Sunday, April 06, 2008

Better Late Than Never: "Six" and "B-Alive"

Just because the expectation that I'd be able to single-handedly review every production in New York City was more than a bit naive, that doesn't mean I'm not going to try. Here are some short reviews for two shows -- both worth mentioning -- that I caught on their closing nights.

- Six

A one act is certainly the right place to experiment, and this festival of Six one-acts (part of Second Generation's Eleven series, which also premiered a full-length play and four staged readings) serves as both a warning and a shining example to playwrights looking to find their voice. A sad and simultaneously uplifting story about the trappings of style, each play tries something a little different, a little wild.

With some, like Sung Rno's The Trajectory of a Heart, Fractured, the presentation throws the plot: you know you've gone too far when the characters are taken over by the central metaphor. With others, like Moustache Guys, it's enough just to hold on for the ride: Michael Lew's Fight Club spoof spends so much energy trying to build on its cascade of mustachioed cameos (where else can you find video-game icon Mario and Gangs of New York's Bill the Butcher) that it never grounds its protagonist's plight. (Tail, Ralph B. Pena's stalker monologue, forgoes a plot, and succeeds simply as an over-the-top character piece, thanks to Jodi Lin's performance.)

But when style melds with substance, as in Julia Cho's Round and Round, the result can be heartbreaking: George (Joel de la Fuente) plays a linguist who simply can't find the words to stop his wife, Mary (Jennifer Ikeda), from leaving him. Kate Whoriskey's direction completes the picture, changing genres where appropriate to emphasize the Romance of it all, or the Tragedy, and this device allows Cho to reset time or to speak to the audience without ever seeming cheesy or out of place.

- B-Alive

Photo/Worldwide B

There's really not a lot of ballet in B-Alive, a story (told in dance) of the love between a hip-hop youth and a prim and proper lass. But you won't hear anybody in the audience complaining: they're too busy vibrating in their seats as the b-boy Gorilla Crew breaks down the house. The plot is a little ridiculous, but then again, so are the moves, and B-Alive b-eats out shows like Jump! because it is willing to take itself seriously, backing up the tricks with actual emotion (as shown by the fifteen-minute free-style curtain-call/encore).

Not that the show isn't willing to fool around: the thuggish dancers, who have a more vibratory and harsher stomp to their rhythms (but still a fluidity all their own), are great comic relief, even as bad guys to the heroic dancers who just like to freestyle. And Ahn Byungkoo's direction gets pretty inspired at times, with a black-light battle in which our hero confronts comes into our distressed damsel's dream and fends off an army of glowing, sinuous, spider-like dancers. There are plenty of moments of simple cheese, too -- as with the pompous self-seriousness of the local record shop owner or the playful sternness of the whip-like ballet teacher. The choreography (from Han Sangmin, Kim Woosung, and Shin Ilho) always evens things out, and while there are a few numbers that could be pared down in the interests of specificity, the show only lasts about seventy minutes -- I say, if you've got it, flaunt it.

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