Theater archives

The Gods’ Desire


It isn’t often spirit can carry an entire production. But the endearing unpretentiousness of Oshun (The Goddess of Love) (Nuyorican Poets Cafe), like director Rome Neal’s earlier sojourn into Yoruban legends, Shango de Ima, can’t help but leave audiences smiling. The undercurrent of
this-yo-culcha preachiness vanishes immediately as the ensemble takes to the spare set in its
brightly colored costumes, dancing and singing in Yoruba to the sound of shaking cassavas. Not even a Lauryn Hill­sized chunk of righteousness could spoil the sense of wonder and excitement the cast brings to its nonlinear episodes. The Orishas themselves— demigods representative of admirable qualities, but still fallible and complex in human ways— confound that sort of hero worship anyway. In the creation myth that begins the play, Olofi, god of all things, sends the Orishas— all male except for Oshun— to earth, where they begin to hunt and build, leaving her behind. She complains to Olofi, and the men must not only beg her forgiveness, she insists they bathe regularly, too. Oshun’s no angel. She sleeps with the trickster Elegba in order to gain secret knowledge. She puts a curse on her ex-husband Orunmila, and tries to blackmail another Orisha, Shango, into marrying her— she’s a goddess less representative of idealized love than desire and its consequences. The production could stand to lose a few scenes, but Neal keeps things simple and goofy, like an engaging children’s theater production: people in masks behave like birds, swaths of blue silk stand in for water, shields are garbage can lids painted gold. It’s truly the seat-of-the-pants aesthetic necessary to depict gods with human flaws. — James Hannaham

The Caretakers

It’s a great favor to Harold Pinter enthusiasts that The Hothouse, written in 1958 and one of the dramatist’s first plays, is on show locally (Atlantic Theater) at the same time as his latest work, Ashes to Ashes. What’s immediately apparent is that if, as some maintain, the playwright is becoming more political, it’s only insofar as he’s taking international concerns rather than domestic into account.

Set in a menacing institute referred to euphemistically by one of the characters as a “rest home,” The Hothouse trots out half a dozen wrangling staff members. The facility head, Roote, spouts military-like bilge while fearing he’s losing control of his patient popula-
tion. Serving under Roote are Gibbs, efficient and emotionless; Lush, whose name only somewhat tips his behavior; and a naïf unobscurely called Lamb. Also gliding through their midst is Cutts, the lone woman and an early example of that enigmatic cat among the pigeons Pinter can’t stop himself from spotlighting.

Not much stage time goes by before
it’s clear Pinter is assembling a metaphor for the failure of
institutional thought. “The system’s wrong,” Roote snarls, claiming moments later that “there’s no system.” More symbols than individuals, Roote and Gibbs as well as the almost entirely unseen under-staff and the entirely unseen patient roster also represent recent English society in awkward decline.

Three cheers for Pinter’s predicting in Gibbs the Thatcher mentality. But the two-act tragicomedy runs out of satirical ideas long before curtain. Like Ashes to Ashes, it could say what it has to in 40-plus minutes. The production is crisply performed by, among others, Atlantic players Larry Bryggman, Jordan Lage, and Kate Blumberg. Karen Kohlhaas directed on Walt Spangler’s set of many ominous doors. — David Finkle

Sexual Heeling

The houselights dim, a spotlight glitters, and, from behind the silvery curtain, four girls bound onstage. Each sports a pink-striped towel, a matching bow, and a pair of vertiginous shoes. They introduce themselves as the High Heeled Women, chirping their way through the ditty “This Is Our Opening Number.” In its first moments, Night of 1000 Heels (La MaMa) overflows with the effortless, infectious charm of that most American endeavor— “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” But, unlike the impromptu romps in Andy Hardy movies, this one isn’t very good.

In the crinoline-thin plot, scripted by original High Heeled Women Mary Fulham and Cassandra Danz and Sideman author Warren Leight, the stiletto sisters organize a benefit for “The Society for the Prevention of Colorization of B-Movies from the Thirties and Forties.” Variety acts such as Ballet for All Ages and Boys Too, Estrogen Gilberto, and the Iranian Women’s Revolutionary Plate-Spinners (a squealing bunch in slapdash chadors) alternate with episodes of backstage bitchery. The trouble with this talent revue, in addition to the trite behind-the-scenes banter, is the lack of virtuosity. Though the actors, possessed of lovely voices and comedic skills, struggle gamely, little can disguise the sloppiness of the dancing or that the spinning plates are plastic. A proper send-up requires some mastery of its target.

The raunchy, silly script fires off an occasional good one-liner, but it mostly relies on tired patter— as when a pas de deux is called a “pâté de foie gras.” Only the closing number, a Busby Berkeley­style routine, captures the simple delight of the show’s opening. The women, in marabou-trimmed sheaths, exhort the audience to “Just think about girls/Those natural curls.” Trust them, it’ll make you forget the plate spinners. — Alexis Soloski