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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Wild, Wild Women of Wakki-Nunu!

A borderline has-been actor travels to the tropics to find and turn a secret tribe of Amazons into a successful nature show. This show is part-grindhouse, part Bunny-ranch, part faux-feminist propaganda, sometimes amusing, and entirely silly. Still, the actors have a lot of energy, seem to be enjoying themselves, and occasionally get thrown a nice concept or two. "Be careful what you wish for" may not be thoroughly illustrated here, but Frank Cwiklik takes a good stab at it.

Pictured top row from left are Haley Zale, Jess Beveridge, and Celestine Rae. Photo: Michele Schlossberg.

Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

What do you get when you take a bevy of babes, throw them the sort of jungle wear found in the Bunny Ranch's lingerie catalog, hide them from the world's eyes, and keep them starving for male attention and baby seed? Every man's fantasy, right? Wrong! Frank Cwiklik's The Wild, Wild Women of Wakki-Nunu is a crazy adventure into the world of wet dreams made reality, but it's not all it's cracked up to be, something has-been actor, womanizer, and ne'er do well Jake Manley (Cwiklik) learns pretty quickly.

Wakki-Nunu begins like a night at the movies, with sketchy, grindhouse-like opening credits and images projected on a screen. These images are worthy of smiles on their own, but when they're tied into the rest of the show, it's even funnier, particularly since it's nothing like PBS's Nature, what should have been it's mentor. There's some intriguing man-eating and beating jungle music from the beginning, and the sound effects never let up in supporting the changing ambiance. Carl DiStefano (Kevin Myers) and mentally and socially advanced Amazon Nug (Sarah E. Jacobs) pop out as hosts for the show, and give the audience a preview of their importance to the plot. As Carl's personal Jeeves, Jacobs is smart and wickedly funny, particularly since her vocabulary consists of nothing but exclaiming her master's name in a multitude of ways: Carl! Carl....Carl?

If that doesn't sound crazy enough, the plot gets even harrier when their existence is made known to the world. To save his job and gain a time slot, Manley proposes that they film a nature show based on a tribe of Amazons rumored to live in the jungle. Sidekick and worshipper Cubby Gaines (Patrick Pizzolorusso), ambitious actress and model Bunny Barretta (a fun and charismatic Becky Byers), and tough feminist photographer Stevie Pulaski (Samantha Mason) all pile into a putt-putting airplane to accompany him on his quest. (Mystery-caper names....check.) On the way there, they crash (but don't burn), and are separated into two groups, Manley going one way, and the other three going another way. And that's when the real hijinks begin.

Manley meets the bone-carrying, grunt and growl-favoring Amazons who worship Hickory "Toot" Sweet (Douglas Mackrell) as their god, and do unspeakable things (mostly pleasurable) to him during the day and night. In between ululations, they break out into "tribal movements," which is really just laughable choreography by Sarah E. Jacobs (there is an entertaining and cheeky striptease in Act II which demonstrates how limber and sexual they are). Sweet hopes to do the old switcheroo with Manley by giving up his title as the "King of the Saucy Empire," and make a hasty getaway out of this warped utopia. Bunny, Cubby and Stevie come across Carl, a pampered neighbor of the Amazons whom they want nothing to do with. He's being waited on by Nug, but unlike her counterparts, it's a consensual relationship. He treats her like the unique and intelligent creature that she is, and she helps him out with the odds and ends.

Apart from the rough, S&M type behavior (that some men would covet) and the sometimes questionable hygiene and physical appeal, Sweet's desire to fly the coop is never really supported. The audience can come up with reasons such as boredom and freedom, but the fun world created here doesn't exactly seem like a dungeon unless you consider it a dungeon of too many mistresses. Wakki-Nunu's Amazons are a peculiar breed because they don't exemplify female power or respect. Classical amazons aren't accustomed to worshiping males, even if they consider him a deity. But even that concept has a hole. (Ahem.) Although we're told in the script that they need a god to worship, they don't do much of that either, unless making their bodies available for sex is acceptable as worship.

It's a shame that the staging is so loose: for example, one character throws what's meant to be coffee in another one's face, but it's clearly water. The real McCoy or at least some food coloring would have gone a long way. One concept that is particularly successful is the dating game scene. With decent direction by Cwiklik and an amusing take on likes and dislikes, the cast pulls this one off easily. Still, one line comes close to describing this show succinctly: "You're always reaching too far and falling on your ass." Cwiklik may not have completely fallen on his keister here, but this production could be a whole lot more graceful and nimble.


Through June 3rd. Tickets: $20.

The Red Room (85 East 4th Street)

New York, NY 10003

No comments: