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.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back ( Week 3)

The Australia Project II's third and final week bashes and hashes out America's allure and wonder, as well as its pockets of seedy and greedy. While some of the perspectives on the U.S. are presented in a funny and creative way, the critiques in these one-acts are nothing new and not always integral to the U.S. itself.


Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

The new beginnings, the constant buzz of information overload, the grotesque, the roach-infested, the United States. The final installment of America's analysis in Week 3 of The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back bites and scratches its way into our sensitivities with some over-the-top explorations of American culture. The writing styles presented in these four one-acts are as varied as they are prickly, and despite your individual taste, these playwrights all have a strong, distinct voice.

Veronica Gleeson's All This Beautiful Life opens the show with America as a new venture and land of opportunity. Ron (Sean Williams) and May (Mary Cross) Greengrass are packing for the trip to the U.S. with their implied daughter, arguing about the bare essentials for the move. During their discussion about the pros and cons of moving, their child goes missing and they proceed to frantically search for her. Gleeson deals with issues of safety and necessity here, using both latent and obvious symbols. Likened to a trip to space, America's allure is explored without sacrificing Australia's own offerings. Although the intentions are great, this piece is not the most memorable of the quad.

Ben Ellis' Beneath Us is an exploration of U.S. commercialism, unrest, and mania. Novelist Tomasz (Joseph J. Menino) is expecting his agent, Barbara (Ilene Bergelson) for dinner when she unexpectedly brings her husband James (Tim McGeever) as a guest. James' presence throws Tomasz for a loop because he only has enough furniture to accommodate one visitor at a time. However, he is clearly troubled by much more than that. With the assistance of Stacey Boggs' staccato lighting design and Ann Warren's great sound effects, the production conveys the pulsating thoughts that compel writers to write. In Beneath Us, Ellis explores themes of too much opportunity and too much buzz in the American culture. As Tomasz, Menino is sufficiently anguished to make the audience believe it.

An estranged brother and son comes home from Iraq very different but still the same in Continuing Occupation by Van Badham. Soldier Josh's (Michael Poignand) homecoming is anything but mundane, with pothead sister Jenni (Erin Maya Darke) seething with an aversion towards him and his reality-deprived Mom (a wonderful Nancy Sirianni) fawning over his meals. Fresh from occupied Iraq, Josh returns with the same wartime frame of mind, callous, distant, and spewing unspeakable things. Yet, Josh wasn't a saint before he left. Apparently, he always liked it violent, having forced himself on his sister (hence the aversion) in their youth. We learn that the patriarch of the family has passed away, and Josh, in addition to bringing the grotesque to the house, has also arrived with a plan for the family's future.

Easily the most shocking of the plays as well as the most absurd, Continuing Occupation is harsh and unrelenting in its criticism of our foreign policies. Mac Rogers plays a variety of colorful characters, all symbolic figures of protest and commentary. They pop out of dining tables, peer through windows, and spook Jenni even though Mom behaves as if they're staples of the house. The direction by Jordana Williams is strong, particularly in the finely executed rumble scene between Jenni and Josh. The cardboard food is hilarious, and just what you would expect from this pseudo-farce. Although the themes are sandwiched together, Continuing Occupation is exciting in a sordid kind of way.

Runner-up for most absurd of the night is Alexandra Collier's The Will of the Cockroach. A young Aussie couple (the only ones with notable Australian accents), D and Susie (Tim Major and Mary Jane Gibson, respectively), have just moved to Brooklyn, New York from Sydney to pursue a different, and hopefully, better life. They move into a dump, and soon discover that there is a third, larger than life tenant in their modest apartment. Cockroach (Joel Israel), six-foot plus and clad in a chocolate brown leather roach getup, asserts his right to be in the apartment and in the universe right away. As the couple work in jobs that are well below their capacity, they tire of their misfortune, and D longs for home. Cockroach approaches them individually, teaching them the ways of survival and strength, and there is even a romantic interlude involved. Major and Gibson have wonderful chemistry, and despite the light overtones of the play, manage to convey warmth and a connection. You can expect to hear similar jokes to the ones that you've always heard about roaches in New York in The Will of the Cockroach, but with extra verve and extra humor. Collier attacks New York's obsessions with enhancements and escape. "There's nothing real here in NY" D declares, along with his disgust. There is however, real roach spray and powder used in the production, so front-row enthusiasts, beware.

Week 3 of The Australia Project II: Australia Strikes Back is an immodest display of derision and praise, with a generous helping of off-the-wall and depravity. Although none of the productions are flawless, they all concede to the notion of the U.S. as a land of opportunity in their own distinct way, honorable or not. And making those opinions loud and clear is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Through September 30th. Tickets: $18. 212-352-3101. E. 42nd StreetNew York, NY 10017.

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