The cast of Marco Million$ is hit-and-rarely-miss. Wallowing in flamboyance, they wend their way through so many accents, characters, and scenes that it’s hard to be less than impressed.
Marco Million$ (based on lies), Waterwell’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s little-known play, is a drama wrapped in slapstick surrounded by vaudeville drowned in cabaret. It is also an excellent example of how to refurbish and contemporize a stolid piece for a hipster crowd.
The plot hews closely to O’Neill’s, but the emphasis is now laugh-a-minute humor, a point occasionally taken too “seriously” by the troupe. Some jokes go a little too far, like in a poetry slam inspired by the far-more cultured II.iii of O’Neill’s play. (Black Jack the Vicious recounts his love for a bunkmate who “uncorks my scuppers/and pierces my billowing jib/8½ fathoms with his yardarm/I can feel it in my rib.”) Some don’t go far enough: two mock-1930s-film newscasts serve as summary of I.ii (Marco receives a papal commission to seek out Kublai Khan) and II.ii (Marco’s party prepares to escort Khan’s daughter, Kukachin, back to their Italy). Neither is particularly funny, and they serve only to point out how much of O’Neill’s work is riddled by exposition and superfluity. It’s not the sort of reminder you want in an otherwise-upbeat modernization.
Luckily, the players of Marco Million$ are hit-and-rarely-miss. Wallowing in flamboyance (especially Kevin Townley), they wend their way through so many accents, characters, and scenes that it’s hard to be less than impressed. Though the production is at heart quite sophomoric, it has such indefatigable energy that the show remains constantly captivating. Any unevenness can be attributed to the fact that all five cast members contributed to the script, and more so to the unevenness of O’Neill’s own script, which, in epic tedium, spans twenty years. In Waterwell’s hands, the play becomes such fun that we don’t mind that these good ol’ boys can’t sing in harmony, or that their waltz is a bit clumsy. Their instinct and rhythm is spot on (so is their tango). The scope is ambitious enough to make scenes good even when they’re not, and shining stars like Rodney Gardner, who plays a Mafioso Kublai Khan, eclipse the rough spots with their brilliance.
As for stars, director/actor/writer Tom Ridgley is a supernova. The troupe jests about the difficulty of transitions, but under Mr. Ridgley’s eye, they’re just another opportunity for a jest. Stale blocking? Now you jest. From Matrix-styled shifts in camera aboard a merchant ship to umbrella-fashioned boats to the piquant, zesty lighting (Stacey Boggs’s design), Mr. Ridgley keeps us rapt for a hundred minutes straight.
Marco Million$ also ends up a surprisingly faithful staging of O’Neill’s work. For all the clever emendations and boffo riffs, the closing minutes get to the heart of the story: greed wins and love suffers when the powerful face the emotionless. With the bluesy gospel finale’s condemnation of “the avaricious [who] relish in good fortune” we are reminded one final time not to applaud for Mr. Polo: “just throw money.” That cool critique of capitalism’s emotionless glamour is no joke.
The Lion @ Theater Row (410 West 42nd)
August 4-26; Monday, Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Tickets (212-279-4200): $35.00
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.