Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG, PHOENIX, THE ALIENS, AMERICAN IDIOT and BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON.
If you like puppetry, comedy and audience participation, then Stuffed and Unstrung, at the Union Square Theatre, is for you. Created by the next generation of Henson puppeteers, it employs a puppet cast of seeming thousands, manipulated by six wonderful puppeteers, who take ideas thrown at them by their very enthusiastic audience and improvise hilarious scenes based on them. It’s Second City, done with puppets.
A few times during the evening the intrepid cast takes a break from their improvising to recreate bits created years ago by Jim Henson. It’s amazing to see how far comic puppetry has come since then.
If you like this sort of thing, be advised that nobody does it better.
In a previous column, I told you about Scott Organ’s Phoenix, which I saw at this year’s Humana Festival. New York audiences have seen many plays over the past three decades which originated at Humana, but never so soon after the Festival’s conclusion. Frankly, I’m amazed that the author and his agent allowed Phoenix to be produced by the Barrow Group, where it is running through 3 May in an extremely “bare-bones” production, instead of holding out for a higher level offer.
Although the production values are nil, Barrow Group’s production of this slight but very satisfying play is terrific. Director Seth Barish has highlighted the romantic comedy in the play and downplayed its political aspect – a wise move, as the play’s about a couple who have a one-night stand. She finds herself pregnant, so of course she is going to exercise who Right To Choose. He is incredibly supportive, even going with her to an abortion clinic; but then he changes his mind and pleads with her not to go through with it. In Louisville, the woman was a rather callous bitch; at the Barrow Group she was much more likeable. Both actors were very different from the Louisville cast, and both were excellent.
I see this play as a very subtle anti-abortion play. Barish’s production shies away from that, making Phoenix more of a bittersweet love story.
Annie Baker’s The Aliens has gotten some rave reviews, which is lucky for Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, whose last offering, Blind, was a bomb. The play’s about two slackers who spend all their time hanging out behind what appears to be a restaurant. When a teenaged kid who works there comes out to empty the garbage, they decide to adopt him into the slacker brotherhood. There’s not much more plot than that. Just a lot of wheel-spinning.
The Aliens has actually been compared to Chekhov and Beckett; but it lacks a Chekhovian social context and is far too realistic for Beckett. The actors are most credible in their roles, but the play has been given an astoundingly languid touch by director Sam Gold, whose pregnant (nay, impregnable) pauses add at least an unnecessary half hour to what was for me an excruciatingly boring evening.
American Idiot (at the St. James Theatre) and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (at the Public), two rock musicals which opened very close to each other, have been heralded as the Wave of the Future for musical theatre. Well, I doubt that; but I am delighted that both seem to be attracting a young audience.
Of the two, I much preferred American Idiot, which is a staged version by Michael Mayer of an album by a neo-punk group called Green Day. Supposedly, it tells the story of three slackers. One flees suburbia and is sucked into the maelstrom of big city degradation. One goes off to war and gets shot up. One stays home and does nothing. Really, though, there’s about as much plot as in Movin’ Out. But you don’t go to this show for the story. You go for the kick-ass music. Much of the lyrics are unintelligible, but I guess rock fans are used to that. And Mayer’s staging is incredibly inventive.
As for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, this too employs a slacker sensibility to tell the story of our seventh President. Alex Timbers, who also directed the show, has made the book an odd amalgamation of Cliffs Notes history and Monty Python or SNL sketch comedy, not done particularly well. In fact, a lot of the acting is deliberately amateurish, which astounded me. Michael Friedman’s songs are I am told in the “emo” genre, whatever that is. I found both music and lyrics to be uninventive and uninteresting.
In my opinion, both American Idiot and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson are incredibly over-praised, but if you’d rather be at a rock concert than to ever be caught dead at the theatre, maybe they’re more your kinda thing.
|STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG. Union Square Theatre, 100 E. 17th St.
PHOENIX. Barrow Group, 312 W. 36th St.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444
THE ALIENS Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444
AMERICAN IDIOT. St. James Theatre. 246 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.
“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”
—– George F. Will