Friday, December 21, 2012

THEATER: The Surprisingly Heartwarming "P.S. Jones and the Frozen City"

Is there anything more important in the theater than confidence? Without it, Robert Askins could never have written his Obie-award winning Hand to God (in which a boy's Satanic sock puppet terrorizes a Christian bible group); without it, we'd never have seen his hyper-imaginative follow-up, the ode to old-school adventure comics (and perhaps a little Stephen King), P.S. Jones and the Frozen City. Without it, could you imagine Joe Paulik agreeing to walk around in a cape and goggles, smeared with the excrement that makes up his character's name, Pig Shit Jones? Or Sofia Jean Gomez trusting that Carla Bellisio's brilliant costuming and Eric Wright and the Puppet Kitchen's design could change her from a woman rolling around on an office chair into a Great Glass Spider, the menacingly sexy overlord of the titular Frozen City? (They're correct to trust: both actors come across brilliantly.)

Thankfully, there's no shell game going on in Askins's play: it's genuinely good. Jasons Simms' pop-art design (dotted storybook props that enhance Alex Koch's animated projections) sets the tone, E. Calvin Ahn's fight direction sells the idea of a giant's severed green fist going on a rampage, and Jose Zayas's direction has never felt so simultaneously loose and necessary, which is to say that while the actors appear to have freedom enough on stage for anything to happen, this is not actually a comic book, and so the action sequences and transitions must have been carefully planned out (albeit invisibly so). Few directors could so adroitly (and creatively) handle the call for an army of fire-breathing tigers, a cult of cannibalistic sirens (Jenny Seastone Stern and Diana Oh, putting the aces in menaces), and a spectral Gunslinger (Steven Rishard), to say nothing of Bobby Moreno's appearance as a befuddled giant named Lothar.

Photos/Jill Steinberg
Astute readers will note that I've jumped around plot points -- that's because P.S. Jones basically operates as a highlight reel, in which Pig Shit, our hero, accidentally stumbles onto a Quest of Great Importance that separates him from his beloved (and shriveled puppet) mother (Gomez) and sends him on a collision course with Benjamin (Preston Martin), his flamboyantly well-spoken and well-dressed opposite (his brother, naturally). Following the trail of a severed limb and a phantom cowboy through one of the many inhospitable deserts of the post-apocalypse, it's less about the plot of the journey than the experiences along the way -- eye-catching and rib-tickling stuff, and budget-stretching design miracles that ought to get terraNOVA even more nominations at the yearly NYIT Awards. (Hell, I was even impressed by the fidelity of the sound effects from Jane Shaw and Emma Wilk.)

Confidence is what allows me to wholeheartedly recommend P.S. Jones and the Frozen City: you will enjoy, or at least be impressed by, this madcap theatrical adventure.

No comments: