it is said the men are over in The Steel Tower
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 3, 2007
Throughout much of human history clowns have been used to lighten the atmosphere in royal courts or counsel meetings. Indeed, clown priests and jesters have been held in both the highest and lowest regard, at times simultaneously. Playwright Hideo Tsuchida takes his cue from history and makes it his own by creating clowns that both lighten and darken the atmosphere in the room in this dark and dry comedy.
The play is light on plot and consists of mostly banter that amounts to either fighting over petty things or rehearsal/creation of silly bits that the clowns use in their touring show. The troupe, which calls itself the Happy Lads, is doing shows for some soldiers at war when they decide to abandon the gig and their boss and run away to a "safe" place, the steel tower. They refer to their abandonment as going "AWOL." The war is supposedly at its end and they believe that they need only hole up there in the steel tower for about a week. During this week a soldier who has gone AWOL himself finds them there. They quickly befriend him and even try to make him a part of their company.
Tsuchida's dialogue is poignant and subtle and yet at times completely inane. Most of it straddles the borders of funny and not funny. His use of metaphor is fantastic. One fine example is the ridiculously petty in-fighting among the troupe members. At one point they even stop and say "why are we fighting over this?" which to me represents a question that can be put to most wars, most notably our current situation in Iraq.
Tsuchida makes the decision to make the bits that the troupe works on silly and sometimes not even what most would consider a "bit" at all. The best example of this is the "man coming down the stairs" bit, which consists of a man coming down stairs with something very particular and peculiar on his mind. It's not funny at all but through repetition it becomes funny. The soldier does add some seriousness to the show and Tsuchida uses this to balance the silliness very well. Credit should also be given to Matthew Paul Olmos for his excellent Americanization of the English translation.
Director Ronit Muszkatblit does a great job weaving together some physical humor with the banter. The set, courtesy of Tomoyuki Ikeda, is simple yet provocative and Muszkatblit uses it very well. Lighting designer Rie Ono also deserves a nod for a really beautiful lighting design. Muszkatblit also manages to keep his cast all on the same page as far as his very naturalistic and even laid back approach to the dialogue. Nothing seemed forced to me.
The performers —Gili Getz, Christopher Loar, Moti Margolin, Josh Peters, and Andy Schneeflock—put this show in the category "definitely worth your time." They have amazing chemistry and timing. I was truly impressed by each one of them. The play is ensemble-driven and these guys really step up to the plate. I would be hard-pressed to pick out one that shines over the others, each has his moments in the spotlight but overall they work together as if they were actually a troupe of traveling clowns.
It is said the men are over in the Steel Tower is such an interesting play. It's not a laugh riot but it sure makes you see a few things from a unique perspective. I would be very interested to see what else Tsuchida has to offer the world of theatre.