Monday, October 22, 2007

PLAY: "Seating Arrangements"

The Bats are to acting as the New Theater Corps would like to be for criticism: a local repertory company of upcoming talent who all share a passion and enthusiasm for the arts. On that basis alone, may The Flea, which hosts them, receive all the grants it needs, and many charitable donations. One such grant, from the Danish Arts Council, has brought the best out of what the Bats can offer with their young blood, as well as what The Flea can offer as a welcoming theater: in this case, Pold Worm Jensen's seating ARRANGEMENTS, or the most fun you can have at a banquet (that isn't really a banquet). Which makes sense when you consider that the play is based on Babette's Feast, but not at all about that famous short story-cum-film, save as a jumping off point for the actors, jumping in and out of characters in a semi-futurist style.

Since June 2007, Erik Pold (joined by set designer Stine Worm Sorensen and dramaturge Allan Richardt Jensen, all from Denmark) has been working with eight of the Bats to piece together a celebratory and revelatory piece about the values important to them -- not the modesty meets extravagance of the 1881 feast (these actors have great imagined lives, but as they confess, are mostly all without health care), but about their discomfort. In a stylized formality, these actors riff off the original material and jump into telling their own stories, the only ones they really and truly can, be that a hyperbolic rant against Donald Trump's SoHo zoning, or about recent immigration legislature.

Some of these brief conversations are paradoxic: a comfortable actress speaks about being uncomfortable having to discuss her Mormon roots (Jane Elliot). Some are familiar: an actor talks about how his repressed past in Ireland kept him from being who he truly was, until he found himself able to be persecuted for it in America (Donal Brophy). Some actors rap (Bobby Moreno), sing (Max Jenkins), or violin (Sylvia Mincewicz) through their frustrations, joys, and pains. Whatever the form, whatever the topic, it is all entertainingly intimate, not shared across a stage, but from plated seats beside you at the table. (Well, OK, if you're not early enough to snag a seat, you'll have to watch from a more formalized seating arrangement.)

Occasionally, the play is too formal; it would've been nice to see looser transitions, more natural moments of spontaneity, and more genuine conversation outside of the larger "numbers" that make the actors leap from their seats in outrage. At the same time, Pold keeps the "food" fresh by playing enough with blocking and lighting to make those events theatrical, yet personable. (I, for instance, was Riccardo, Assistant Sector Manager for a moment.) The thoughts are not unified, nor even complete, but the actors are, and I'll take the honesty of their clamor over the dissembling glaze of some flimsily commercial play any day.

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