8PM EST
Social media: @micjcis
Critique by Kitty Drexel
ZOOM – Happy birthday Michael John Ciszewski – belated! The Sun Is Sleeping: A Queer Reverie is was released in June to celebrate Pride month and Ciszewski’s 27th circle around the sun. How does one celebrate a birthday during quarantine? (If my own April birthday was any indication) With heartfelt disappointment. Rather than suffer his madness, Ciszewki turned it into art.
The Sun Is Sleeping is the expression of an extrovert’s existential frustration with the soul-crushing confinement of quarantine and pop music. Ciszewski plays the Sun Prince (and other roles), golden royalty forced into impotent exile. His revels are ended; depression is setting in. Unlike the sweet lipped and jubilant Persephone, our Sun Prince doesn’t have a dark King awaiting him in the underworld. He has Zoom and it provides poor comfort to His Majesty.
This production is bad poetry but it is good art. Ciszewski delivers the Sun Prince’s monologues with the phrasing of poetic reading. This could mislead a viewer because these monologues reveal the Sun Prince’s inner workings and emotional state but don’t use poetic form. This is to say: it’s perfectly fine writing for the theatrical camera but schmaltzy, melodramatic verse. But The Sun Is Sleeping isn’t verse; it’s Zoom theatre.
As in live theatre, an observer of The Sun Is Sleeping is responsible for their proper self-education before the film begins. One must remember what they are watching: confusing the appropriation of form with the form itself leads to a misunderstanding of the film/Ciszewski’s intentions. False expectations will ruin your experience.
MJC has a clear artistic voice. His theatre, his storytelling is uniquely his – which is unusual for an artist of any age. He knows what he wants to say and he says it.
Simultaneously, he is still developing as a performing artist. He, like all of us, is working through the dilemma of communicating effectively with the skills he has he grows into the skills he wants. This part of artistic growth blows chunks. It’s painful, but it’s beautiful because it’s imperfect.
The Sun Is Sleeping has brief moments of greatness. What is unusual is that these moments of greatness are in Ciszewski’s own voice and no one else’s. There’s a moment in the first half of The Sun Is Sleeping in which the Sun Prince dreams of marrying a hypothetical angel Alexander. The two move out of the city, have gaybies, and then grow to resent each other.
The Sun Prince’s anxiety grows as he tells his dream. It culminates in him exclaiming “I didn’t want this!” As he cries out, “I didn’t want this” flashes across the screen in white letters. The viewer doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry at the projected words. Is it funny? Yes? Maybe. We’re caught in the Prince’s dichotomous emotional entanglement with wanting and not wanting. For a brief moment, we’re offered the opportunity to become the Sun Prince… Or we laugh. The choice is ours to become or to remain aloof.
This film is told in a confessional, Zoomy, halfway-up style. There are several scenes in which the camera is capturing an actor from the side while a laptop obscures their body. When Sam (Pier Lamia Porter) and Caroline (Rachel Belleman) are partially hidden by their computers in their scene about lovers separated by the pandemic, we don’t know what to think to them based on this visual cue.
In the theatre, we might not think of this sloppy prop work as having meaning. Stage actors are constantly told to cheat out or move so they can be seen. In film, this obscured view tells us that the actors are hiding something. Zoom is a combination of the two genres so the rules are uncertain. Why can’t we see the full expression of their top halves? Was this a conscious choice? It’s distracting. With this mindset as a reference, the viewer then focuses on the visual slight and not the dialogue. We miss out.
Regine Vital, Steven Maier, and Theresa Langford were great in their roles. I couldn’t find a way to discuss their work in a way that flowed with the rest of the critique. Good job. Don’t let the pandemic slow down our careers. Keep going.
The film ends without signaling that it’s ending with the below infamous quote from Lady Gaga. It tells us that MJC appreciates Club Kid Gaga while communicating his hopes for The Sun Is Asleep. It mutates into a remix of another Gaga quote, “No sleep, bus, club, another club, another club, another club, plane, next place, no sleep, another club…” It’s wishful thinking, fond reminiscence for what was. Maybe next year, sweet Sun Prince.
The film was followed by a talkback with Kevin Becerra. It was a pleasant enough community conversation. These talkbacks aren’t integral to the film’s presentation. Those who hate talkbacks can feel free to attend (or not) as they wish.