What could be less promising than a trek out to the Bushwick Starr on a rainy night to see an experimental theaterwork called Rocky Philly—which, true to its name, juxtaposes the narrative of Rocky against audio interviews of contemporary Philadelphians talking about the City of Brotherly Love? And yet, like the Italian Stallion himself, Van Cougar’s unprepossessing upstart of a show proceeds to pummel our expectations, drawing from a seemingly inexhaustible well of craft, cleverness, and Sweet Science. Recalling such divergent writers and artists as Mikhail Bakhtin, Studs Terkel, Anna Deavere Smith, and, well, Sly Stallone, the production separates the visual and the aural, appropriating Rocky‘s movement and mise en scène, as well as the thoughts and stories of ordinary people, delivered in their own voices. Meticulousness prevails in both realms, from the miming of a boxing match or feeding of animals in Adrian’s pet store, to preserving every malapropism in the interviews.
The result, rather than being disorienting, illuminates (and moves), as the rough-and-tumble real-life stories bump up against the archetype and formula of a Hollywood fairy tale. In the end, I wasn’t sure who was victorious: the ear or the eye. Cut me, Mick! Cut me!