weekend wrap-up

As we head into another action-packed week I thought I’d take a minute to bring you up-to-date on the shows we saw this weekend.

Wednesday night we went to the opening of WakkaWakka ProductionsFabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz at Urban Stages. Rabinowitz was a Polish Jew who fled to, of all places, Norway, where he became a very successful clothier. He was the only Jew in his town of Haugesund and an outspoken representative of Norway’s very small Jewish population. When the Nazis came to Norway he and his family were deported to concentration camps and killed. Wakka Wakka tells Rabinowitz’s story – a variation on a familiar theme – through the blend of puppetry, song and masks that characterized their last show, The Death of Little Ibsen. The show is very imaginative with some wonderful puppetry and inventive staging – the dream sequences are beautiful and moving. My avant-garde or experimental impulses found me wanting the company to push the abstract elements further, to explore some of the more unexpected, troubling or complicated possibilities of the story and the staging. With that being said, Fabrik is a very enjoyable, well-made and well-performed show. It is sophisticated for adults but still family-friendly. Wakka Wakka has grown a lot since Culturebot first saw them perform at Schoolhouse Roxx at PS122 several years ago. They get more sophisticated with each project and are definitely a company to support and keep track of.

Thursday night we went to see Richard Foreman’s new spectacle Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland at The Ontological which is his latest variation on the themes and obsessions he has explored for the past forty years. I know that I should wax eloquent about Foreman’s aesthetics and the psychological landscapes, etc. etc., but as I watched the actresses go through their robotic motions I kept picturing Foreman saying that line Matthew McConaughey’s character says in Dazed and Confuzed: “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.” I know, I know, there’s WAY more going on than that but still …. working at the OHT has become a rite of passage for forty years worth of downtown artists and I wondered what a family tree of Adult Children of the Ontological would look like.

Friday night was a study in contrasts as we saw two very different solo shows, The Flying Machine’s Journey To The End Of The Night at The Gene Frankel Theater and Michael Yates Crowley’s The Ted Haggard Monologues at Collective:Unconscious.

Journey To The End Of The Night is based on the novel and life of Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Directed by Joshua Carlebach, adapted by Jason Lindner and starring Richard Crawford, in an extraordinary performance, this show was one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. I hadn’t really heard that much about it and I kind of fluked into seeing it at the invitation of a friend. I knew that Flying Machine was LeCoq-based and so I was expecting to see an ensemble cast doing physical-based theater. What I got was a moody, atmospheric, masterful solo show that conveyed Celine’s nihilistic humor and pathos while providing historical and biographical context for his work.

I discovered Celine in college as I traversed the literary landscape of Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Knut Hamsun and John Fante. I remembered Journey as a complicated, darkly funny picaresque novel, very literary, told in effusive bursts of language and over-the-top flights of fancy. It has been a long time since I read it, but I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be staged as anything other than a sprawling epic.

Flying Machine’s adaptation was a revelation. Lindner’s script was tight, clean and efficient. It kept the spirit and sensibility of the novel while moving the story forward quickly and inevitably. Interwoven with excerpts from the novel were biographical insights into Celine – the anti-Semitism that ultimately led to him being delegitimized as an author, his perceived collaboration with the Nazis, his sense of paranoia, anger and resentment. Director Carlebach and his designers created a claustrophobic world that felt like a doctor’s study in the anteroom of Purgatory. And Richard Crawford, as Celine and all the other characters – was just delightful. His performance was absolutely riveting – funny, dark, engaging and accessible. With a few simple gestures, a hat, some changes in lighting and a few different accents, he conveyed an entire world. He never left his seat behind the desk but it was obvious that his character work was based in physicality. Wow!

I sat there in this dingy 74-seat theater in a basement wondering what the hell this show was doing here. It really deserved to be in a much bigger, better, cleaner, more legit venue. Someone should pick it up and bring it to Off-Broadway. All the more mystifying is why this show seemed to come and go with so little press. I mean, I guess it got okay press. I found a review on Theatermania, Helen Shaw’s review in Time Out, this review by someone called The Dresser, this review by Claudia Carlson and this review by George Hunka – but I just thought I would have been hearing about this show everywhere.

After Journey I went down to Collective:Unconscious for an entirely different type of solo show, Michael Yates Crowley’s The Ted Haggard Monologues. Crowley is a talented writer and a deft performer. He portrays a series of characters based on real people involved in the Ted Haggard scandal. Alternately serious and funny, the monologues often veer from the mundane to the surreal. It would be easy to simply lampoon the hypocrisy of an Evangelical preacher caught in a sex scandal with a crystal-meth-addicted gay prostitute, but Crowley manages to avoid that pitfall. He creates characters that, each in their own way, deal with their conflicted desires, their yearning for love, their need for control and/or understanding of the world around them. Even the gay hooker, here named Rick, is focused less on vengeance and more on love. It makes the show more gentle than hysterical, more quizzical than strident. Director Michael Rau has done a nice job of creating simple but effective staging, the transitions are also effective and the presence of a 5-person church choir is a nice touch.

The night I saw the show the box office person had, apparently, spaced out and forgotten to show up, so everyone got to see the show for free (donations gladly accepted) and also got free beer. The audience hung out before the show and schmoozed and even once the show started, it felt very collegial and intimate. That kind of summed up the overall vibe of the show: low-key, laid-back, bare-bones and enjoyable.

The Ted Haggard Monologues is a very promising debut from a very gifted group of young artists.

Saturday night I went to see a preview performance of Hunting and Gathering at 59E59 and Sunday I finally saw Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea at P.S.122 which was enjoyable.

I’m not sure what I’m seeing this week, but I will keep you posted! Send me your recommendations!

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