On East 10th Street and Second Avenue, there is a small hole-in-the-wall space in a church that serves as a location for a small off-off-off Broadway production dubbed the Ontological-Hysteric Incubator. Walking into the space was definitely a different experience than I had in previous productions. The setting was a lot more formal: utilizing boom microphones, a large projection screen, and 3-tiered seating. There was definitely sponsorship here; a local beer company provided free beer which didn’t appear to be the only draw. Thankfully.
Why Am I Here?
I have always been a fiendish supporter of the arts. Whatever, whenever I can, I go to see young artists explore new outlets for their craft whether it be through music, dance, painting or the theater. It also helped that this was another production that my friend, Isis was going to be a part of. Go, King!
If you had come for the beer, you would’ve been pleasantly surprised. The beginning, though paced, provided ample interpretations of lofty themes such as: Heaven, Hell, the Battle of the Sexes and Good vs Evil. The play was reduced to three-segments: Heavenly Robe, Carmonk and Black Hole.
What I Hated:
The opening sequence began as if one had stepped into a dream. Three girls, perhaps symbolizing the Holy Trinity, stepped to and fro like flamingo birds through a bog…each step slow and steady. All three girls were dressed in white-hooded panchos decorated with silver trim and some feathers framing their masked faces. It was like a macabre masquerade ball, or wedding (given the tulle-sleeves). Suddenly, a young man joins them carrying a red teddy bear, keeping step with a filmstrip of an Asian man who switches back and forth between a non-descript black tailored suit and samurai robes. The dancers on the floor keep step with the film, dancing sometimes in unison occasionally making gutteral, sometimes melodic sounds. There are no words during this portion of the play. And I have to admit that it was a bit annoying after about two minutes.
Segue into the same young man from the previous scene. He’s typing on his computer, facing the audience while the screen starts to display disturbing sentences like (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘There is a monster here. This place is full of monsters. Look around you.’–and so on. Then, there was a dancer covered by a gold sheet dancing around with what appears to be a bamboo stick. She looks like a baby elephant, traveling ’round the stage. No monsters there. A French woman soon appears on the screen and gives the young man an introduction to sexual ecstasy but I felt that the conversational exchange between the pre-recorded French “angel” and the techie young man, fell flat. It seemed like simple banter and I still didn’t understand where the “monsters” were in this segment. I didn’t really see any.
The play as a whole definitely felt as though the audience were only privy to a portion of a much larger piece that had been trimmed down. Therefore, each segment didn’t feel entirely cohesive.
What I Liked:
Without prejudice, I definitely have to say that Isis King’s performance alongside Feliziano Flores was the highlight of the entire production for three major reasons:
- You could understand it – It was more straightforward than the pieces which sandwiched it.
- Audience Participation – The subplot of this portion of the play was relational and, more cohesive. It didn’t involve too much guess-work and used the 4th Wall of the audience to expound on the scene.
- The performances – The ensemble here worked and played off of each other very well.
I did have an Honorable Mention: Ritsuko Mano who lends her voice, along with her dance ability to the piece in an unobtrusive way; her performance enhances her counterparts. Her improvisation on a wardrobe malfunction involving her red wig was clever and empowered those on the stage to follow her lead.
I enjoyed the disturbing Black Hole segment. The message of curiosity literally killing you was an interesting theme. Meg Hahn was convincing as the menacing Demon Lady. Her madness builds as she warns the young man not to look past a closed door. Her creepy paper-crane meal offering is a marvelous prop as the tension builds on the screen behind both players. Soon the background display is an unsettling close-up of the Demon Lady, swallowing the entire screen. In the foreground, the live Demon Lady plays with a real knife ready to punish the young man for eternity.
Isis, Isis…Ra, Ra, Ra!
Isis was king. There was an ability to grow here in the role of a Sexy Queen, which sounded so limiting on the page, that I wondered if it wouldn’t submit her to reprise her role from Dead City Rapture. Luckily, it didn’t. Instead, Isis was captivating as an intolerant, impatient, hellish woman who cannot seem to be satisfied by her husband. The performance was comedic. Anyone who knows Isis, knows that she is far from the brutal woman she was playing, yet it was believable. She played it with the finesse of a veteran actress of 40’s cinema ~ dramatic, over-the-top and insufferably dissatisfied. Feliziano, although taking a back seat to Isis, still held his own as a coke-fiend, hen-pecked husband who could get no love. Throw in a curious, mischievous servant girl and you’ve got a humorous mix.
Did It Succeed?
In brief: no. When reading the concept of the piece, I felt cheated of the monster payoff. This wasn’t as clearly defined from one segment to another. The drug-addict and the Demon Lady were obviously sinners, but the others were just mild archetypes. Although the intention was to get the audience to feel uneasy about the gray-area human monstrosities of cruelty, viciousness and impatience; it missed the mark. One can’t consider these traits to be monstrous since the term “monster” by definition is “one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character”. I could easily give you instances where everyone has behaved badly but not exactly “monstrously”. The examples were too weak, except in the Black Hole segment.
In closing, it was worth the price of admission and was definitely a great way to spend a Saturday. Broaden your horizons, y’all. Go ahn. I double-dog dare ya!