Saturday, October 23, 2010

THEATER: (un)afraid

Photo/Anton Nickel

You walk through a dim hallway before reaching the stage, the cavernous Living (or, for this, Undead) Theater, and are instructed to sit on a series of steps, a creepy scrim behind you. It's an awkward position--if you're prone to nerves--as it allows actors to creep up behind you, and both the title of the show--(un)afraid--and the nature of the performers--the non-illusory New York Neo-Futurists--keep that possibility alive throughout the show, assuming the dark woods, campfires, bloodcurdling screams, or Ouija boards don't get you first.

Ironically, though the first of many questions directly asked to the audience is, "Who here is ready to get scared?" the four writers/actors of (un)afraid have little interest in spooking you, despite what the bloody brides and men in hockey masks with chainsaws may have you believe. In actuality, the performers--Jill Beckman, Cara Francis, Ricardo Gamboa, and Daniel McCoy--are there to bare their own fears and, by sharing them with the audience, to purge themselves of them. The show succeeds less in forcing the audience to confront some of these "nightmares" than by bringing them to consider just what it is about these things that causes a reaction. The puerile nature of many of these Neo-Futurist skits helps to enhance this: yes, Bloody Mary and all those other urban legends are totally silly, but are you brave enough to stand up and say those words into a broken mirror? Are you frightened of horror movie monsters, but totally inured to scenes of actual violence and real human suffering?

It's hard to accurately critique (un)afraid, for it has branching paths (sixteen "special" scenes, of which only four will be seen each night) that can make the evening quite erratic. It also relies--more than previous Neo-Futurist shows--on the audience, and has less of an immediate gimmick (like The Soup Show's nudity) to help them open up. And it's impossible to tell which quirky moments will penetrate your defenses enough to make an impact: do country ballads and red-spandex-clad men doing interpretively devilish dances work for anyone? Thankfully, the majority of core material is solid stuff, and the deliberately funny scenes are big hits: their demonstrations of different types of fears and suggestions for surviving a horror movie (running) or an apocalypse (Twinkies). Ultimately, the world is only as frightening as we choose to believe it is ("The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," right?), so make a choice and check out (un)afraid.

No comments: