Tuesday, June 21, 2011

THEATER: The Germ Project

Photos/Jim Baldassare
It's generally a pleasure to attend something produced by New Georges: whether it works or not, it's fascinating. More importantly, it's always challenging and, in some cases, a literal roll of the dice, as with Lynn Rosen's Goldor $ Mythyka: A Hero Is Born, which tells the story of two middle-of-nowhere people, Bart (Garrett Neergaard) and Holly (Jenny Seastone Stern), who escape into the world of D&D and, later, bank robbery. Her play -- a mash-up of past and present, real and unreal -- is spun to an up-tempo beat by a DJ (Matthew-Lee Erlbach), the contemporary theater's version of a narrator, and Shana Gold's deft direction seems as fueled by love as the main characters do. But then their origin story ends, with a federal officer (Danny Wolohan) on their trail; Holly's mother, Gerri (Maggie Bofill), against them; and a mysterious Boy (Thomas Pecinka) potentially role-playing all of it . . . because New Georges hasn't produced a full play; instead, they're staging four hybrid workshop/excerpt premieres, which they call "germs."

It's a wild idea, but it feels more like an audition or a reality competition -- which of these will be American's Next Best Theatrical Experience? -- than a night of theater, less of what they've called The Germ Project and more The Germ Experiment. Why not mount all four plays in a small festival, as Clubbed Thumb does with their annual Summerworks series -- which also showcases daring, original works -- or have artists premiere their work in festivals designed for radical new material, like the Ice Factory, or the Incubator series? Yes, it's true that all four "germs" creatively use the same set (echoes abound throughout) and they probably save some money by double-casting the actors, but at the same time, that also means that each plays loses some of its exclusivity, its uniqueness, and moreover, its specificity. While there's still plenty of value in the project as a whole -- mainly in New Georges' unconventional commitment to staging these plays -- much of it goes unfulfilled.

Goldor $ Mythyka closes the evening, largely because its semi-episodic nature allows it to have a partial ending (one of those To Be Continued season finale sorts). But not so for Anna Ziegler's Evening All Afternoon, which focuses on an adrift Domanique (Bofill), who has come to America with Mickey (Juan Javier Cardenas) and their daughter, Luiza (Charise Castro Smith), but whose heart is still in the Dominican Republic, with her former lover, Ramon (Jorge Chachon). The man she's employed to care for, Mr. Esterman (Peter Levine), is lost in his own memories -- he once played basketball, he dreamed of being a poet -- and the play flutters gently between all the various defining moments in their lives, particular those of Luiza, who may be repeating her mother's "mistakes" by getting together with a poetic hoodlum, Fernando (Chachon). However, the kicker of poetry, according to Mr. E., is that "you have to focus on the beginning and end of the line . . . it's all about beginnings and endings," and due in part to Beatrice Terry's wonderfully calm direction, there is no ending to this germ.

The other two excerpts are more of a mixed bag. Kathryn Walat's This Is Not Antigone is insistent about something, but not its title -- while Anne (the terrific Anna Kull) may not be Antigone, her choice of tunic (albeit with an orange hunting vest over it), references to an oracle and the god Artemis, and initial disruption of a burial, suggest otherwise, and it's a mystery as to where the play is going, and why. Director Portia Krieger pulls out all the stops to distract us, working from Walat's hyperactive script, but even Anne's sister, Jackie (Jackie Chung), ends up interrupting her own dance-fueled monologue to bring the house lights up for a moment, reminding us that this isn't her story (and making us wonder whose it is). There are dramatic moments -- Anne's new guardian, Karl (Wolohan), getting into a drunken pissing contest with his son, Anne's boyfriend, Damon (Thomas Pecinka) -- but they don't go anywhere.

This aimlessness is even more visible in Kara Lee Corthron's drug-fueled Alicegraceanon, which attempts and fails to use its 60's setting as an excuse for this. Here, Corthon literally squeezes three plots into one space, running them in parallel (with occasional overlaps): Grace (Carolyn Baeumler) is the angry lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, who talks to a stuffed teddy bear that represents Jerry Garcia; Alice (Chung) is a young British girl from the 1860s who finds herself trapped in her pedophile friend Charles Dodgson's fantasy (you may know him better as Lewis Carroll); and Anonymous (an impressive Stern), a young runaway who keeps a diary of her many new drugged-out experiences. The characters have little in common, save for their sparks of rebellion, so when the excerpt ends with a reality-shattering earthquake that causes them to meet, it leads more to confusion than intrigue, and there's the sense that, as with The Germ Project's four plays, any single one of these narrative threads would have been stronger on its own.

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