Nuclear Love Affair
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
August 16, 2011
Sometimes I’m surprised that we survived the Cold War without some sort of mutual destruction. But as survivors we can now look back on it with objectivity and, if you are the producers of Nuclear Love Affair, a great deal of creativity.
This show may very well be like something you’ve never seen before. It is a strange carnival of performance. The show opens with a recipe for nuclear batter that is mixed up on stage right before your eyes and what follows is a series of scenes about the triumphs and struggles of the nuclear race and its effects on our psyche. The subtitle of the show is “a bold new spectacle starring the atomic bomb” and it is just that—a bold new spectacle. It layers a cacophony of music, new and old, with sound bites (nicely designed by Amy Yourd) and clips from TV’s past along with dance and finally text taken from the actual first-hand accounts of real people who lived through it all. Projections are cast on the actors’ all white costumes (finely designed by Michael Krass), on a giant white sheet stretched across the back of the stage and even on an umbrella. The characters are a mix of everyday folks, countries, pop icons and historical figures from Cuba to Marilyn Monroe to Ethel Rosenberg.
Nuclear Love Affair is very dark and extremely provocative, living up its atomic title. The many layers of media and performance are well stitched together and performed with precision. I was really blown away by the innovative style and the cast’s exuberance putting over the material. Writer/directors Sanaz Ghajarrahimi and Ben Hobbs weave an extraordinary tale of victory, hypocrisy and ignorance. Their vision of a world gone all wrong is both funny and harsh. They create brilliant mashups of characters such as Ethel Rosenberg playing the part of Lucy in the classic Vitameatavegamin scene, only she’s not obliged to drink the disgusting product—she’s getting strapped into the electric chair with vaudevillian choreography. This is followed by an actual account of her execution and her last statement. Hobbs and Ghajarrahimi use a lot of this sort of juxtaposition and their cast is right there with them.
Emily Brazee, Sophie Labelle, Vincent Santvoord, Soren Stockman and Hobbs are brilliant. They all take on several roles jumping seamlessly in and out of them throughout the night. One of my favorite performances of the night was Hobbs playing Marilyn Monroe. His performance of her suicide is warped and dead on. Santvoord plays a great Charlie Chaplin who made me have to suppress a guffaw when he enters and plays with Monroe’s dead body in his signature slap-stick style. The choreography is conceived by the cast. They mix some interpretive dance with creative movement that at times is abstract or erotic. I loved the intermittently slow motion boxing scene between the USA and USSR that is also a battle over who gets to screw Cuba. The physical nature of this production is certainly one of its strongest points.
Multimedia/multi-disciplinary shows can fall into the trap of more turning out to be less, but in the case of Nuclear Love Affair a perfect balance is reached that makes for an amazing theatrical experience. The show is part of Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival going on right now. So much attention is being given to the FringeNYC festival but if any of the other shows in their program are like this one I think the festival is well worth a look.