The Flat Earth: WheredaFFFhuck Did New York Go?
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 19, 2008
I love going to Dixon Place, one of the great classic theatre laboratories in New York City and one of the only authentic living room spaces still in use. I love their HOT! festival, a summer-long celebration of queer culture, where "queer" is mostly meant in the now-standard sense of "gay" but thankfully the more traditional definition of "deviating from the expected or normal" almost always applies as well. And I loved seeing this year's HOT! festival opener, The Flat Earth: WheredaFFFhuck Did New York Go? by Annie Lanzillotto: queer and in-your-face in every possible sense of both of those expressions—vibrant, engaging, essential theatre.
Lanzillotto is the most casual of performers, by which I do NOT mean that she's unprepared or unprofessional but rather that she inhabits the performance space and time the way that a supremely confident host should: at ease and in command. In the middle of the show I was at, she called out to the refreshment folks for a cup of hot tea (which was delivered shortly thereafter); she bought water and candy for audience members when their energy seemed to slightly waver; she offered my companion and myself cough drops when we each seemed to need them.
I tell you this not just because they made The Flat Earth memorable and fun and unusual but because they typify precisely what the show is about. Lanzillotto's titular question is presumably rhetorical, but an answer gets formulated during the happening that is The Flat Earth: New York, like any other city, IS its people. When New Yorkers leave, New York leaves, or at least morphs and changes:
I woke up like Rip Van Winkle.
Only the revolution hadn't happened in my sleep,
I noticed all at once: All the Mom and Pop shops had turned to Real Estate Offices.
Even the local dog walker, was walking in a suit and tie. He handed me a new business card that said, "Licensed Real Estate Broker."
What was I gonna do with that?
New York was 100 million doors, and I had no key.
Lanzillotto, as the above excerpt from The Flat Earth attests, is a poet. In this show, her poetry is applied mostly to the eternal changes of the landscape she has always lived in and loves and worries about losing. Because she's a poet, her show is the opposite of linear; it's filled with digressions and tangential anecdotes and presentation of all kinds of evidences, some of them very tangible (as when she passes around some pieces of Manhattan schist, the bedrock of this island that makes it possible to build skyscrapers on it). Some of the material here is very personal (she alludes to a recent successful battle with cancer without going into a great amount of detail, for example) and some is frankly political. She's assisted during the performance by two actors, Audrey Kindred and Caitlin Michener; her co-director/script consultant is Will MacAdams.
Throughout, she engages in interaction with her audience in the same way that all of us interact with each other and with Manhattan every day of our lives. By which I mean this: we're all in this room together. Let's be aware of and comfortable with each other. Let's embrace our togetherness and our otherness and our individuality.
It feels good.
The Flat Earth ends with Lanzillotto leading us on a brief guided tour down the Bowery and around the corner onto Elizabeth Street and culminates in a rap session where audience members are encouraged to sit on a mailbox and tell their "New York story." (Lanzillotto, of course, goes first.) I told you this show is a happening; we don't get enough of those in the theatre nowadays. This show will remind you why, perhaps, we should.