Theater archives

In Les Freres Corbusier’s New Musical, Robert Moses Takes On Old Combatants


What do Le Corbusier (France’s architect of modernism) and Robert Moses (New York’s ruthless mid-century urban planner) have to do with each other? And what connection could these master builders possibly have to the Freemasons, Joseph Goebbels, the Home Shopping Network, Jesus Christ, and a bunch of bunny rabbits? In their newest creation, Les Freres Corbusier—a delightfully freewheeling young company that is not at all French, but completely au courant—demonstrates all this and more. Driven by director Alex Timbers’s inventive whimsy, the group offers a tour de force of ironic pageantry, fueled by pox-on-your-houses political indignation and plenty of smartass humor.

The company modestly calls their namesake production Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert Moses. Timbers and playwright Adam Scully create a postmodern scramble as supersaturated as their title. The piece begins with “Boozy” (as his girlfriend calls Le Corbusier) discovering that his high-density aspirations for urban architecture also enchant the Nazis. But that ghost soon gives way to young Robert Moses, who turns Boozy’s urban dream into scheme through local, state, and federal machinations, bullying, and good old-fashioned megalomania. As Moses (winningly played by Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum) ecstatically transforms New York City, razing neighborhoods and uprooting families to make way for parks, expressways, and new high-rise apartments, he morphs into a with-me-or-against-me demagogue, pitted in a battle against “evil” community boards led by none other than Jane Jacobs (Nina Hellman).

Les Freres’s improbable cocktail of history, ideas, and erudite jokes goes down fast and easy, through film clips, tongue-in-cheek song and dance, and digressive sidebar scenes. With a large and spirited cast, the company concocts a mock-melodrama stealthily advancing its political argument through comic inversion—a strategy that bizarrely channels the spirit of Bertolt Brecht (and even one-ups him in a hilarious late courtroom scene).

Though Boozy has several moments of sophomoric excess, Timbers and Scully have more in mind than silliness or show-off Ivy Leaguery. Their playful mixing of modern planners and 20th-century monsters underlines how would-be utopians and totalitarians share the same lust for control. Behind its colorful lampoon of Moses’s undemocratic ascent, Boozy commemorates how a complacent public allowed its city’s total transformation through corruption and unsustainable ideas, then thought better of it: Builders beware.

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