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A CurtainUp Review
The Race

The  cast of  Race
Natalie Ayton, Al Nedjari, James Flynn, Amit Lahav, and Katharine Markee in The Race
(Photo: Simon Alexander
One man is on a collision course with his future, sprinting toward the most important moment of his life. But will he be ready? How can a man prepare to meet his first child? So reads the leading information on the press release to The Race, currently at 59E59 Theaters as part of its Brits Off Broadway Festival. This most original performance surely is contributing as much motion and energy to the New York theater scene on a relatively inconsequential budget as does the reported $15 million supplied by Disney to fly the Broadway musical Tarzan less than a mile away.

The man (Amit Lahav, the co-director of the creative group known as Gecko, one of London's newest and probably most original theatrical troupes) is first seen literally on a treadmill, which has been cleverly installed to alter its direction as he seems to move forward, enhancing the sense of perpetual movement in this deliberately frenetic seventy minutes or so. Lahav is an especially appealing presence, and as no identified character in particular, he registers as a kind of suave and genial variation on Walter Mitty, an innocent caught up in life's endless pressures and challenges. At times he is manipulated like a marionette, with each cast colleague manipulating one Lahav limb apiece. We see him in encounters with phone erotica, beer and coffee sharing with friends and colleagues, a robbery attempt, and in various stages of anticipated fatherhood, a welcomed status that he nevertheless responds to as if it is a total surprise.

The inexorable mobility of the actors in this supercharged race is mimicked by the props and scenery. The furniture rolls. The set panels slide both vertically and horizontally to suggest the cast is within panels of a comic strip. Beforeall is done, our hero even becomes airborne. When the very plastic quintet of performers emerge in front of these panels they repeatedly amaze us with their athletic agility and clearly demonstrate strong training in mime and dance.

The actors' preference for movement and stage pictures over scripted conversations is evident even when they speak, for all dialogue has an offhand quality -- often deliberately suppressed to a babble. It's as if it really doesn't matter if we don't hear a word in the frequently cacophonic excess. Music, however, is heard often and deliberately draws from the familiar and, of course, the energetic. At times we could well be watching a Mack Sennett silent film, if it weren't for the visceral energy of seeing the performers in person and non-stop at their feverishly high-energy pitch. One hilarious clownish effect has the central actor attempting to get out of the spotlight, but unable to escape the lumination which instinctively moves with him.

The birth scene itself is a kind of magical chaos, and here perhaps is the core of the Gecko stage creed: Farce and naturalism collide in a world in which movement is king. In the end, we are left wondering, "Whose race is it anyway?" Is this the race of the individual with him/herself? Is it a competitive race with others? Or is it a race with our biological clock? Possibly Gecko would award an affirmative "Yes!" to all options, and certainly this troupe's splendidly original work sends us out of the theater with an experience that will be as hard to forget as it is to describe.

Gecko's The Race
Written and Directed by Amit Lehav and Al Nedjari
Lighting Design: Kristina Hjelm and Gecko
Costume Design: Ellan Parry and Gecko
Prop Production and Design: Torben Schacht and Gecko Cast: Amit Lahav, Al Nedjari, James Flynn, Katharine Markee and Natalie Ayton
Running Time: one hour, 10 minutes. No intermission.
Presented by Fuel as part of Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59 East 59th Street
From 5/16/06 to 6/04/06; opened 5/18/06
Tuesday to Saturday at and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Viewed by Brad Bradley at the Sunday, May 21 matinee.
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