Watching Gold No Trade’s The Pinks, currently playing at the Collapsable Hole in Brooklyn, I was taken back to some of the great theatrical experiences of my youth at the Apple Valley Farm Theater, a barn-performance space in Ozawkie, Kansas. The productions at Apple Valley were about as rag-tag as you can get—a blend of vaudeville and melodrama—and what occurred in front of the footlights was exhilarating and influential: watching grown men and women behave as buffoons, witnessing a single actor don multiple roles and mine a simple prop for its endless scenic uses, performers prompting the audience for raucous behavior; and this became engrained in me, that theatre is a low art form, not a high one.
Gold No Trade’s new piece seems to want to live somewhere between melodrama and the dime novels of the 19th century, but succeeds only as a tepid approach to both. The company, who created the play together, subverts all the entertaining aspects of melodrama and leaves us only wanting.
The Pinks tells the story of Southern sympathizer and spy Rose Greenhow, who was sought after by The Pinkertons, the “first private detective agency” in the US, which hired the first female detective Kate Warne to sniff Greenhow out. The action follows Warne as she pursues Greenhow. The company begins with this kernel of history and expands upon it, mining for the historical fiction of what could have happened: the Pinkertons are a trio of bumbling noir-inspired detectives and Greenhow is given royal treatment as a seductress who coaxed Union soldiers into her lair, passing their secrets onto the Confederate generals.
The Collapsable Hole is a perfect venue for the sparse stage: two wooden platforms, footlights, and a whitewashed American flag hanging from the rafters—the kind of atmosphere that would only be completed by peanuts and beer.
The actors—who include Megan Campisi (who also wrote the play), Max Dana, Kevin Lapin, Siobhan Towey, and Blake Habermann— are all good-natured, with steady and deliberate performances. Their use of Object Theater comes into good use—including an impeccable performance by a wig—but their bag of tricks run dry early. As opposed to imbuing every action with expansiveness, the performances elude, keeping the audience at arms length, leaving a majority of the action sagging and lacking a driving energy—which is integral for this work to succeed.
Many of the performers studied at L’Ecole Jacque Lecoq in Paris, a basis for their creating work together. However, The Pinks felt disabled by this shared training; as if every step of the way the company was drawing from their schooling, disallowing the opportunity to make “wrong” choices, choices which would have undoubtedly elevated the text and the performances. It is a constant challenge to discuss where one’s theatre comes from, what training, or lack thereof, has influenced upon the artist to pursue their creative process, and the shape their stories and images take on the stage
I commend Gold No Trade for their earnestness; one gets the sense that they care very much about their sources and the amount of time that has been given into creating this piece. But rather than letting loose and going to the extremities, the company plays it safe, and the result is the limiting that comes from training, rather than the freedom.