“That’s a mean rat!” cries an affronted eight-year-old girl. The rodent in question— personated by a strapping man in a furry suit— attempts to wrest away the bottles of three bediapered babes, also played by strapping men. The kids in the audience don’t like that rat one bit.
Survival: New York may concern unfortunate children, botanicals, and floral growth as a metaphor for coming of age, but The Secret Garden it ain’t. Rather, Survival marks Theater for the New City’s 28th foray into agitprop pageantry— its annual “street theater extravaganza.” A topical and timely morality play, it follows the adventures of three boys born in the Lower East Side on the same night in 1972. As the boys blossom into men— while fighting off rats and cops and poverty, oh my!— so the vacant lot on their block blossoms into a community garden. The garden provides shade, food, fresh air, and solace from the menacing environs. Cue the entrance of the evil mayor, developers, and snobs bent on a campaign of gentrification. Boo! Hiss!
Survival, a traveling outdoor production, may suffer from a facile plot, didactic speeches and songs (one rollicking number: “My Kid Has Asthma”), spotty acting, and multitudinous sound problems, but it does not fail to delight its intended audience. Perched atop multicolored milk crates, parents and kids clap and cheer at the gung-ho production numbers and silly sight gags. And, to its credit, the show maintains an air of tender naïveté and hopefulness rarely seen
on local stages. How green is this garden? Very—
and rightly so.