This Is the New American Theatre
nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
June 2, 2007
In Danny Bowes and Tom X. Chao's meta-comedy, This is the New American Theatre, which is playing at the Brick Theatre's Pretentious Festival, the two megalomaniac writer-performers attempt to create a new form of theatre, try to find love, and provide the most nudity I've ever seen in a play.
Tired of not getting the attention they believe they deserve, Danny and Tom plan to redefine theatre by having actresses appear nude onstage. The nude actresses will distract the audience while the emotionally impaired man-children subliminally propagandize the audience. Of course, once they cast their actresses—Danny's feminist friend Astrid and Tom X. Chao superfan Marcy—they realize (much to their chagrin) that the women have their own ideas about the play's direction.
Is it funny? Yes. Does it convey interesting ideas in an entertaining way? Absolutely. Is it worth your while to see? Definitely. Does it reinvent the medium of theatre as its creators profess? Hardly.
There are some fun and interesting ideas being presented. Onstage nudie-time is often a heated topic of discussion in the realm of theatre, and This is the New American Theatre is a thoughtful satire on that stigma; Danny explains that, unlike most shows that make feeble attempts to artistically justify gratuitous nudity, they're admitting that the nudity in their play is gratuitous, which makes it therefore more genuinely artistic (it makes sense in its own twisted sort of way). At one point, Astrid explains that it's disingenuous and inaccurate to consider nudity exploitative if the actor or actress in question has no problem being naked on stage.
It is refreshing to see Bowes, who also directed, and Chao portray themselves as such insufferably egocentric brats without apology. I laughed uncontrollably at Tom's complaint about actresses having the audacity to (Heavens, no!) Ask Questions during the rehearsal process.
Melissa Roth and Karen Sours are great as Astrid and Marcy: very funny, very bold. Even though they appear naked for about 90% of their stage time, not once did I worry for them or feel that they were being exploited.
Unfortunately, Bowes's and Chao's script doesn't quite hold together. It could stand to see some selective cutting. Some of the scenes with the foursome rehearsing their masterpiece seriously drag (in particular, the one where Danny shows up to rehearsal late). Also, the subplot of the two men falling in love with Astrid and Marcy falling in love with Tom doesn't gel with the play's main through-line of Tom and Danny trying to reinvent theatre.
This is the News American Theatre is a riff on the recurring themes and ideas of Chao's earlier work (his own self-absorption, his difficulty in connecting with women, his assertion of his own genius). If you've never seen Chao's work, This is the New American Theatre is a good place to start. If you are familiar with his work, although an enjoyable play, it won't be anything new.
At the end of the day, however, wondering whether or not This is the New American Theatre is either a serious attempt to deconstruct the medium and/or the psyches of the play's creators or an excuse for lots and lots of gratuitous nudity is beside the point. It's a good deal of fun.