nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 15, 2010
I never go to haunted houses because I think they're cheesy and they don't scare me. However, I do love watching horror movies, but not because they scare me—I just like the tension and the gore. So when I read that the New York Neo-Futurists were going to explore what scares us in their new show (un)afraid it really piqued my interest; but this exploration of fear is not what you may expect.
It is more of an absurd, tongue-in-cheek poke at fear with few poignant moments. The show is divided into several mostly unrelated segments that don't really build on each other. There are a couple of songs about fear and each performer tells a scary story or a story about what scares them. But they don't just tell the story, it is theatrically interpreted by the entire cast and that's what is really unique and fresh about this show. One story, for example, is about the fear of death, and they take that concept and superimpose it over the entire universe, making it into an extravagant fear of the eventual death of the whole universe. The show has a great balance of silliness and seriousness. The song "Satan's River," which includes two dancing devils, is totally silly but then they turn on a dime and dig a little deeper soon after with an experiment on the audience in which scenes of extreme violence play on a monitor. There are several segments with audience participation, so if that's something that scares you here's your warning.
The audience interaction is what I enjoyed the most about (un)afraid. I like the way the cast talks to us in a very conversational manner like we're old friends. They come across as natural, easy-going, and friendly with each other as well, and that in turn drew me in to the performance. The audience is seated close together, not on chairs but just on the risers, which gives a nice communal feeling from the get go. I can't say that I walked away with any new understanding of fear. There are no revelations or any new perspectives on what scares us. We all know that other races/religions, change, and death scare us but what is really fresh is the way in which these fears are presented to us. The absurdities of these fears are highlighted with absurd scenes. The silly fears are done silly. Only when they get to violence do they become more somber, direct, and real. Director Rob Neill really challenges the audience with some of the interpretations. He drives a fast-paced show, giving little time for thinking about the last scene. He does throw in a few spooky moments that may startle you or, if you're lucky, startle your date enough that you can both have a good laugh.
The cast, Jill Beckman, Cara Francis, Ricardo Gamboa, and Daniel McCoy, write and perform the whole show. They congeal as an ensemble very well. They play off each other and roll with whatever happens. To do a show like you this, have to have confidence in your fellow actor and that shows here. Christopher Loar's sound design and Adam Smith's video design are very well done and certainly add to the show's appeal.
(un)afraid is a bold stab at all that scares. I did not expect to have as much fun as I did. The New York Neo-Futurists have a great sense of the absurd and they know how to work an audience. There is nothing scary in this show but there are things in life that are and it's great to have them presented in such an extremely entertaining way. This show is definitely better than any haunted house or scary movie you could ever go to this Halloween.