My Illustrious Wasteland, by Tod Kimbo, is a fantastical, thrilling escape into the future. It’s science fiction, political satire, social commentary, and more, set to full-throttle rock music.
Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis
Tod Kimbo’s My Illustrious Wasteland welcomes us to an America only a few light years off, one where Hollywood is the new capital and the Democratic Party is a dictatorship. Kimbo stars as the President Reverend, overseeing a new nation that has merged Church and State. He embodies the well-written role with an icy presence and a commanding yet cynical voice. The rest of the cast takes just as much fun and pride in their roles, including Erin Lindsey Krom as Sunny, the President Reverend’s socialite wife (voted by the public as the best barely legal “eye-gasm”).
Despite trotting around the stage in a gold-sequined midriff shirt and matching hot pants, Sunny’s disposition argues against the dumb blonde stereotype, for she questions her role in society and her obligation to the American people who worship her. This is one of the many character studies in Wasteland that has empathetic appeal. Damian Shembel wins over the audience with his geeky idealism as Mogs, the son of a rock legend dead before his time. Rebelling against government mandates, Mogs refuses to take mood stabilizers and doesn’t buy into the propaganda surrounding Information Disease (a deadly illness contracted by acquiring unnecessary amounts of unregulated knowledge).
Shembel’s portrayal of Mogs works even better in scenes concerning Mogs’ mother Loretta (Arden Kelly), an overmedicated housewife with a pointedly apathetic Southern drawl. Their conflicting views on patriotic duty and social liberation resonate with how personal such material, which in other scenes can get weighed down with political and technological jargon, can be. Kimbo strikes the perfect balance between these two wavelengths with his depiction of the Realists, an anarchy clan squatting just outside city limits.
Given their role in the play as the rebellious outcasts, the Realists also have the most music (angst-ridden, dissonant tunes) and the most inspired costumes. Their ringleader also happens to be Mogs’ estranged uncle, known only as the Troubador (Jarret Mallon) a neat little tie-in to the rest of the plot, and a means for Mogs to finally escape Loretta. Dominating the stage in a leather jacket and trucker hat, Mallon’s swaggering give-a-care attitude and all-knowing smirk provide a much-needed energy to the show, even more so when he sings. In the opening scene he laments his disappointment for those content living within a conformist America; in “Dragonbelly” he delights in disclosing Loretta’s secret past.
Another Realist with great stage presence and singing capability is Dorothy Massy. Wearing mismatched patterned tights, a black tutu, and black army boots with the laces missing, Massy has a strong, deep voice made for rock, working just as hard as the rest of the cast and just as loud as the band backing her, with perfect instinct for when to blend as part of a chorus and when to shift gears for an upcoming solo. Costume designer Nicole Jescinth Smith completes this futuristic rock atmosphere, pulling inspiration from everywhere and anywhere, such as the all-black track suits with purple stripes worn by the President Reverend’s cronies or the paisley free-flowing frock worn by a big-haired Loretta during a flashback scene.
Kimbo’s rock score for Wasteland has the same tight consistency as the rest of the framework. Rising above being simple background music, the band works with the cast to convey the individual struggles of each character. Their transitions—slowing down for a rock ballad towards the end of the first act or easing up on the guitar riffs during the President’s self-realization solo in the second—connect with the audience. Drummer Paul Creed and keyboardist Matt Nichols sound the most skilled and effective, constantly in their element as a pulsing rhythm section working together, providing a backbone for the show. Welcome to My Illustrious Wasteland, an inspirational tale that provides hope not just for our future, but for the future of musical theater.
My Illustrious Wasteland (2 hours; one 10-minute intermission)
American Theater of Actors - Chernuchin Theater (314 West 54th Street)
Tickets [212-352-3101 or www.nymf.org]: $25
Performances: Saturday October 10th @ 5pm
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