Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sci-fi Theater: Space//Space

Space//Space is the ultimate trip,
if your drug of choice is Lexapro
(photo credit: Ryan Jensen)

Banana Bag & Bodice at Collapsable Hole
written by Jason Craig
directed by Mallory Catlett
June 15, 2012

Before Space//Space begins, the plexiglass pod onstage and electronic soundscape evoke a low-budget, deep-space atmosphere. But it's the show's prologue that sets the tone. A mad scientist twitches through a logorrheic lecture describing what we'll see as a failed scientific experiment. Is this modernist drama itself a failed experiment as well? It's definitely a journey to the outer orbit of theatrical expression. Launched on a one-way mission into the void, brothers Jason Craig and Jessica Jelliffe are lab rats (they wear hamster outfits instead of jump-suits) who kill time by spinning LPs, rationing “emergency sandwiches”, and, in his case, reciting baldly sexist stand-up material. In a bit of quantum flux, Jelliffe's cosmonaut spontaneously turns into a woman. Despite odd outbursts of space madness and witty observations on boredom, after sixty minutes of ironic anti-performance Space//Space feels like the failed experiment it claimed to be.

But Craig, Jelliffe, and director/dramaturg Mallory Catlett have death on their minds as well as gender. Just as Space//Space starts to coast on its inertia, it turns into a cosmic pocket-epic with mythic resonances, a 2001 filtered through the knowing ironies of the 21C avant-garde. Mortal fears creep into Craig's voice, for even in the future the only thing more fearful than eternal boredom is oblivion. Jelliffe, however, strips to reveal a belly swollen by pregnancy that somehow doesn't clash with her bearded face. A holy androgyne, she morphs into some sort of Space Goddess, some future-myth's equivalent of an Earth Mother. Her previously hyper-casual style of performance takes on warm undertones, and she becomes a psychopomp who will guide the dying astronaut through a space odyssey of death and rebirth. In its final scenes, Space//Space goes further out than any show you'll see, skirting failure to reveal something rich and strange.


Space//Space plays at Collapsable Hole, closing on July 1. Tickets?


Monday, June 25, 2012

Theater: New Shows (June 25-July 1)

The two strongest festivals in town make their entrances this week, just what you need in the swelter of a New York summer. My picks are below. But somehow, the most “fest-like” of the summer's shows stands apart from the circuses: A Thick Description of Harry Smith (Volume I). It reworks old-timey folk songs to reveal the strange, secret face of America! 

where: Second Stage
first night: Wednesday, June 27
Portentously set on 11/21/63 (spoiler: JFK gets assassinated), it follows a sweet little romance between a Vietnam-bound Marine and a plain-looking coffeeshop waitress. Joe Mantello directs & he's usually worth your while. Alternatively, it's worth digging up the 1991 indie film that this musical is based on. 

where: The New Ohio Theater
first night: Wednesday, June 27
Hands down, Gotham's best festival―guaranteed to blow your mind. Personally, I want to see Flying Snakes in 3D, an attempt to create an experimental play out of material more suitable for a summer multiplex. But maybe an adaptation of a 1911 novel/spaghetti western is more your thing. Or a Southern Gothic by Bekah Brunstetter.

where: The Culture Project
first night: Thursday, June 28
A sort of psychedelic radio-play biodrama about Harry Smith, a mid-20th-century free thinker (a beatnik, in the period idiom). He edited the seminal Anthology of American Folk Music, which is almost a mystical portal into our musical inheritence. This a developmental workshop, so watch with an eye towards what the show might become, not what it is.

where: Lower East Side
first night: Friday, June 29
A madcap series of hit-and-run works, this midsummer festival is what the Fringe wishes it were. The Living Theater, keeping the countercultural spirit alive, makes a strong showing with work about the Weather Underground and another about the suffragette movement. But if political theater makes you squeemish, try a Gospel of St. Matthew or a folk-opera about the Titanic.

Last chance!
4000 Miles
where: Lincoln Center's Newhouse Theater

As You Like It
where: The Public's Delacorte Theater

I Am a Tree
where: Theater at St. Clement's

where: The Brick Theater

Jesus Christ Superstar
where: Neil Simon Theater

Man and Superman
where: Irish Repertory Theater

More of Our Parts
where: Theater Row

Murder in the First
where: 59E59

where: The Secret Theater

where: Collapsable Hole

Storefront Church
where: Atlantic Theater

The Hunchback Variations
where: 59E59

The Lathe of Heaven
where: 3LD Arts & Technology

The Lyons
where: Cort Theater

These Seven Sicknesses
where: The Flea Theater

This Is Fiction
where: Cherry Lane Theater

Tiny Dynamite
where: 59E59

Monday, June 11, 2012

Theater: New Shows (June 12-18)

Two shows have my ticket this week. One's Sovereign, the third part of a sci-fi trilogy. The first two parts were choice dramas that managed to be both B-movie fun and sharply intelligent theater. The other is The Bad and the Better. Despite the spaghetti western title, it's actually a modern noir. A teaser clip suggests a French New Wave vibe.

