nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
June 8, 2006
There are those who say that the original performance of Brian Parks's Americana Absurdum is the show that launched a downtown theatre revolution; a colleague of mine remembered recently that Vomit and Roses, one of the two short plays comprising this piece, was the very first show he saw off-off Broadway, back in 1994. John Clancy, director and original producer, went on to co-found The Present Company, and from that sprang the annual mainstay that is the New York International Fringe Festival. Clancy, now co-founder of Clancy Productions (along with Nancy Walsh), brings this "downtown classic" back to New York after wild successes in London and Edinburgh.
Then, as now, the show was meant to skewer some of the more ridiculous aspects of American culture. It's a very different world today than it was twelve years ago, and I was curious whether time would have any impact; fortunately, much of the satire is as sharp as ever.
The first of the two one-acts, Vomit and Roses, concerns a small family funeral business in danger of a corporate takeover. But while the parents fight to preserve their business, their daughter Kea (Eva van Dok) is facing her own challenge—the upcoming Senior Prom. Wolverine Dream, the second work, is a courtroom drama that plays up the sensationalism of show trials, with a roster of characters that includes clowns, a golf pro, leprechauns, the poet Wallace Stevens, and a talking wolverine.
While the threat of a big business takeover in Vomit and Roses is still a timely one, I actually was more struck by the timeless issue of Kea fretting about the prom. Van Dok's Kea is endearingly bizarre—after all, she's been raised in a funeral home and often sits around with her mother examining people's spleens—and her fretting about finding a date, finding a dress, and hoping she'll finally impress her peers is universal. The script also pokes fun at many other familiar prom night standbys; I heard a number of others in the audience chuckle knowingly at a line about the prom committee discussing the song "Stairway to Heaven."
In Wolverine Dream, things start with an airline pilot intentionally crashing his plane, and one of the grieving families brings a wrongful death suit after the airline. Their lawyer, an Irish expatriate, is just as busy declaring his love of the old country as he is arguing his case; meanwhile, the defense attorney is busy trying to buy the silence of the one survivor of the crash, a talking wolverine who works as a day trader. I can't even begin to explain how the clowns fit in, but amazingly they do.
Clancy proffers a simple staging, with a very basic set and the whole ensemble onstage at once; the show is entirely lit by hanging lamps, with the ensemble pulling them down from the ceiling and switching them on and off to help focus our attention on each scene as the swiftly-moving plot rockets by. Other "effects" include the use of hats or flashlights as puppets. The cast performs at an absolutely breakneck speed—this is definitely not a show for those who tend to nod off in the audience. Those who pay close attention, though, will pick up on some wonderful treats amid the lines; Nancy Walsh, as the mother in Vomit and Roses, has an almost moving speech in which she explains how preparing the bodies in the funeral home has given her a better understanding of human equality. And then there's Peter Jacobson, who appears in supporting roles in each piece, but in each he gets to deliver an odd little speech that's tangential to the action. His "drunken rant" at the prom in Vomit and Roses even got a little applause.
Some folk may be simply baffled (I sat beside an older couple who spent the first half of the show looking very, very confused), but for those willing to just sit back and trust the production, it is definitely a funhouse ride.