The Germ Project: Biggies Small


In poetry, an epic denotes a narrative poem written in grand style, concerning the adventures of a larger-than-life hero and typically including an endless catalog of ships. In the theater, an epic means a really long play by Brecht. But with The Germ Project, New Georges, the distaff downtown theater company, apparently wants to alter that definition.

Artistic director Susan Bernfield recently commissioned four affiliated playwrights (Kara Lee Corthron, Lynn Rosen, Kathryn Walat, and Anna Ziegler) to craft epics, works of “scope and adventure” that many theaters might declare “unproduceable,” either owing to the size of their casts or the reach of their ambitions. Now New Georges has presented the results. Sort of.

In the smaller space at 3LD, on a mostly bare stage, four directors and 13 actors offer 20-page excerpts of the commissioned plays. Kings don’t feature. Neither do monsters or gods or battle-hardened warriors, although there is a talking cat and a pair of D&D devotees with huge charisma points. Despite Bernfield’s encouragement, the plays all have small casts—just five or six characters. Most tend toward innocuous magical realism and characters with metaphysical cravings. (Then again, some cravings are more pedestrian—like those for drugs and sacks of cash.)

Even so, the plays don’t have much in common, and it’s a little puzzling that New Georges has made this assemblage open to the public—it more closely resembles a backers audition or a pitch meeting with 3-D PowerPoint. Still, there’s pleasure to be had in watching playwrights work to stretch themselves.

Perhaps the most fully realized piece is Walat’s This Is Not Antigone, a backwoods riff on the ancient myth set to Patsy Cline and directed by Portia Krieger. Old stories also inform Corthron’s AliceGraceAnon, a play that jumbles Grace Slick and the narrator of Go Ask Alice with Lewis Carroll’s pinafored heroine. Right now the mash-up feels forced, but the excerpt ends just when things might get interesting. In Ziegler’s Florida-set Evening All Afternoon, an elderly man and his housekeeper pine for lost love, and in Rosen’s Goldor & Mythyka: A Hero Is Born, Midwest dweebs yearn to knock over an armored car.

It remains to be seen whether New Georges or other companies will commit to fully producing these plays. Still, “Sing in me, Muse, and tell me of fantasy role-play nerds” kind of has a ring to it.