Destroy All Monsters
By Radiohole, at the Performing Garrage
On mist-shrouded Manhattan—”the westernmost of the Japanese isles”—in the village of Madison Avenue, a cigarette-wielding femme and a pack of gray flannel suits prepare to do battle with a prehistoric monster, a gigantic advertising campaign, a nuclear threat, a political allegory, or perhaps a poststructuralist discourse. Like a windshield smashed but unshattered, the elements of plot in Radiohole’s Rodan web and diffuse. A beauty queen, Harvey’s Cerebral Tequila, a girl rock group, some very vulgar pictionary, and reflections on Eisenhower-era intrigue suggest little correlation, but they giddily fuse into an indelible whole. Though Radiohole describe the piece as a “hermetic meditation on failure,” it’s more properly a successful exploration of culture damage and theatrical possibility.
In deconstructed business garb and white platform heels, a quartet of performers—Erin Douglass, Eric Dyer, Scott Halvorsen Gillette, and Maggie Hoffman—zoom down their nonlinear road. On a jerry-built set littered with low-tech electronics, a mélange of dialogue, monologue, and video intersperses with Foremanesque elements such as piercing screams and slashing lights and the Wooster Group-ish technique of stepping in and out of character. But antecedents aside, Radiohole create a piece that’s eminently original and enjoyable, even a little dangerous (the set, tech, and Budweiser tallboys tossed at the audience hardly seem fit for human use). So while the name and character of their archnemesis remain ever unknown, consider it safe to say Radiohole win. I hope Japan is properly grateful. —Alexis Soloski
Man in the Flying Lawnchair
By the 78th Street Theatre Lab
We hear Car Talk hosts Click and Clack erupt into laughter over Larry Walters’s ascent to 16,000 feet in a lawn chair borne aloft by helium-filled weather balloons. Larry (Toby Wherry) sits onstage listening dreamily, then blows his brains out. The zaniness of the venture and the somberness of his suicide a decade later are the competing themes in the 78th Street Theatre Lab’s Man in the Flying Lawn Chair, a notable addition to their “From Page to Stage” series.
In the first half we watch Larry, possessed by his idée fixe, experiment over and over with weights and balance. In one hilarious scene, he suspends a wooden beam over a ladder, hooks the lawn chair to one side and a bucket of Coke bottles to the other. To balance the two, he frantically drinks down the bottles, achieving a triumph of equilibrium—and the audience bursts into applause. The stunts get even funnier as our hero gets closer to lifting off, with the encouragement of his devoted girlfriend Carol and her comically blind ma.
After a flurry of TV appearances following his flight, Larry embarks on an endless small-town lecture tour, drifting away from Carol and his roots, whatever those are. This part is unsatisfying because we’ve never learned enough about Larry to understand—or even intuit—the presumed emptiness that leads him to kill himself.
Overall, though, the piece is a treat, cooked up collaboratively by the company. Eric Nightengale’s ebullient direction propels it along, and the cast is terrific: Kimberly Reiss as feet-on-the-ground Carol; Carey Cromelin as her ditzy, blind mother; and, most of all, Wherry, who creates the endearing luftmensch Larry—loser as winner, winner as loser. —Francine Russo
Kicking the Beckett
By Samuel Beckett, at the Kraine Theatre
A puckish young man wearing a flowing red chiffon skirt and blank tank-top saunters regally before his trio of Supremes-like backup performers. No, this isn’t a warmup drag act at Escuelita’s, but Negative Antelope’s theatrical rendition of Samuel Beckett’s screenplay Eh Joe. If you listen carefully between the production’s sudden bursts of disco, you might be able to hear the playwright rolling around in his grave. Beckett, of course, never had much of a sense of humor when it came to auteurial freedom; he’d sic his attorneys after anyone imposing their half-baked concepts on his plays. This club-kid version of Eh Joe realizes his worst fears. It’s a travesty, plain and simple—though a travesty that paradoxically earns a bit of its theatrical existence through a kind of irreverent Beckettian playfulness.
The brief scenario involves an unseen woman harassing an aging man about his past relationships with women, one of whom committed suicide apparently out of dejected love. Unlike the BBC film, which focuses on the haggard face of Tom MacGowran as he listens to the carping of Sian Phillips’s lushly sardonic voice, Cradeaux Alexander and his all-female chorus speak the plaintive words to some invisible Joe. Instead of seeing the effect of the blistering recollections, we are treated to their campy, over-the-top delivery. Prancing around like VH1 divas with skeleton-head canes, the cast jauntily takes turns twisting the verbal knife. For an encore, they run through the text a second time as a bitchy tea party. Though little emotional resonance survives this sporty treatment, there’s plenty of fiendish wit and even a little gratuitous nudity—not Beckett obviously, but not bad as theatrical indiscretions go. —Charles McNulty