Saturday, November 27, 2010

Go To Hell: New Theater from... a New Theater.

Go To Hell. A flippant condemnation, and a preview of things to come. There's lots of skin-deep but fiery anger behind the first production from The New Works Theater Machine, and a whole lot more to behold.

The New Works Theater Machine occupies a black box theater nestled in that delicious space, the Pickle Factory. Its ambitions are to push new ground in storytelling and to break away from conventional theater. In fact, Go To Hell's writer/director Jeremy Catterton seems to shudder at the very word 'theater.' He prefers other pseudonyms for live performance. One can support his claim, in a way, because he and his crew are certainly throwing a lot at you.

The play chews up and re-imagines the Myth of Orpheus, a classic tale of love and descent into the depths of hell. It does so with sprightly, rapid-fire dialog and snappy shifts between deeply energetic emotional drama, a kind of lounge comedy, sensational horror, and tiny interludes of multimedia revery. That variety, set in a contemporary frame story of a love gone sour, twists the audience's neck and keeps us very entertained, true to the Greek roots. The vodka-swilling, trash talking, motorcycling Charon (John Kuehne) steals the show with his Bar-room brooklynite attitude and drunken tirades. Equally impressive are the nightmarish sequences of Hades and his Shades who, with the help of consistently creepy performances and nerve-jangling special effects, do justice on a very small budget to the kinds of shocks horror films have desensitized us to.

Where the show falters is with the frame story between Orpheus (Tyson Brett) and Eurydice (Rhiannon Ross). This tale of two lovers, I speculate, is intended to invoke in the viewer an emotional push-pull between the prison that banal love places us in and the infuriating depth to which we are invested in those normal agonies of human relationship. The clever dialog of matrimonial loathing seems targeted towards the interpersonal hells and suffering we create in failed relationships. The problem is the audience isn't given much to invest in. The setup for Brett and Ross' relationship is short and almost effective, but they so quickly degenerate into hateful, scathing tirades toward one another that their characters become two dimensional. The lead woman in particular is given a pretty difficult task to overcome, as her character direction seems to allow her only operate within the predictable and uncreative confines of over-the-top-anger, over-the-top-fear, and over-the-top...domesticity, if such a thing is even possible.

Further, the basis on which the lead relationship is defined seems so incredibly vague (issues with jobs, material concerns like countertops and mortgages) that rather than being examining or critical of a mainstream existence they simply appear unimaginative and uncompelling. Further compelling dramatic chances are missed when Eurydice's ultimate betrayal of Orpheus isn't confronted by either character, leaving us with merely suffering of the flesh. For an ambitious drama about the infinite hells we create between us, there's a simplicity to the drama that seems unambitious.

All in all, I would and will go to this play again. It provides an impressive conflux of genres and stories, its dialog dazzles, and the laughs and terror are genuine. Further, this is the first work of a fledgling theater company, they did a damn good job, and if anything the nit-picky specificity of my criticisms show how well-executed the company really was. They got me invested enough to deal with sub-textual flaws, rather than being embarrassed into silence on the show's behalf.

Go watch it, it's running Thursdays and Weekends through December 18th.

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