Every park has its service road. Unremarkable, it links compost heaps and equipment sheds. Nothing could be more mundane, though in emergencies such as the tornado that plowed through Prospect Park in 2010, it might enable a heroic endeavor or two. That same path provides the organizing idea of Adhesive Theater Project’s The Service Road, and while it may facilitate the park’s clean-up efforts post-storm, it fails to do its job of connecting the narrative strands of this freakish and unsatisfying tale.
Author and former Obie laureate Erin Courtney is responsible for this story about a park guide, Lia (Kalle Macrides), on the trail of a toddler she has glimpsed wandering, implausibly, through fields and forests in the wake of a cataclysmic weather event. Implausibly, perhaps even impossibly, because the toddler is a Tony Oursler-style video puppet (manipulated by Caroline Tamas) given to strange cries of delight and wonder, and Lia is, more pertinently, a schizophrenic, whose illness comes crashing down on her as swiftly as a tree limb in 80-mph winds. Once her demons are let loose, the nature that formerly gave her peace cloaks itself in dystopian darkness, as she begins to hear voices that speak to her from oversize birds eggs and comes to engage in some rather unsettling embracing of the great outdoors. Lia is no Camp Fire Girl, to say it nicely. Purportedly about “notions of service” and attempting a parallel with Herculean myth (resulting in a gratuitous scene where Lia must summon heroic strength to quell a volcano of exploding porta potties), the text veers between horror, fantasy, and the grotesque without satisfying any of its more noble ambitions.
Directed by Meghan Finn, the production is a collaborative effort with the New York City College of Technology, where the company is in residency. As a jump start to budding careers in stage management and the like, the show serves a purpose. For the public, The Service Road’s biggest rewards owe to its sound and video design, which offer imaginative flourishes or moody undertones to Lia’s journey through the park and her past. Mark Bruckner creates a lush aural landscape of rustlings, grumblings, bird calls, and those pesky voices, which amplify Lia’s every step and thought. The video backdrop imagined by Natalia de Campos and Cory Einbinder (who also plays the park denizens confronted by Lia’s madness) layers otherworldly dimensions on her struggle for sanity.
But as an exploration of “service” (volunteer efforts post-Sandy come to mind), this Road leads nowhere.