On a weekend jaunt to a rural town in upstate New York, a member of the Civilians—a new theater troupe of arch up-and-comers—made an appalling discovery. A resident informed her that while filming the feel-good ’96 flick Fly Away Home, the Disney crew had imprinted local geese and then abandoned them to freeze. When injustice calls, what are actors to do? Pile into a station wagon; drive to Long Lake, New York; and create a Laramie Project-style piece about the frozen flock entitled Canard, Canard, Goose? (Here).
But the Civilians get their flight plan royally feathered up. In the course of interviews they determine that Fly Away Home was shot in Ontario and that the geese were treated quite well. Long Lake had provided the backdrop for a French-Canadian nature documentary on geese and no birds were harmed by the making of that film either. (It’s as if the members of the Tectonic Project had travelled to Laramie only to discover Matthew Shepard had been tortured in Nebraska and not so much tortured as fed delicious cake.) When your premise falls apart, what’s a young company to do? Put on a show anyway.
The lively, insouciant piece that results chronicles the Civilians’ fowl experience. Spirited musical numbers dot the action, which consists of re-creations of Civilians brainstorming sessions and interviews with predictably hickish upstaters. The local stereotyping is trite at best (offensive at worst), but there’s real joy when the Civilians play themselves in all their misplaced, mistaken, vegetarian self-righteousness. Besides, it’s not every company that can write bilingual comic songs (a shout-out to those French Canadians) or screw up in such a delightfully quackerjack fashion. —Alexis Soloski
A Show About—Fuck You!
The villain of Kirk Wood Bromley’s Syndrome (Greenwich Street Theatre) is a rare, inherited neurological disorder characterized by involuntary body movements and uncontrollable vocal noises—a disease otherwise known as Tourette’s syndrome. As performed by Joshua Lewis Berg, it’s a malicious little ogre of a guy—possessive, vindictive, and foul-mouthed —who relentlessly preys on the good nature of our hapless narrator, also played by Joshua Lewis Berg. Watch how the diabolical villain turns the simplest task—the making of a sandwich, say—into a frenzied ordeal of self-doubt and invective. Or consider the way it bursts onto the stage (literally) at the most inopportune moments—for example, when the hero’s parents are in town or, for that matter, whenever the hero, Egon, is awake or conscious or simply within a hundred miles of another human being. Like the troll from the fairy tale, it thrives on its own nastiness and won’t go away without exacting some sacrifice. Or maybe it just won’t go away at all.
Let’s note in passing that there’s something peculiarly riveting about Tourette’s, on or off the stage. But having said that, I’ll turn your attention to Bromley’s elegant, if ingratiating, script, which manages to be thoughtful and irascible, often within the same beat, and which plays with our own discomforting associations and stereotypes. Yes, the overenunciated themes stray distressingly far into Oprah territory—especially when cornered by an obligatory conclusion—but worry not, this is no disease-of-the-week movie. Above all, I give you Berg, an actor of uncompromising talent. According to the program, Berg “lives” with Tourette’s himself, though you could never tell from his focused and unerring performance. Wherever he goes from here, let’s hope he keeps confounding expectations. —Jeffrey Bivens
A Saga of Ethiopian Jews
The haunting wail of an Eastern tribe wafts into the darkness to the twitter of a primitive flute. Bavel (La Mama) whisks you instantly and intensely to somewhere else, but you can’t place just where. The piece disorients deliberately. If any people should know in their bones about dislocation, it’s the Ethiopian Jews—the lost Black Hebrews recently “returned” to Israel. As created and directed by Moshe Malka out of the memories of the mostly Ethiopian Netela Theatre of Jerusalem, the play melds traditional music and myth with contemporary angst. It also uses (with projected supertitles) four languages—Amharic, Hebrew, English, and Swedish.
Bavel spins a story within a story, the told tale reflecting ironically on its frame. The village fool, after much clowning, agrees to recite “The Bewitched Prince” to a motley marketplace assembly. With pageantry and drums, a regally garbed bridal procession dances in. But a wicked wizard sweeps the princely groom into a prison tower, and the princess passes years in lonely longing. Between episodes, a young woman loses patience with her grandma’s endlessly repeated story of lost love. A father, seeking a new land, promises his daughter she will be a “princess.” A villager rapes a little girl.
Some sequences seem contrived: A militaristic Swedish bureaucrat hawks a distant province, a settler obsesses over planting eucalyptus trees. Mostly, though, Bavel weaves a spell of rapt expectancy out of its expressive elements: folk movement, Elite Veber’s vibrant costumes, Dani Fishof’s atmospheric lighting, and especially Ehud Banai and Zena Adhanani’s ethereal music of chanting and harmonies. The actors project charm and more: Some scenes provoke and disturb. In the fairy tale, the royal couple live happily ever after. Among the listeners, the pilgrim whose father promised her a kingdom becomes a whore. —Francine Russo