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A CurtainUp Review
Sailor ManAssault and battery has been taken to a new gritty height in the Two-Fisted Theater Company's Sailor Man at the Bleecker Theater. The play, inspired by the 30s cartoon-sailor Popeye,who touted the restorative powers of spinach and won the 2008 NY International Fringe Festival Best Play Award.
In this darkly comic tribute to the Popeye mythos, Sailor Man (Ryan Iverson), Brute (Scott Peterman), and Olive (Lauren Blumenfeld) have taken on real flesh-and-blood and been placed in a naturalistic setting. Their story is a violent triangle, in which the Sailor Man and The Brute realize their mutual need for a wife. To wit: Miss Olive. All 3 characters adhere to their prototypes in the play. Just when you think you can predict the next step in scenario, you'll have the rug pulled out from beneath you as, presto, the straightforward storyline becomes more humanly complex. The show is peppered through with lines of dialogue from the original cartoon ("I'll fight to the finish 'cause I eat my spinach."), magically drench us in nostalgia.
To be sure, this play is not for the squeamish. The fight scenes are executed with all the passion of a Mohammed Ali vs. George Foreman match. Fight choreographer Jacob Grigolla-Rosenbaum crosses realistic violence with cartoon slapstick, and the combined effect is at once hilarious and horrifying. Though we see lots of blood and guts flying onstage, we never worry that any actor has really broken a nose or cracked his cranium. In short, the stage combat and fisticuffs are great displays of stagecraft.
Peter James Cook directs with acrobatic balance and verve. Arija Weddle's costumes are very much to the point. The Sailor Man's marine get-up and the Brute's funny fat man suit have been culled from the Saturday cartoon but boldly interpolated by her imaginative hand. Olive's wardrobe runs the gamut from a simple shift dress, to a casual jersey and shorts, to a very seductive looking silk robe that a Geisha-girl would feel at home with. The grungy set (6 garbage cans strategically arranged on stage) and Samuel Lang Budin's lighting are just right.
Though not meant to be profound, Sailor Man does somehow prove capable of flipping the evening's nonstop fighting into a thought-provoking reflection on our popular culture that surely begs some questions: Why does a violent cartoon like Popeye the Sailor Man appeal to the masses? Does sexual politics distort male female relationships and personalities? As disturbing as the Sailor Man and the Brute's use of brass-knuckle tactics in their fights over Olive is that Olive's fickleness (she alternately champions Popeye and The Brute) slowly devolves into having her killer instincts surface as she literally becomes a femme fatale.
Two-Fisted Theater Company's reprise of what was riginally billed as a Saturday cartoon delivered Sam Shepherd style at the NY Fringe Festival, is again a bang-up entertainment, but with a more seasoned and confident cast.
RumspringaIt would be nice if both parts of this doube bill were equally satisfying. Unfortunately, Peter Zinn's muse is not up to wrestling with the concept of evil in Rumspringa. This is a comedy noir that topples over into tragedy, when a Rumspringa (the Pennsylvania German expression literally translates to "running around") Amish rave turns deadly. This coming-of-age work purports to gives you a chance to explore several persons' life choices, but the storyline has no affecting center, and the six characters are not credible enough to constitute a genuine drama.
in an Indiana cornfield. We get an opening scene on Southwest flight 1079 from L.A. to Chicago, in which we meet 28 year-old surfer Brandon (C.S. Drury) and 57 year-old software executive Steve (Jim Boerlin). It's a cold December night in 2003, and though the passengers are total strangers, they gradually take an interest in each other's lives. The free-spirit Brandon persuades the married family man Steve to join him and Cecily (Mickey Somner) on a Rumspringa rave in an Indiana cornfield. Yes, this is the story of Eden
Of the silly scenes and dance sequences you'll be bombarded with only a few can lay claim to being funny. Jim Boerlin's Steve has a non-functioning brain. His midlife crisis is amusing to watch but his character is really a cartoon, and ultimately forgettable. Mickey Sumner's puckish good looks and sassy acting make her a good fit for hCecily, Brandon's sweetie, but she's much less convincing as Steve's daughter Chelsea. Rounding out the cast are Kirsty Meares as Steve's dotty artist-wife Diane, and C. S. Drury in the dual roles of Brandon and Amish (a stock character ). In a better vehicle, Drury's acting talent would probably lift off.
The problem with Rumspringa is that it treats a dark subject altogether too lightly. Zinn, wearing two professional hats as playwright and director, needs to rein in his comic parade. At first blush the term title seems to loosely correspond to the proverbial expression "sowing one's wild oats," but a rave actually represents something infinitely more dangerous. In short, an Amish teenager on a rave throws care to the wind, and develops a temporary amnesia to the church. The fake liberation is reinforced by the teenager's drinking alcohol, popping Ecstasy, and perversely exploring all kinds of inner demons.
Those who emerge from the theater can testify they have seen the desecration of the Amish traditions in the play. But the flimsy storyline doesn't hold the weight of its subject. Although the final scene somewhat compensates for the preceding frivolities, it calls to mind the old cliché: Too little, too late.