Friday, June 01, 2007

PLAY: "I.E., In Other Words"

Oh, it would be so easy for me to just say [insert exclamatory rave] for I.E., In Other Words and be done with it. But although Mark Greenfield's inventive epic (yet intermissionless) fable is filled with characters who speak in the postmodern ("Abrupt interruption," "Clearly fake pleasantry to you," or "Oh, Sam dot dot dot"), it's more a clever shorthand than an excuse to back out of writing. Between the excellent ensemble (The Bats, the Flea's young resident company) and the tight direction of Kip Fagan, the show is a rollicking absurdity, as much musical as Adam Rapp's recent Essential Self-Defense and as bitterly metadramatic in atmosphere as Urinetown, right down to the use of places like Localtownsville and Citycity. Even Michael Casselli's set design is modish, a long curtain that unfurls across the basement theater like a hip skin for one's iPod.

Sam (a resolutely charming Teddy Bergman) is looking for fame so that he can win the heart of his fickle, cucumber-eating sweetheart, Jen (the sweet Elizabeth Hoyt), and her father-figure, Uncle Pop. His journey takes him from the sunny countryside and its villainous Pete Shemp (Jaime Robert Carrillo) to the gloomy cityscape, and from the yokels to the ethnic stereotypes. Not every joke works, but they aren't given enough time to fall flat on their face: the play has thirty-three characters (played by fourteen actors) and is only ninety minutes. So we'll get to meet the disco-dancing Good Cops in the same breath that we encounter Nathaniel, the sort of cell mate who would rape you, if he didn't find it so cliche. Actors also have the opportunity to play a wide variety of hammy hipsters, like Kelly Miller, who kills as a semiotics instructor, or Kina Bermudez, who is welcome to bring pies on stage any time.

The show is a long way from being crisp (the sound cues were way off, although the actors played them off for laughs), and some of the musical numbers falter (intentionally, for some). But when it comes together, as with Jen and Sam's overlapping letter-writing duet about the expositional passage of time, there's something thrillingly trendy about it. And when the going gets weird, the going gets good: who wouldn't laugh at the pointed question "You got something against ghosts fucking?"

I.E., In Other Words, you should go and see this show while it's still fresh off the funny farm. Good ideas, good execution, and the always intimate Underground of the Flea make for one great evening of theater, no matter how you parse it.

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