The Rise and Fall of Miles and Milo
nytheatre.com review by Anthony C.E. Nelson
August 15, 2007
Are money and art compatible concepts, or are they like matter and anti-matter, colliding until one or the other is eliminated completely? Sara Jeanne Asselin's new play The Rise and Fall of Miles and Milo tackles the mixing of art and commerce in a charmingly goofy fashion that makes it all the more powerful (and humorous) when things turn serious towards the conclusion.
Miles and Milo are artists. I say artists without specifying because they both seem to be interested and active in everything, from metal-working to collage to musical theatre. They have been camped on the doorstep of the Sunrise Foundation for ten years now, presenting a Protest/Show which decries the foundation's vile control of the arts and its insidious founders, the Sackvilles. Over the years, they've submitted hundreds of proposals to the foundation, and regard themselves as true geniuses because they've never had a single one funded. According to Miles and Milo, the Sunshine Foundation exists only to fund the banal and worthless art that keeps true, edgy artists out of the public view. During their years of protest, they've developed a comfortable relationship with the foundation. They know the secretaries by name. They order their lunch along with the people working in the foundation offices. This comfortable relationship, and Miles's and Milo's world view, is shaken to the core when Doris, secretary to the current Sackville, arrives to tell them they've been awarded a grant. A huge one.
To tell you more would spoil the twists and turns of this little gem of a play, but Asselin's script is a funny and searching discussion of the intersection of art and commerce. What does it mean for art when huge decisions about what gets financed are made by corporate bureaucracies that have very different interests from artists?
Director Melissa Firlit has all the performers adopt a broad vaudeville style, which at first I had trouble warming up to, but appreciated as the characterizations started to shift in response to what was happening. The staging of the final scene in particular nails the transformations that have occurred, and the audience laughed not just at the jokes being told but also at the recognition of a part of themselves onstage. Nat Cassidy is fun as Milo, Gayle Robbins has some good moments as Doris, and David Tillistrand is amusing as the offstage voice of Sackville in a riff on Larry David's George Steinbrenner, but Asselin is the standout as Miles. Her mixture of girlish excitement and horror as Miles and Milo get drawn further into Sackville's web is priceless.
If I have to quibble with anything, it would be the scene changes that occasionally slow down the action.
Asselin's script is broadly drawn, but don't mistake it for a lightweight comedy. There is a serious point at work here.