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.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New York Frigid Festival: Uncorseted

Shark Tank Players present a ribald comedy about gender bending at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The result is an entertaining farce, but is too frivolous to do justice to its underlying themes.

Reviewed by Di Jayawickrema

Set in the context of the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, Uncorseted attempts to pierce through sexual conventions and gender binaries using risqué slapstick. The company is not quite up to such a compounded task but it’s not for a lack of enthusiasm. The humor and energy are high from the moment the burlesque bunch of characters played by cross-dressed men and women blithely saunter on stage. There’s Douglas, a male fencer of ambiguous sexual preferences (played by actress Phoebe First). His sister, Penelope, is in love with her best friend, Felicity, who is in turn smitten with Douglas (both women are played by men). Rounding out this disorienting group are a gaggle of lesbian vixens, a countess, a chambermaid, and a rapist. The convoluted ties and sexual leanings of these explosive characters are quickly established in a whirlwind of bawdy vignettes.

Holding all these plots together is the beleaguered chambermaid who turns to fencing after she kills the rapist in self-defense, assumes his identity, and heads to the World’s Columbian Exposition. (She rechristens herself George Sand; the scriptwriter’s sly nod to the 19th century authoress infamous for her male attire.) It is there that Penelope has taken Felicity, purportedly to win the love of Douglas, but really so that she can win Felicity’s heart. They are trained by the countess, Cornelia, who teaches women fencing…bare-breasted. Naturally, all the fencing scenes are suffused with double entendres—“Step, step, thrust”—and plenty of pelvic thrusts and tickle fights. While all these machinations are fun to watch, for the most part, they seem aimless. It is Cornelia who finally elucidates a meaningful theme in Uncorseted when she states men are inadequate, hence their need to fence, while her troop of “hermaphrodite warriors…with breasts and swords” are complete.

A freshly trained Felicity underscores this idea when she spars with Douglas and declares herself finally “equals parts the man you are and the woman who can woo you.” It’s one of the surprisingly insightful and beautifully written pieces of dialogue that are too few and far between in Uncorseted. Between the orgies, dildos, and huge fake breasts, there is little room for the sustained reflection on sexuality and gender norms that the play aspires to. The technical aspects of the play are equally loose. Lines are flubbed, sword handles fall off—at one point, the middle panel of the stage is left entirely open, allowing the audience to see the cast changing backstage.

Aside from the infectious exuberance of the cast, and the occasionally skilled scripting, the execution of the production is uneven, and the ideas are often lost in the gags.


Uncorseted (1 hour; no intermission)

Location: The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th St)

Tickets: $10, $9

Performances: Fri 2/26, 5:30 PM, Sat 2/27, 2:30 PM, Sun 2/28, 1:00 PM, Sun 2/28, 5:30 PM, Sat 3/06, 5:30 PM

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