where: Theater Row
first night: Tuesday, June 12
The parents of a onetime math prodigy are missing, which leads a social worker to uncover the truth behind the wunderkind's teenaged crack-up. Despite the tease of higher math, Monarch sounds like one soppy drama.

where: Playwrights Horizons
first night: Thursday, June 14
TB&TB sees the Amoralists, a mangy bunch of downtowners, ditch the corny domestic melodrama that they've made their reps on. Instead, a monster-sized cast evoke a film-noir cityscape of corrupt pols, anarchist cells, heavy-truncheoned police, and surly bartenders: just the setting for a pair of brothers to stage their showdown.

where: The Secret Theater
first night: Thursday, June 14
The final part of a crackerjack sci-fi trilogy, a sort of War of the Worlds by way of Ibsen―and even more fun than it sounds! High points of the first two parts have included a homosexual, interspecies romance and a nine-foot fiberglass bee's leg. Part 3 has the rebellion's leader, once a surly teen, try her brother as a collaborator. I'm probably more excited for this show than any other play this summer.

where: Cherry Lane Studio
first night: Tuesday, June 12
A young writer, about to publish her first novel, returns to warn her family it's based on them. That scenario sounds over-familiar, which doesn't inspire confidence.

Last chance!
The Bad Boys
where: Second Stage Uptown

The Caretaker
where: BAM Harvey Theater

Don't Dress for Dinner
where: American Airlines Theater

February House
where: The Public Theater

The Golden Veil
where: The Kitchen

where: HERE Arts Center

where: Theater Row

Title and Deed
where: Signature Theater

Venus in Fur
where: Lyceum Theater

Monday, June 4, 2012

Theater: New Shows (June 5-11)

No longer writing this column for a website, I don't have to recommend just one play. And frankly, I'm looking forward to half of this week's debuts! Two classics get remounted: a traditional (probably) As You Like It in Central Park and an Uncle Vanya in modern vernacular. These Seven Sicknesses is a myth cycle worth the 5+-hours time; I saw it in January, & I'll see it again. To balance these, I'll catch the forward-looking Space//Space, an avant-garde comedy set in deep space! And if I have any evenings left over, I'll visit 3C, by one of my favorite young playwrights, David Adjmi.

where:  Delacorte Theater
first night:  Tuesday, June 5
Celebrate this NYC institution's 50th anniversary by heading to the Forest of Arden. As Rosalind, Lily Rabe continues to stake her claim as a great Shakespearean, after her subtle turn as Portia in summer 2010. Oliver Platt plays the Fool, Stephen Spinella gets the “All the world's a stage” speech, and Daniel Sullivan directs, presumably in his typical low-key manner.

where:  Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
first night:  Wednesday, June 6
A pastiche of Three's Company―seriously. But David Adjmi also wrote Elective Affinities, a stunning and dense monologue about art, existence, and (obliquely) the War on Terror that may've been the best play of the '11-'12 season. So expect less farce and more absurdism. Plus, the cast looks great, with the intriguing Hannah Cabell in the, uh, “Janet” role.

where:  The Flea Theater
first night:  Wednesday, June 6
The Flea remounts an astonishing evening of theater. This five-hour work adapts the complete works of Sophocles, transforming them into a cunning, often hilarious cycle on Oedipus and Troy. Dinner's included with the ticket, served at the first intermish. I recommend TSS unreservedly.

where:  59E59
first night:  Thursday, June 7
A small British play that made a big noise in its original production a decade ago. It's a three-hander, a bittersweet love triangle, about how lives can be altered by a small, random event.

where:  Soho Rep
first night:  Thursday, June 7
One of the most anticipated shows of the summer, this take on Chekhov has been couched in a contemporary idiom. The heat comes partly from collaborators Annie Baker (adaptor) and Sam Gold (director), whose Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens were two of the most memorable shows in the last few years. But it's also because of a stupendous cast that includes Maria Dizzia (In the Next Room), one of the most gutsy actresses around.

where:  The Wild Project
first night:  Friday, June 8
A version of the Bad Seed trope, as a child does some very naughty things. Playwright Eliza Clark makes her rent by writing for The Killing, a smart TV show about murder, so she should know from evil. She also describes her script as a “sci-fi play” set in an “alternate present.”

where:  Collapsable Hole
first night:  Friday, June 8
Subversive science-fiction from Banana Bag & Bodice, a Brooklyn troupe that pushes the adjective “experimental” in bold directions. In this oddity, two brothers get launched into deep space; one swaps genders, the other gets existential. A claustrophobic absurdity with futuristic SFX and mod projections. I can't wait!

where:  The Beacon Theater, CBS, and online
first night:  Sunday, June 10
Neil Patrick Harris returns to MC; that may be enough for you to enjoy Broadway's night of plaudits. I'm bored by awards ceremonies, however, so I'll sit this one out.