nytheatre.com review by Thomas Weitz
August 13, 2005
Imagine you were walking down a street in New York and you stumbled upon an actor dressed up as the Cowardly Lion and wearing a George W. Bush mask while jumping through circus hoops held by an actress pretending to be Condoleezza Rice dressed up as a showgirl. You would have had the good fortune of stumbling upon the Theater for the New City's Street Theater Company, performing their newest opera, Social Insecurity.
Social Insecurity is the story of three friends from New York City who are seduced, persuaded, and/or coerced into joining the National Guard out of high school and then sent to fight in Iraq. While in Iraq, they are shocked by the amount of senseless death they witness and as a result are unsure as to why they are fighting in the war. Ultimately, one of the friends is killed by a landmine but is unable to ascend to heaven until the injustices that they witnessed in the war are reconciled. The remaining two soldiers return to the U.S. with the intent of putting their friend’s soul to rest, only to find the chaos and dismay they had left in Iraq has spread here at home.
The story, told through puppetry, dance, and song is a real visual treat on a hot summer day, a harkening back to the Vietnam era when public expression of your political beliefs was more the norm. Aside from the colorful costumes and movable sets the actors and stagehands are the real heart and soul of the piece. With 25 actors, 12 crewmembers, 2 assistant directors, and 5 musicians, this production is a huge undertaking. Actors stream on and off the stage while backdrops are brought on by hand. Add to that the heat from a summer in New York and the technical difficulties of mounting a musical outside and it becomes apparent that it takes a very special kind of person to pull this kind of show off.
If there is any weakness to Social Insecurity it is the writing. As a story, Social Insecurity reads like anti-war agitprop, rarely moving beneath the surface of the issues the play raises. It is a spectacle about a spectacle that left me feeling as frustrated about the war going out as I did coming in. Even as a means for information about the various injustices directly or indirectly resulting from the war in Iraq, this play jumps from one topic to another with such abandon that at times it feels overbearing and intimidating. Although it is hard to discern any deep meaning from the cacophony of political rhetoric that is thrown at you, the show does serve as a rallying cry of sorts, reminding us that the war continues, as do its effects at home and abroad.
If the writing is Social Insecurity’s weakness, then its greatest strength is the number of people the TNC Street Theater Company will reach. By performing in all five boroughs, TNC will provide an opportunity for hundreds of people in New York, some who may never have seen a theatre performance before, to see a free show. Not only will TNC bring theatre to all corners of the city, but they will also attract an audience. They do a great job of positioning themselves in areas with a high volume of foot traffic and keeping their story moving at a fast clip so as to keep the audience’s attention. Accommodations are hard to come by at street theater performances but here milk crates are provided as seats and actors and stagehands run around with water bottles squirting over-heated audience members.
At the performance I saw, most of passersby stood behind the seats that were provided to them, unwilling to commit to staying but unable to pull their gaze from the stage. Every few minutes someone would remember they were going somewhere before they had stopped to see who this person was who was wearing a lion costume and a George W. Bush mask or why there was a father singing to his son in Iraq. Eventually, that person would leave, only to be replaced by someone else who had also been on their way somewhere before they noticed the stage that hadn’t been there the day before.