Bourbon Barrel Ensemble Presents: Tiny Geniuses
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 13, 2010
The 2010 FringeNYC festival kicked off with a bang for me as I had the pleasure to see the Bourbon Barrel Ensemble's contribution, Tiny Geniuses, as my first show. Following a new first grade teacher at a school for the "gifted," the show comically explores the pressure that influential parents can place on schools and their teachers. Members of the ensemble double as both children and adults, oftentimes behaving more childishly when playing their adult roles, with a stand out comedic performance by David Darrow as both the wealthy father of a bratty student and as the nerdy student, Jimmy. The pace of the show is quick, the dialogue is snappy, and the conviction of the new first grade teacher, Finola Applebaum (Alexis Bronkovic), to better her students even in the face of professional disgrace is compelling.
I will say though that the characters all have some pretty notable eccentricities, creating some weird situations that drive the humor. This is a comedy, after all, not Dangerous Minds. Some pretty absurd scenes occur, which might put off an unprepared audience. I couldn't shake the feeling that the script was written for the actors, as several scenes seemed aimed to make each character share equal time. I don't think that's a bad thing, as I thought the writing was very good, but it did seem that it prevented some scenes from being properly trimmed down. Also, this is a festival show, so there are some technical hiccups. Thankfully they're minor. Set design by Rachel Fae Szymanski (by way of Ikea) transformed easily enough into different locations, but costume changes, often occurring on stage, took up some rather long stretches of time. More irritating, however, was this loud pinging sound effect used to start each scene. At first I thought it was a poorly selected school bell that was way too loud, but by the end I began to wonder if I was being classically conditioned like one of Pavlov's dogs.
I genuinely had an excellent time with the show. The topical nature of parents bullying schools with their checkbooks piqued my interest and the effective storytelling and performances rewarded it. I've already recommended the show to several of my theatre-going friends and I am looking forward to seeing what the Bourbon Barrel Ensemble does next.