Saturday, September 05, 2009


Why are they called Sinking Ship Productions? Their latest show, Powerhouse, is absolutely buoyant--in fact, it's a downright elastic twist on the biographical drama. It's what Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention would have been if set to music: thrilling. Rather than give us an exacting recreation of "the brilliant but forgotten composer Raymond Scott," they recompose his life in the same way that his catalog of music was used when sold to Warner Brothers. The play opens with Scott (the excellent straight-man, Erik Lochtefeld) addressing the audience, explaining his interests, but what we're drawn to is the cast, which is briskly assembling a many-drawered set behind him--in time to one of Scott's songs. It's the first of many overlaps or exaggerated scenes that spring Powerhouse forward, all larger-than-life.

There are a lot of congratulations in order, here. Josh Luxenberg and Joshua Morris have written a wonderfully creative play, which neatly bounces from narration to scenes, often doing both at the same time, so as to remind us how much Scott remained in his own world. A perfect example--and one that also illustrates Jon Levin's distinctive direction--is Scott's first wedding, in which he is suddenly whisked up in his chair, spun around on a desk, and still trying to conduct (and conduct interviews) as his wife looks for him. Given the span of the show, it's necessary to compress events into montages like this; it's impressive that these montages are so expressive.

Another of the nice balances in the show is between the slowed-down quieter moments--for instance, when Scott teaches Dorothy (Hanley Smith), his future second wife, to sing--and the quick and noisy ones, in which members of the ensemble each grab a limb of their cartoon puppets and cohere to perform slapstick shorts. (Eric Wright does a terrific job as the voice of both the egotistical blue-footed booby and the suave otter he's in competition with.) In truth, everything comes together: Carolyn Mraz has festooned the desks with drawers for every occasion, from the magical televisions within (each with their own mini-puppet shows) to a cache of clothing buried within Scott's time-consuming invention, the Electronium, which is used to great effect when Scott's second wife walks out on him.

This isn't just an ambitious show for the Fringe festival: it's the creative standard to which companies should be pushing themselves. There's no need for a scale of 1 to 5 on this review: Powerhouse is back for the Fringe Encores series, and it should go on to an extended run.

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