In the 19th century, fear of premature interment motivated countless coffin innovations. Artisans created sarcophagi with bells, whistles, and speaking tubes so the presumed dead could indicate otherwise. Even if caskets no longer come so equipped, this terror still serves as inspiration, most recently for Buried Alive! A Matchbox Theatre—a miniature macabre suite at Theater for the New City.
Garbed in Victorian drag and a bowler hat, creator Deborah Kaufmann leads the small audience (which at a recent performance included a couple of snickering teens and a pudgy man who refused to wear a shirt) to a small basement space illumined only by a handful of flashlights. After considerable fuss about who ought to sit where and light what, Kaufmann launches into a series of sub-Poe tales staged with figures and props constructed from matchboxes.
The way each box reveals its tiny inhabitants is entrancing, and Kaufmann, who adopts a strangely strong German accent, is sweetly engaging, but neither she nor her assistants seem to have learned the script. Flubbed music cues, a sagging fake moustache, and numerous technical difficulties suggest an incomplete rehearsal. While the show doesn’t deserve entombment, it isn’t yet entirely living.