A SNOWFALL IN BERLIN--THE BIG FUNK
April 9, 2014
NyLon Fusion has two shows in rep at LaTea – The Big Funk by John Patrick Shanley and A Snowfall In Berlin by Don Nigro. The linkage between the two? A bathtub and its use.
Snowfall was commissioned by NyLon to pair specifically with Funk. Ably staged by Shaun Peknic, it’s a dense play that has layers upon layers of realities. It’s inspired by film noir; a woman has died – was she murdered or was it suicide? Intrepid detective Mulligan (Don Carter) is determined to find out. But things begin to become surreal as he questions the suspects in the case. The victim, Rosa (Brandi Bravo) was working on a film with these people. And in the film, her character is murdered in the bathtub. In fact, the question arises whether the story is actually happening to the characters or is a vivid hallucination in Rosa’s mind as she freezes to death in the midst of (you guessed it) a snowfall in Berlin. Peknic builds on this and extends the layers into the meta-region – when not performing the characters settle in different areas of the stage and watch the action. Are they offstage or watching the filming of scenes in the movie? Is Mulligan part of the action or outside of it? And does his investigation make him a part of it even if he is an outsider?
If this is hurting your brain, that’s part of the point. Nigro has written a dense, and at times, talky, script that questions the nature of reality itself. The experience of the show is similar to mining for rare and precious jewels. It takes persistent digging and hard work, but gems appear. Peknic and his designers (Cassie Dorland – set and props, Wilburn Bonnell – lights, Andy Evan Cohen – sound) do an excellent job of uniting the design elements to accent the writing. The result is a thought provoking, if tiring, evening of theatre.
In contrast, Shanley’s The Big Funk is a lighter, more straightforward, if preachy piece. We follow the travails of Jill (Ivette Dumeng). After a degrading and disgusting encounter (he rubs Vaseline on her face and in her hair) with a suitor named Gregory (Paul Walling), she meets Austin (Jacob Troy). He takes her home and gives her a bath and then takes her to dinner at his friends’, Fifi (Meghan Jones) and Omar (Josh Sienkiewicz in an excellent turn), home. Over dinner, they discuss the trials and tribulations of modern life and relationships. This culminates in Austin’s final speech about how everyone is up against a big personal funk. Which is delivered by the actor amidst the audience. Naked. Holding a mirror. Subtlety, thy name is not Shanley.
And that’s the biggest problem with this piece. It’s preachy and presumptuous to both its characters and the audience. Unlike Snowfall, the design elements feel sparse and thrown together. While director Lori Kee is clearly trying to help the script by underscoring the comic moments (the dance sequence between Dumeng and Troy is great) and giving things a looser feel (the scene changes are executed and sung by the house band, The Roly Polys), overall the effect feels forced and falls short, not unlike the play itself. The result of the pairing is an uneven balance, tilting things in favor of Snowfall over Funk.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Kelly Johnston