Friday, October 17, 2008
BOTTOM LINE: Downtown theatre at it's best. Edgy, intelligent, slightly bizarre and entertaining.
The latest import from Philadelphia's Pig Iron Theatre Company is currently playing to a sold out run at The Ohio Theatre. Chekov Lizardbrain tells the story of an eccentric man who wants to buy a home from three brothers grieving the recent loss of their mother. The creators of this piece take a minor character from Checkov's The Three Sisters and put him in the forefront of this tale. He doesn't know how to properly relate to others which complicates matters when his story is told in present day and in the style of Chekovian drama where no one says what they mean and biting subtext runs rampant. The actions starts in a Safeway in small town USA where the characters enjoy an afternoon tea and discuss the the selling of the family home. From that moment, the audience is taken on a whirlwind ride through the human conscious where the action switches from contemporary drama to Chekovian where you might not always know exactly what is happening, but you will no doubt be fascinated.
All right, if you don't know who Anton Chekov is, here is a very brief and off-the-cuff summary of what you will need to know to enjoy this play. Chekov is one of the most famous playwrights in the world of theatre. He's right up there with Shakespeare for some. The characters in his plays rarely say what they are actually thinking. There are two sometimes three layers of subtext that are being played in a single line. For example: if someone in a Chekovian play asked someone, "How are you feeling today?" The other character might reply, " The weather is frightfully cold for this time of year." So, obviously this could be taken in many ways: I feel awful, I don't want to tell you how I feel, I'm emotionally dead inside, You're rude for asking me, I'm actually happy but feel about it, The weather actually is frightfully cold for this time of year, or myriad of other meanings. So, you can imagine the difficulty that one would face if they had trouble reading human emotions and intent and then were thrown into the world of Anton Chekov. And that's what makes this piece so damn intriguing.
You may be asking yourself, "Why the hell is this play called null null?" Well, the play explores the principal that the human brain is divided into three sections: The upper half-the Human; the middle-the Dog; and the lower-the lizard. This lower part of the brain is the basest form of brain interaction and the point from which the other parts of the brain evolved. From my understanding, the upper parts of our brain control the lower, simpler parts of the brain. Our main character is clearly more in touch with the lowest part of his brain and doesn't fully understand human interactions. If that doesn't make sense to you, that's all right. I don't know that I fully understand it but I still loved this show.
It's not often that a play accepts that an audience will run with lofty neuroscience theory and have a knowledge of the basic principals of Chekovian drama and style. It's hard to talk about all of Chekov Lizardbrain in a short written form. After the show, I was so excited about what I had just seen that I wanted to talk about every aspect of it. The technical aspects were amazing for such a small theatre. Anna Kiraly's set was beautiful and probably one of the best sets that I have seen for an off-off-Broadway Show. It was warm, inviting, and very innovative. James Clotfelter's lighting design was on the same superior level as well. He captured the playful and eerie character of the piece with flying colors. The ensemble of actors, who also helped create the piece, hit the nail on the head with their performances. James Snugg created one of the most bizarre characters I have seen in a long time with his incarnation of Chekov Lizardbrain. I also particularly loved Geoff Sobelle's portrayal of the youngest brother Sascha. He played the Chekovian ingeniue to a tee and then turned around and delivered an honest, angsty portrait of a man facing middle age and a scary new chapter in his life. Dan Rothenberg directs the wacky ensemble in a smart, controlled balancing act of non-realism, comedy, and contemporary drama.
I think that Chekov Lizardbrain is everything that "Downtown" theatre should be. It's smart, gritty, thought provoking, fun, and pushed the theatrical envelope in a way that few shows do. If you like innovative theatre, and aren't afraid to be challenged a little, then you will fall in love with Chekov Lizardbrain. I am totally pumped to see what else comes out of Pig Iron Theatre Company. Thank you to the SoHo Think Thank for recognizing that there is a void in smart avant guard theatre in New York and that people do want to see it, as is evident by the sold out run of Chekov Lizardbrain. I hope beyond all hopes that we will see more work from these creative guys here in New York again very soon. If not, Philadelphia isn't that far away, and if you are in the area, you have to check out what this Theatre Company is up to. I hope that the run of this show is extended so that more people can experience this truly unique theatrical experience.
(Chekov Lizardbrain plays at The Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street. Showtimes are Sundays 2pm and 7pm, Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 7pm and 10pm, and Saturdays at 8pm
For ticket Availability call 212-868-4444 or visit smarttix.com. Find out more about Pig Iron Theatre Company at pigiron.org.