If any local pumpkin patches have reported thefts in recent weeks, you will be tempted to blame Ich, Kürbisgeist, playwright Sibyl Kempson’s collaboration with Big Dance Theater, now running at the Chocolate Factory. Much of the play’s action involves the annual harvest (or is it slaughter?) of winter gourds, at least 100 of which pervade the theater’s dank basement space, with new ones required each performance. Described as an “old tyme agricultural revenge tale for Hallowe’en,” the spooky show churns around 30 audience members who swivel in their chairs to catch the vegetal holocaust.
Kempson is a playwright of authentic, appealing, and full-bore weirdness. Her works amalgamate myth, trash, ingenuity, and thrill. And she clearly has a thing for potentially sentient vegetables, both here and in 2008’s Potatoes of August. In Kürbisgeist, she has crafted a script in an invented language, which sounds a lot like English with Latinate words removed and vowels addled.
The first line, spoken by Tymberly Canale, clad in soiled cotton remnants and an improbable headdress: “Whr I crmt frm, it’s an oold oold woods nr a fields ond faarming.” The cast (uniformly spirited, occasionally sublime) utters these phrases in an accent describable only as Nordic doofus. You can congratulate yourself if you understand more than one sentence out of three.
Thankfully, the words themselves count little in comparison to the deliciously strange world Kempson has imagined and actor-director Paul Lazar has realized (with a considerable assist from choreographer and co-director Annie-B Parson). The plot seems to turn around vengeance occasioned by the wholesale destruction of the genus Cucurbita, but, honestly, between the hermit, the witch, the pumpkin spirit, and a mesmerizing video of a snacking raccoon, I became more than a little lost.
No matter. The creators and cast have fashioned moments of such exuberant, unclassifiable theatricality that asking for narrative unity or linguistic coherence seems churlish. Instead, feast your eyes, ears, and nose on the joyous excess of vegetable flesh and orange-colored eccentricity. And maybe think twice before baking your holiday pies.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 31, 2012