theAtrainplays, vol XX
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 13, 2005
I love theatre with a good concept behind its creation. This sort of theatre sets everything in its own world and makes its own rules. The Atrainplays most certainly come from their own world, a world that didn’t exist 24 hours prior to curtain. In his introductory speech, producer/performer Lawrence Feeney challenges the audience to not have fun. I would like to pass that challenge on to you, dear reader: I dare you not to have fun at this show.
Here’s a simplified version of their m.o.: Five writers (librettists) get on the A train at 207th Street and ride all the way to Far Rockaway, furiously writing the whole time because when they arrive they are expected to have a finished 15-minute (or so) play set right there on the A train. At Far Rockaway they hand their scripts over to the lyricists, composers, choreographers, and directors, who ride all the way back to 207th street. The lyricists and composers write at least two songs per show while the choreographers and directors do their work. (I do wonder how much work the latter two can get done on a train.) Finally they ride back down to 59th street and meet up with the actors. Copies are made and handed out and a quick read through is done. Rehearsals begin early the next morning and by 8pm that same night, just 24 hours from its initial spark, the show is in full production for our enjoyment. There are usually six short pieces. This year one of them was written previously.
The first piece is about a couple fleeing Scientology. They think that Tom Cruise might be chasing them. Both songs are quite funny and are sung with a lot of enthusiasm, though when the actors lost some of the words, they made up other words and plowed through without missing a beat (well maybe one or two beats).
The next show is about two people who love their cats, even with all their bizarre ailments, and a third who feels slightly cast aside because she hates cats. In one of my favorite songs/performances of the night, Erica Ash sings “Cat Got My Tongue.”
The next piece sports my favorite direction/choreography of the evening, courtesy of Gregory Simmons and Christopher Scott. In a moment of Gilliam-esque beauty, two commuters meet and find that they can offer each other mutual support. Everything about this piece is exceptional.
The next show is the smartest of the bunch. It pits world news readers against entertainment news readers. Both songs are quite clever, especially “The Jennifers,” and the five-person ensemble is as tight as can be.
The following piece is about a lonely woman who goes to Whole Foods to pick up men. She even claims that she can tell a man’s occupation by what aisle he’s shopping in. She strikes up a conversation with a mime (he’s off duty) and we learn that she is a “Google Snob,” never dating anyone who has fewer than 200 Google listings.
The big finale is (I assume) the musical that was not written on the train. It involves characters from various Broadway bombs such as Carrie: The Musical. They are stuck on the A train by a curse explained only by the re-invented Sartre line, “Hell is other musicals.” Just about every inch of the stage is filled in this grand slam of pirated melodies and one- liners. It’s campy and sure to be a favorite of musical theatre lovers.
The Atrainplays are raw and explosive. You never know what might happen. They barrel through the program like a train running late. As one set of performers are exiting, others are entering. There is never a dull moment and not a weak link on either side of this production. The list of performers and creators is far too long to list here but each and every one of them deserves high praise for a job well done. There is nothing else quite like it in New York.