Seen and Heard: Seen at PS122: Every once in a while I venture down to the East Village, to such places as La Mama, NY Theatre Workshop, and of course PS122 where I have seen a wide variety of performance art over the years (Funny how PS for public school translated so nicely to PS for performance space…). In any case, I went there again last night to see a pair of one-acts, Vomit & Roses and Wolverine Dreams, that combine to create Americana Absurdum, written by Brian Parks and directed by John Clancy, one-half of Clancy Productions, a theatrical touring and producing organization specializing in high-energy, bare-bones, intellectually engaging contemporary American theater. Co-founders of The Present Company and The New York International Fringe Festival, principals John Clancy and Nancy Walsh have produced and presented over one thousand productions in New York City over the last ten years, including the recently successful Fatboy at the Ohio Theatre.
Americana Absurdum comes highly recommended as it was a seminal work at the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) and was acclaimed at the Edinburgh Festival as well. Fast paced would be the best way to describe the action, which leaves both the audience and the actors temporarily breathless. Vomit & Roses revolves around a family that runs a small funeral parlor in a small town USA, and their resisting a hostile takeover by the suits. Wolverine Dreams is an example of the absurdity of the American legal system, as a failed poet/owner of a run down airline is on trial after one of his pilots intentionally crashed a plane.
Performed on a rather bare stage, with just a sofa upstage center (a quilt on the sofa is changes to indicate a different locale for the second act) with two simple black tables and a few chairs. According to the program, Rose AC Howard (www.rosehoward.com), in her debut with the company, designed the production elements. Her lighting design is very clever and effective, with a small rig of theatrical fixtures augmented by the workhorses of the evening: four industrial-style pendant lights that are hung on pulleys over the playing area. The actors pull these down to light the various scenes, which are often played in the dark, with the exception on one of more of these “practicals,” which serve to isolate the actors and create interesting shadows that heighten the emotional experience. For a scene at a senior prom, a sheet of gel is held under one of these lights to create the prom ambiance, and a small mirror ball is later held over the heads of two actors in an embrace, with one of the lights shining on it to give it a little sparkle. Two other items, looking like (and held like) microphones actually have small yellow lamps that light up as the actors speak.
Other clever solutions are the leprechauns, with one actress playing them both by simply sitting on the floor behind a table as not to seen, with a green St. Patrick’s Day top hat on each hand to create the two “little people.” Also clever are the “suits” who come to takeover the funeral parlor. One gangster is played by an actor, holds a suit on a hangar on each arm. He manipulates them like puppets, making them talk and move almost like marionettes. Visual gags, good for a laugh. As a director, and writer, Clancy is an important voice in downtown theatre, and this evening is certainly full of energy, ideas, and laughs.