The third floor of the Lower East Side’s University Settlement hosts a kindergarten replete with bulletin boards, cheerful posters, and tubs of art supplies. Some of that youthful enthusiasm seems to have filtered down to the second-floor theater where 600 Highwaymen present Empire City, a gentle if unformed theatrical experiment featuring five actors enjoying playtime.
The show begins like a session of show-and-tell, with actors and audience standing in a circle atop floor mats and sharing announcements (a sister’s engagement, a grandmother’s birthday, a friend’s DJ gig). Then everyone joins in a chorus of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Oddly, the ensuing piece seems more concerned with gerontology, as three actors, all wearing headphones, take turns repeating dialogue ostensibly spoken by an elderly Long Island couple. These sentences tend toward the banal and declarative: “We are in Mineola,” “I love Tab.”
The fun the actors have with these piped-in lines and the occasional dance breaks suggests recent work by the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Yet you may think of plenty of other antecedents while watching—the Open Theater, the Wooster Group, Rude Mechs. That catalog suggests that 600 Highwaymen is still refining their aesthetic. But they have a sweetly earnest, G-rated quality that should serve them well. May we suggest the addition of snack time?