nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 7, 2012
Ubu Roi was Jarry's sophomoric, savage satire of gluttony and greed gone haywire; Adam Szymkowicz's update, UBU, premiering at soloNOVA Arts Festival in a production directed by and starring Daniel Irizarry, brings the play's ideas up to the minute, giving us a show about the "King of the Great Expanding Universe": a solo show—as befits the piggish, thuggish title character—performed with three slave/lackey assistants doing a good deal of the work.
This is not to slight Irizarry's charismatic, larger-than-life, enormously physicalized performance. His Ubu is a monster of mammoth size and ravenous appetite, sort of like the Tasmanian Devil on steroids, by way of Monty Python's Mr. Creosote. Irizarry, bundled into a fat suit, accomplishes all kinds of remarkable movement, much of it in exaggerated cartoon style (in fact there is one move where he bounces up and down on the stage that I don't think I've seen anyone other than a cartoon ever do).
Szymkowicz's take on the famous play as a solo piece means that Ubu tells the story of his ascent to power by himself. As he speaks to the audience (the conceit is that we are some of his employees), his unrelenting needs and wants are handled by the three others who zip back and forth on and off the stage (Alexandra Filipe, Frankie Cordero, and Laura Butler Rivera). They also manipulate the puppet representing Ubu's great lost love in one of the more striking segments of the show; later they will bring Ubu the musical instrument that he designed himself, which he plays for us in a section that sums up the play's themes quite masterfully.
It's raucous and profane and visceral as all get-out. It sometimes feels like it will be dangerously interactive, but the production wisely leaves the audience alone most of the time, and despite all the chewing and drinking and spitting and spilling that happens on stage your clothing is probably pretty safe.
This was the first time I've seen Irizarry perform and I will be on the lookout for more from him in the future (he has a piece in the undergroundzero festival in July, for example). And Szymkowicz seems here to be stretching in an exciting and surprising way. These artists' collaboration exemplifies the kind of raw, unusual work that NYC's summer festival scene specializes in.