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Below

nytheatre.com review by Carissa Cordes
August 11, 2012

Below is the story of a small group of people from what used to be a large metropolis who survived some catastrophic event involving bright light and burning. There is also a sub-story about the rat hunters being destroyed in this metropolis, so that the rat population exploded and now there is a devastating plague being spread through the population by bites from the infected; the only way to stop the plague is to kill the infected, oddly similar to a lot of zombie storylines. This catastrophic event forced people to take shelter in the subway tunnels where the rats live, which is how the plague is spread.

The events of the play take place ten years after everyone has been forced underground. The group consists of a former suit, Rat; a former cashier, Rump; and a former ballerina, Eyes, who is now crippled and wheeled about in a grocery cart. They come crawling through and hopping over the subway platform set. They are waiting for their comrade Pigeon to return from a scouting mission but are chanced upon by a girl in brightly colored clothes babbling pop nonsense. The group feels the need to protect the girl and initiates her into the group with the name of Skittles.

At the same time, Pigeon is wandering the tunnels and trying to relocate her original name and her sister. Rump wishes to be Skittles' primary but we are warned of the dangers this responsibility can hold. Rat was primary for his wife Willow who caught the disease; and not without some irony, Rat had to exterminate his wife. Skittles eventually reveals she has a working radio, and there is a signal that can be heard on the radio waves. Should this group and family leave the world they know for a potential wasteland?

All of the actors played their parts with gusto. They are all exuberant, intensely and exhaustingly physical with a lot of heart, throwing themselves, sometimes literally, into their performances. Brandon Scott Hughes' Rat has anger management issues and tirelessly leaps over platforms to a heartbreaking decision and end. Alanna Blair's Eyes has an exceptionally powerful moment motivating Rat, and Blaire O'Leary's Rump plays the most relatable and sympathetic character. O'Leary and Hughes have a touching and devastating moment near the end of the play. Tess Howsam's Skittles is a tireless sad clown delivering the message of hope.

The Living Theatre is the best possible venue for a show that takes place in subway tunnels and the bare concrete walls work well with the subway platform set designed by Johanna Hickey. The story is original and has awesome potential for a reality thriller; however, I quickly grew tired of the presentational style with mono/dialogue and important background information being delivered to the audience in asides that are not part of the story and do not occupy the reality of the play. The story of Pigeon and the story of the group with Skittles occur simultaneously while jumping back and forth. It always took some time to catch up whenever the storyline shifted, either because the theatrical styles were drastically different or because the shifts were in mid-story. Even the confusion could not prevent the very predictable discovery and ending which actually fused the two storylines together. The direction by Karyn Joy DeYoung helped to keep the pace of the show going without pause between the two story lines, however I think the show as written needs much more creative direction to help establish the reality of the world.

Ultimately there is a lot going on in this script, perhaps too much for a show that runs about an hour. I do think it would be worth it to continue workshopping this piece, paying more attention to the clarity of storytelling. I think the world, the realities of this world and the realities of human development in this world are also aspects to work on in the next reincarnation. The concept is exciting and could be greatly successful.