nytheatre.com review by Jon Stancato
August 14, 2008
Did you ever see that movie where the bookish and socially awkward high schooler discovers her inner popularity, doffing her eyeglasses and letting her hair down to reveal a "secret" beauty? It's ridiculous (and oft-parodied), of course, because any dolt would have known she was a knockout, and a similar contradiction proves distracting in Rose Courtney's amiable but ultimately scattered Cycle: A Vaudeville Comedy, directed by Craig Carlisle.
The central premise is that a ragtag bunch of period-dressed vaudevillians have fallen out of their proper era and landed in 2010 because their impresario has been punished for uttering the name of The Scottish Play (Click here for a quick primer on this superstition). It quickly becomes apparent that these are experienced time travelers who have been dancing through the decades since at least as far back as Shakespeare. In order to get back in time to headline the Palace, they have a mission to accomplish: give Charlotte Shrubsole ("Shrub like the plant, sole like the foot") a reason not to throw herself off the roof on her birthday. Their strategy, as far as I could tell, is to trick her into thinking she is meant to be a star of the stage and screen. With her powerful natural presence and enchanting voice, however, any dolt can tell Rose Courtney (the playwright, who also plays Charlotte) really is quite gifted and one grows frustrated that the main thrust of the plot is to convince us otherwise.
As Shrubsole goes from failed headshot sessions to failed acting classes to failed singing lessons, we are treated to rather delightful insider parodies of New York entertainment professionals, but what end these (or the lengthy passages lifted directly from Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Sophocles) serve was lost on me. I'd have been willing to submit to the spirit of "variety" and enjoy the myriad diversions, had Courtney and director Craig Carlisle not seemed so intent on telling us the earnest story of a woman seeking meaning in her life.
Unfortunately, the performance I saw was besieged by a violent thunderstorm which sonically overwhelmed the outdoor tent and cut the performance's power altogether, but it also highlighted Cycle's true charm: an ensemble so talented and seasoned that I'd pay good money to see them perform nearly anything. They improvised at least a dozen jokes about the inclement weather, spontaneously rechoreographed bits to avoid wet patches on the stage, and performed their various skits, magic acts, and song and dance numbers with so much charisma and panache that any veteran hoofer would have cheered them on. With his physical grace, velvet voice, and impeccable comic timing, J.T. Arbogast gives a star turn, but his compatriots Krista Braun, Daniella Cautela, Michael Lopez, Halley Zien, Erik Zuckerman, and Courtney are all triple-threats to be reckoned with, performing such feats as a burlesque tap number while playing the violin and singing.
By play's end, the troupe is able to keep Shrubsole off the ledge and, presumably, will return to Lady Vaudeville and play the Palace, where their considerable talent will be well-showcased in a traditional variety show. It's our loss we won't be able to follow them there.