‘Wunderkammer’ Review: Grotesque Toy Story

By Mel Portela Gil

When my childhood pet got sick, my parents told me he went to a farm upstate. But it turns out that in Wunderkammer, my dog would not be jumping on clouds; he would be sewn and stuffed.

Wunderkammer, written by Francesca Pazniokas, took my college play virginity. I had never attended a play before this Queensborough production, even though I enjoy Broadway musicals pirated on YouTube. 

Wunderkammer, directed by C. Julien Jiménez, explores the definition of life and how death affects the victim and the people around them through comedy and music. I purchased a seat for the production’s closing night on March 31st, 2023, at the Shadowbox Theater on the CUNY Queensborough Community College (QCC) campus. Most of the cast and crew were active QCC students, but it was surprising to see an experienced actor, Mike Cesarano, perform as the Keeper. 

Cesarano gave a pleasurable performance. With decades of theater experience, he reinterpreted the depressing subject of death in a fast-paced comedic fashion. Cesarano’s physical presence dominated the first half of Wunderkammer.His solid vocal projection and articulation demonstrated his hard work. As a taxidermist, the art of preparing and stuffing dead animals as lifelike creatures, the Keeper showed little to no emotion when speaking about the taxidermized animals and with his child slave, Kid, played by Christopher Cortes. Even showing no emotion when ordered to stuff the dead pet of the Dog Lady, played by Sade Alleyne. 

Playing the protagonist, the Dog Lady, Sade Alleyne showed the insecure and beaten personality of the character. Alleyne’s quivering voice and hesitation showed a fear of communicating with the other characters. The audience could see the trauma Dog Lady endured through her relationships before the Wunderkammer timeline. The Dog Lady detours from the conversation of death with the Keeper to a discussion about identity with the Kid. 

Since the Kid is a child slave to the Keeper, they do not have a name or gender. The Dog Lady gives an emotional monologue to the audience about societal standards on “what is a woman” and the hypocrisy of categorizing gender norms. Alleyne had a personal moment and teared up during the monologue since they use they/them pronouns and do not subscribe to the “traditional woman” standard. 

As the production transitions into the second act, the Dog is taxidermized and soon comes back to life with their fellow animals; the Badger, played by Alejandro Allende; Kitten #1 and #2, played by Hana Boachie and Jessica Villalva; Armadillo, played by Jesse Guzman; Albatross, played by Stacie Miller; and my personal favorite, the Bear, played by Logan Rodriguez. 

The Bear was the humorous sidekick of the Albatross. Rodriguez’s borderline personality switching between aggressive and sensitive in his performance made the Bear into a himbo, a naive yet respectful male character. The Bear would use violence without second thoughts yet follow a female character as his leader. Rodriguez was perfect for the role, with his excellent comedic timing and body language matching the himbo characteristics shown in movies and television, such as Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove and Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation. Although his vocal projection could have been better due to the animal costume design, Rodriguez helped the audience stay alive during the production.

All the cast gave their hard work to crush the play. Even through distractions, no actor got out of character. If I had more knowledge of the music and comedic aspect of Wunderkammer, I would not have been as overwhelmed by the intense energy. I enjoy that QCC does not present famous plays such as Hamlet or Hairspray. QCC and new students should perform and watch these obscure plays to support these college actors in their start to fame.

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