Although the ability to ignore reality over a luxurious dinner and the knack for using torture are unfortunately unoriginal things in this country, the Nonsense Company's duet of one-acts is still terrifyingly original. They put the "fun" back in "fungible."
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Normally, when something as unique as Great Hymn of Thanksgiving/Conversation Storm comes around, it takes very little time for the derivatives to start piling on. Granted, theater is a far less immediate medium than television, but while it's terrific that this work still feels original a year after the '08 Frigid Festival (and its two halves have existed since '03 and '06), it's also a shame, surely, that not enough people have seen this production to pilfer from it.
Then again, there's the fact that stealing the Nonsense Company's technique is pretty damn hard; they, unlike some of the material they glibly discuss, are not fungible. Their first piece "Great Hymn of Thanksgiving," is aptly subtitled "for three speaking percussionists," and requires Ryan Higgins, Andy Gricevich, and Rick Burkhardt to follow sheet music for, among other things, mastication, wine-glass harmonics, and the plate-scraping rhythms of an errant fork. Parents: tell your children they can play with their food, so long as their mischief is synchronized and politically charged, for the monotonous cowbell-garblings of the cast are extracted from the Army Prayer Manual, world news reports, and Rae Armantrout's poetry. It is a clear collision of our hypercasual comforts with a distant reality: we cannot even imagine killing our own turkey, let alone visualize the charred casualties of war.
Without pause--for when is there ever a break in life?--the show segues into the second act, "Conversation Storm," a more conventional play only in the sense that there are characters, that they speak lines, and that there are scenes. But Burkhardt's writing here is just as inventive: he gives life to another too-casual behavior, the "thought experiment," by forcing Hugh (Higgins) to "out torture" Alec (Burkhardt) in a ticking timebomb game of "Do You Talk?" This isn't the audience-approved stuff of 24, but rather a boundary-pushing extrapolation: "You can either believe me," says the terrorist/victim, his testicles already crushed by a bathroom stall door, "or you can fuck my son." The one-act is performed lightning-fast, jumping forward and back between scenes--even rewriting some of them--as it mixes comedy and drama in an attempt to parse the concept that "torture is fine as long as we don't enjoy it too much."
Burkhardt and company succeed and fail in this endeavor: for all the unsettling screeches and scratches of the first act and the unpleasant scenarios and scares of the second, the performance is still primarily enjoyed--if not too much, then just enough.
Great Hymn of Thanksgiving/Conversation Storm (75 min., no intermission)
IRT (154 Christopher Street, #3B)
Tickets (www.nonsensecompany.com): $15.00
Performances (through 2/15): Wed. - Sat. @ 8 | Sun. @ 3
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.