According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Babel Theatre Project

Insomnia and The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie

Babel Theatre Project at the Medicine Show Theatre

It has become a delight in reviewing theatre for NTC to bring a friend along and together ruminate and bounce reactions- theatre best when cohorting. In this instance, J’s particular friend joyfully commented upon curtain: "I could be critical right now but that just doesn't seem appropriate. My only critique is that now I have to chain smoke." Friend meant this in the most laudatory way.

We both agree, it is an overwhelming reassurance- a profound comfort- to find the Babel Theatre Project. A youthful collective of aspiring professionals, their theatre consistently demonstrates edgy smarts and artfulness without pretension or device. It shows joy and faith in the framework and possibilities of theatre as palpable and competitively conscious of contemporary experience as the best literature, art and music. Amassing new works from young playwrights and workshopping with young directors, actors, designers, dramaturges, etc, members mount a summer season of plays and readings, this year including here reviewed rep: Insomnia by Jessica Brickman/ directed by Geordie Broadwater, and The Calamity of Kat Kat and Willie by Emily Young/directed by Heath Cullens.

The first, Insomnia, came off as a light, playful trip through absurdity and dreamscape. The protagonist, Georgia, carries on in some sort of R.E.M. state, "flirting with the Sandman" and his pet sheep Doris, confronting dead mother, and dealing with omni-present bf in varying guises. It was an amusing 50 minutes, with good ideas and dialogue, however, the play never really breached simple entertainment. Actors seemed most engaged in tidbits of absurdity leaning toward sketch comedy rather than in fleshing out reality bits, glossing relationships with far too much volume in place of emotion. I have to say, “Doris” the sheep (played brilliantly by Diana Buirski), stole the show, lending credence to the old adage: “never act opposite a dog, child or sheep.” Just so cute- when she started nibbling on the wall… Still, the premise was cleaver and fuller than most dream-plays. A more nuanced treatment of waking moments and more specific character “journeys” for all would have tightened any fluff and grounded the matter of sleeplessness.

What Insomnia lacked in character relations Calamity gave in surplus. The play's actual plot line completely shrinks (to beautiful effect) under the weight of its rendering of individuals and their relative distance from as well as reliance on one another. Young has crafted wonderfully singular characters and the acting and directing served her superbly. Miriam Silverman pushes through as relentless soul-searching British ex-pat Kat Kat, opposite consistently good-hearted ex-swindler Willie, inhabited in all his confusion and unrelenting adoration by Jeremy Bobb; both were absolutely amazing, their relationship endlessly complex, potent and mesmerizing. Erik Liberman systematically show-stops with his one-man assemblage of ex-pat figurines, and Joe Petrilla, though hard to understand through his tongue-twisting Birmingham-brogue, stands his ground as British hooligan Jonesy. An unflinching balance of plot and anti-plot, realism and theatricality, Calamity becomes a summation of human experience, reveling in the delicate isolation of the individual and the beautiful complications that come from two trying to connect- simple and complicated as all that.

The most impressive part of this Babel experience: just how nice it was to leave a theatre completely, wonderfully satiated and to still be musing over it now with the same excitement. Jenny and Friend give two thumbs up. Comments Friend: "It was really good- something to be really proud of- a gem- they are all young and they represent!" We both agree that Calamity in particular was the best theatre we've seen this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it is enough to report that there were tears in the audience- I heard it- witness- and it was lovely. I can’t wait for next season.

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