A Lecoq Cocktail

Losers, ya gotta love ’em. They’re the essence of comedy—as well as of opera, Russian novels, and cartoons. In Three Dark Tales (45 Bleecker), the absurdly talented Theatre O pillages all these genres and a few more. With stylized movement, mime, and invented languages, the four Lecoq-trained performers—Joseph Alford, Sarah Coxon, Lucien MacDougall, and Carolina Valdés—enact the comical-tragical lives of three coworkers.

And what a trio they are. Mr. Tibble (Alford), office drudge and worm under his wife’s (Coxon’s) stiletto heel, seeks to rebel; doomed Amelia (Valdés), whose parents have shredded her dreams of opera singing, reaches for milliseconds of joy; and Frank (MacDougall), bastard boss and abysmal hubby, gets his.

The troupe, who also wrote the piece, mangles language hilariously. In one tour-de-force bit, Tibble’s harpy of a wife barrages him with Italo-Jabberwock demands that are fiendishly comprehensible. The actors excel at physical comedy. In one of many adroitly mimed scenes, the cuckolded Tibble cranks up his old Yugo, creaks through his gears, and nearly chokes himself fastening his seat belt while his sleek rival guns his Jaguar and roars away. In another, a dream sequence, Amelia and her pushy parents paddle a convincing underwater ballet after she swallows a fish. The company also offers up taut mini-dramas, such as a brutal murder glistening in red light, compliments of Coxon, a razzle-dazzle designer.

Alford, who directs, conducts this strange symphony with a feel for timing, music, and gesture. Yet for all its gifts, the one the company lacks is restraint. In each of these inventions, their operating principle seems to be that if once is good, thrice is better. So the routines grow a little less funny with each repetition. Art may be long, but it shouldn’t feel that way. —Francine Russo

Steamed Parent Irks Spouse

The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Medea has a site-specific quality that adapter-director Alfred Preisser certainly intends. Here’s a woman abandoned by her husband and left to raise two children on her own. Not, according to statistics, an unusual Harlem scenario. To underscore his socially conscious purpose, Preisser has the errant Jason confront Medea by snarling, “I don’t need you, bitch!” The outburst elicits one of the numerous “oooohs” heard during the terse and invigorating 70-minute treatment. Preisser also doesn’t want anyone to overlook the play’s significance in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In the dialogue, which he has based in part on Jean Anouilh and Rex Warner translations, he carefully throws in a remark about “the choice between civility and barbarism.”

Medea, in which an argument for infanticide is presented and then acted upon, may be the dramatic work that most illustrates the saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Preisser presses Euripides’ point home. Every element he introduces underlines the rage. The music by Kelvyn Bell and David “Red” Harrington moans ceaselessly. When Medea wants to observe Jason grieving on learning his sons are dead, she perches ominously on set designer Anne Lomel’s perilous scaffolding. The women of the agitated chorus, their faces painted, repeatedly stamp their bare feet to express anger. Arthur French’s Kreon, in whose kingdom the action unfolds, is regally inflamed at his foreign daughter-in-law’s insubordination. Lawrence Winslow, strapping and graceful as a mountain lion, delivers Jason’s lines with a pampered male’s arrogance. As Medea, April Thompson wears a red dress (Kimberly Glennon’s design) and plays with white heat. She makes Medea’s resolve something that could cause gods to tremble. —David Finkle

Give Me That Formula!

Experiment: Does The Secret Order, the centerpiece of this year’s EST/Sloan Project festival of plays about science, really have much to do with science at all? Materials include one opening-night performance consisting of a script by Bob Clyman, direction by Jamie Richards, a cast of four, and assorted design elements.

Observations: Dr. William Shumway (Liam Craig), a promising cancer researcher, finds himself caught up in a whirl of journal publications, grant proposals, and ethical conundrums when his studies—initially so successful—begin to sour. Beset by a power-hungry boss, an idealistic student, and a scheming rival, Shumway experiences a moral quandary: Should he falsely claim his experiment’s triumph, or publicize the true results? Though the production benefits from Richards’s adept direction and Craig’s ability to convey a divided mind, its researches never feel surprising or original. The supporting characters are stock types, each with a vice (brusqueness, shrillness, digressiveness) amped up for flavor. Also, the plotting never feels more than workmanlike. Except for the tumors in Shumway’s experiments, there’s never a threat that anything will metastasize; the action exhibits paralyzingly normal growth. The Secret Order‘s formulaic structure proves so predictable, it comes to seem, in fact, that any profession known for sticky senses of ethics (law, politics, even—ahem—journalism) could be substituted without a missed beat. The lab background and talk of cell factors are incidental when “Did you fake that evidence?” could be made interchangeable with “Did you intimidate that witness?” or “Did you take that bribe?”

Conclusion: The Secret Order does not appear to have much to do with science, though it does occasionally bear a striking resemblance to a sturdy high school science-fair entry: thorough methodology, little creative flair. —Alexis Soloski

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