Ah, Kafkaland— that world of nameless crimes, faceless bureaucrats, loose women, doomed men, dust, and decay. Synaesthetic Theatre, an ambitious clutch of recent NYU Experimental Theatre Wing grads, journey to those paranoiac shores with Rot (Surf Reality), a multimedia version of The Trial. While the company does capture some of the novel’s angst and anomie, their overabundance of ideas undercuts their production, offering diffusion in place of claustrophobia.
Directors Joy Leonard and Chris Nichols use live video feeds, distorted vocals, voice-overs, lip-synching, a trip-hop soundtrack, prerecorded film, cross-gender casting, dance, and stylized acting. Several of these elements do provide thematic complements to the play. The video of the stage action, though oddly framed and inadequately lit, presents each scene from multiple perspectives, emphasizing the spectator’s role as witness. The ambient soundscape, mixed live, cleverly samples bits of dialogue into its loops, creating a constant echo.
But the acting suffers alongside this technological arsenal. As if to compensate for the myriad distractions, the players stamp and bluster, employing grandiose gestures and hammy accents. Furthermore, their style proves woefully imprecise. In the dance interludes each actor executes the choreography at a slightly different pace, contrasting with the precision of the prerecorded film and engaging music. Yet Margaret O’Sullivan does fashion a strong Joseph K, and Maximilian Frey has a hilarious turn as a film-noirish femme fatale.
Though none of the director’s choices are indefensible, the multimedia overkill does occasionally render Rot a trial all its own. —Alexis Soloski
God only knows what funnyman Andy Kaufman’s grandmother actually looked like, but Rinne Groff— wearing a flannel bathrobe, stylish babushka, and geriatric sunglasses— definitely seems part of the same gene pool. When she arthritically jumps down from her chair to give wrestling-crazed grandson Andy (Leo Marks) a double karate chop, it’s hard not to giddily wonder whether the twentysomething actress has broken a hip. The sight of her convulsively shouting “Stop!” as you-know-who performs his feat of counting from one to 322 not only earns our profound gratitude, it brings the comedian’s bewildering shtick flickeringly back to life.
Just as it was impossible not to wonder what the hell was going on when watching the real Kaufman, so is it baffling to experience Elevator Repair Service’s uneven tribute to him. Language Instruction: Love Family vs. Andy Kaufman (Flea Theater)— a revival of the company’s 1994 collage blending Berlitz-style German and Dutch classes with highlights from Kaufman’s bizarre career— works best when Groff shuffles to the ludicrous fore. The problem isn’t so much that Marks makes a rather Howdy DoodyishLatka, but that the piece lacks the hilarious conviction and pained urgency of the best of Kaufman’s radical nonsense.
Not that there aren’t deliriously winning moments— such as Katherine Profeta’s burst of seismic choreography that leaves the ensemble writhing on the floor or Colleen Werthmann’s deadpan depiction of Kaufman’s girlfriend Elaine Boozler. And though the device of foreign-language instruction voice-overs should be permanently retired, there’s no denying that Kaufman’s wit both begs for— and defies— standard comic translation. —Charles Mcnulty
The musical’s called Exactly Like You (York Theatre Company), but the score doesn’t include the old Dorothy FieldsJimmy McHugh standard of the same title. The plot features once-married lawyers on opposite sides of a court case involving another disillusioned couple, but it’s not an adaptation of Adam’s Rib. Unfortunately, as Exactly Like You unfolds, audiences may wish it were a song-ized Hepburn-Tracy film and did include the Fields-McHugh evergreen. (Why would anyone— let alone Cy Coleman— name a musical after a hit tune? The answer: the same fuzzy thinking that afflicts the entire enterprise.)
Arlene and Martin Murphy are trying to convince a judge and two jurors that Kevin Bursteter did or didn’t engage in assault-and-battery when his mother-in-law, Priscilla Vanderhosen, accompanied him and wife on an anniversary trip to the Caribbean. (Kevin locked the battle-ax mother in the bathroom.) Arlene and Martin each present their arguments, as Mrs. Vanderhosen makes a play for the bribe-friendly judge, who’s up for reelection, and as those two jurors— he’s from the North, she’s from the South— air their cultural differences.
Not much brain behind this show then, but maybe a few itchy palms. What saves it from being a total waste of time are two numbers (despite A.E. Hotchner’s graceless lyrics) that almost have something to do with the narrative— the infectious “Don’t Mess Around With Your Mother-in-Law” and “Rio.” Not that the ditties are top-drawer Coleman, mind, but that director-choreographer Patricia Birch, straight from Band in Berlin and undaunted, puts her vivacious cast through clever paces. Otherwise, musical comedy boundaries haven’t been pushed, but retreated from. —David Finkle