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, March 30, 2009


Metropolitan Theater’s revival of Power earns its title through stylized, humorous vignettes that explore a utility’s growth from modern luxury to an addictive, necessary evil. To those who have had trouble deciphering a Con Edison bill, argued with a new landlord about an accurate meter reading, or even been nagged by to turn out the lights when leaving a room, Power is most certainly on.

Michael Hardart and Rafael Jordan / Photograph by Steven Lembark

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

You’ll find your seats to Power by following the splintered beams of flashlights strewn about the theater. Once seated, artistic director Alex Roe will slowly click off each flashlight and, in complete darkness, ask us to silence all electronic devices. It is the first of many sensory cues that alert and prepare the audience that something is about to happen. It’s a reminder that electricity plays the principle role in Power: it’s not just a technical commodity. Tonight, it brings the early 20th century to life and takes the audience on a cross-country journey.

When the lights rise in earnest, it’s at a clothing factory in the New York Metro area, 1935 in the midst of a blackout. Panicked telephone conversations interweave and interrupt one another, describing buns stuck burning in the oven thanks to a stopped conveyor belt, the heat cut short in an apartment with a sick infant, etc. Despite these crises, in the scenes to follow modern urbanites continue to rely on electricity in their everyday use. The public demand rises so much that the electric company, once a private corporate enterprise, expands into a universal monopoly. Maintaining the latest household trend suddenly grows quite expensive, and the energy-conscious consumer is born. This sets the tone for the rest of the play: the struggle between the penny-pinching everyman and the slicked-back company tycoon.

The visual tone of the play is that of a “living newspaper,” so designer and director Mark Harborth reduces the set to a table and handful of chairs, and plasters newspapers across the stage and walls. Harborth’s use of the open stage also serves to disorient and engage, conjuring the hustle and bustle of the 1930s newsroom. The contrast to all this black-and-white is set by the lighting, designed by Maryvel Bergen. Covered and uncovered, hanging and bolted, bulbs blink from all corners of the stage, offering entrance cues and scene changes. This creates crisp order in a play overflowing with action and dialogue. Adding to these segmented mini-breaks is the soft, nostalgic fade-in music, which adds a sense of relief from all the visual goings-on by appealing to another sense.

Our anchor in the midst of all this action is the single-cast narrator, Michael Hardart. Using a campy tone, he sets the audience at ease and acknowledges his role as an outsider, especially when he calls out “Hey, Valentine!” to the stage manager (Valentine Amartey) asking for lights. This attitude allows him to move beyond the fourth wall without taking advantage of it, and he slides in and out of the play with grace and ease. His costars share a similar comfort jumping in and out of character, especially the three women in the cast (Sidney Fornter, Jenny Greeman, Toya Nash), who transform effortlessly from shrewd housewives managing a domestic budget to a precocious daughter asking her father where electricity comes from. Their acting overcomes the script’s tough-sounding business jargon, and onstage they hold their own with commanding presence, matching the engaging confidence of their male counterparts. When the actresses join them to play men they are just as seamless, coyly trotting offstage in heels and a skirt only to don a tie and sport coat and return in the blink of an eye as an angry stockholder demanding an explanation.

It would be too easy to make a literal allusion of the play’s title to its content, though. Yes, the need for electricity in a time of growing urban sprawl gives the play its spine. However, this play also brings together complex issues of private enterprise versus government control, the state of the public interest in the wake of a corporate monopoly, the say a stakeholder has in the cost of labor production, and even the exact definition of a kilowatt hour, among many others. It’s about a more subtle, individualized sense of power. It questions the level of power tax-paying citizens have in the decisions of their community and the unequivocal distribution of power to them all regardless of regional location or occupation. Skip the daily expense of a Wall Street Journal this week: for roughly the same amount of money, Power will give you a better return on your investment.

Power (1 hr. 45 mins; one 10-minute intermission)
Metropolitan Playhouse (220 East 4th Street)
Tickets [212-352-3101] ($20, $15 students and seniors)
Performances [through 4/12]: (Wed.-Sat. @ 8pm; Sats. and Suns. @ 3pm)

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