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My Onliness

A musical homage to Polish avant-garde playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz performed in cabaret and circus style as a fable for adults.

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Daniel Irizarry as the Mad King in a scene from Robert Lyons’ musical “My Onliness” at New Ohio Theatre (Photo credit: Suzanne Fiore Photography)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

My Onliness, Robert Lyons’ latest stage work, is a musical homage to Polish avant-garde playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz (active 1918-1934) but who resurfaced during the 1960’s when his works began to be published and translated. Directed by Daniel Irizarry who also plays the leading role as the Mad King, My Onliness with lyrics by Lyons and original music by Kamala Sankaram, resembles the anarchic East Village plays and happenings of the 1960’s. It is part of a through line from Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896) to Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King (1962). A political fable for adults, My Onliness is performed as a cabaret and circus entertainment with exaggerated costumes, outrageous stage business, and audience participation. While the often obscure text is for the adventurous, it does touch on many hot current issues.

While Witkiewicz was particularly interested in the rise of totalitarianism, existential philosophy and the place of the artist in society, My Onliness includes all of these as well as such recent themes as ecology and torture, and the universal themes of life and death. His Onliness (Irizarry), a tyrannical and mad king, is presented with a petition by one of his subjects, Morbidita (Cynthia LaCruz).  His nemesis the Writer (Rhys Tivey) criticizes his rule and life as we know it. Two court mediums (Dickie Hearts and Malik Paris) carry out the Mad King’s orders as well as perform expressive American Sign Language by Alexandra Wailes and Kailyn Aaron-Lozano. The sung portions of the show are backed by onstage musicians Joanie Brittingham on keyboard and Drew Fleming on guitar, both who also join in as part of the chorus.

Cynthia LaCruz as Morbidita in a scene from Robert Lyons’ musical “My Onliness” at New Ohio Theatre (Photo credit: Suzanne Fiore Photography)

Although Irizarry’s direction is organized anarchy, it follows the lead of such directors as Richard Foreman, Richard Schechner, Robert Wilson and Charles Ludlam. His over the top performance of the Mad King is neatly balanced by Tivey’s level-headed and rational portrayal of the Writer who is eventually destroyed by the tyrant. As Morbidita who is sometimes addressed by the king, LaCruz is passionate and intense. Brittingham is given the final song as an operatic aria that is expertly performed.

The design elements reflect the previous work of The Ridiculous Theatrical Company, the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre and The Performance Group. With the audience sitting on three sides of the playing area, Jungah Han’s minimal set suggests a king’s audience chamber with a great deal of red and a high yellow throne chair. The original costume design by James Terrell, enhanced by additional costumes by Brittani Beresford, suggest Renaissance commedia dell-arte, with the Mad King entirely in red. The lighting by Christina Tang variously changes the mood with different colors.

Rhys Tivey as the Writer in a scene from Robert Lyons’ musical “My Onliness” at New Ohio Theatre (Photo credit: Suzanne Fiore Photography)

My Onliness is not for those who like their theater conventional and easy to understand. It is, however, audacious, bold and daring. It follows from a long tradition of European avant-garde theater while at the same time covering themes that are topical today. The cast is entirely in tune with both the cabaret and circus atmosphere that the production creates. It is mind expanding while being infuriatingly obscure. This is a show for those looking for something off the beaten path and that will not resemble anything you have seen recently. It is surprising that Witkiewicz’s own plays like The Water Hen, The Madman and the Nun, The Crazy Locomotive and The Mother are not performed in New York by the more adventurous theater companies.

My Onliness (through September 24, 2022)

One-Eighth Theater and IRT Theater

New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, west of Hudson Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.newohiotheatre.org

Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (838 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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