Acting Outside: Street Theater Rollicking in a Park Near You

Civic unrest with style
photo: Jonathan Slaff

To judge from the reaction of three kids sitting on an overturned milk crate, this play ruled. The trio of 10-year-olds guffawed as 25 performers tromped, jigged, and marched through quick-witted musical numbers. But for the parents—or those old enough to be—also seated on milk crates, this zany-brainy farce, on tour through New York City parks, animated a sad truth: In this country and throughout our burgeoning empire, social insecurity (little S, little I) rules.

Three New Yorkers (Craig Meade, Primy Rivera, and Alexander Bartenieff) join the army and get sent to Iraq, where they encounter a hostile population and a hapless military command. During a routine patrol, staged using hilarious plywood cutout Humvees, a group of Iraqis blocks the convoy. "We have orders!" one soldier shouts; "Speak English!" says another as they push through the crowd, detonating a bomb, which kills one of the troika. The two survivors return to 'Merica, where the government has made a shambles out of the social safety net and budget cuts have closed every stop on the subway except the end of the line. There, gallows humor takes a turn for the weird in the Bling Bling Bros. Circus Maximus. Bush, dressed as a lion (Robert Fitzsimmons), performs stupid animal tricks for a wealthy ringmaster, and a reporter (director and writer Crystal Field, embodying the U.S. media) is locked in jail.

Giant puppets, latex Dubya masks, business-suited billionaires: Observers of protests from Seattle '99 to New York '04 will recognize street theater devices here. Unlike much of its agitprop kin, however, Social Insecurity zips along with accomplished verve, ingenious sets, and a versatile cast.


Social Insecurity
Theater for the New City
September 10, 11, 17, and 18
Various New York City parks, free admission

The singers and musicians create music so big that the sound system seems, at times, to wince. Which only draws more passersby to watch. Those 10-year-olds might not know from insurgencies, corporate welfare, or the Patriot Act, but they can spot entertainment.

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