Playwright David Van Asselt’s A Fable is set “Somewhere, almost anywhere, below the equator.” It feels like an academically imagined recreation of something that would have played at LaMaMa in 1967 for a thesis project. Debatably borrowing from Shakespeare, Bertolt Brecht, The Living Theatre, Candide, Urinetown and The Cradle Will Rock, it’s a wearying odyssey.
“WARNING A Fable contains extreme acts of violence including rape, gunshots, stabbing and poisoning. There is also a strobe lighting effect,” is on the sign in the lobby before entering the theater. This cautionary marker really only applies to the first sequence.
Marauding soldiers in this fictional island nation descend on a peaceful farm and brutalize a mother, father and daughter. The daughter and a soldier who wasn’t at the assault later fall in love, are separated and a long eventful journey begins. It’s initially disturbing but after that, strained silliness reigns.
When the audience enters the theater a grungy biker-type bearded man is sleeping on stage and then angrily wakes to make the pre-show announcements concerning turning off cell phones, no photography, emergency exits and unwrapping candy. The tone of extreme broadness is set and that everything ahead is supposed to be hilarious.
An angel and The Devil duel over a man’s soul. A corrupt politician is named Senator Forhire. A pivotal street address is 10th and Mayhem. An evil corporate executive is named Hallie Burton. Songs include “Men Are Pigs” and “The Corruption Song.” There’s a feisty bag lady resembling Mother Courage. Chicago type gangsters violently cause complications. A blind seer steers characters on their path. A presidential election takes place between the incumbent plutocrat and a young reformer overseen by malevolent political operatives.
Talented Hubert Point-Du Jour and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as the Voltarian young couple manage to give engaging and sympathetic performances. The very fine Alok Tewari brings great humanity and believability to the role of the tortured father. Everyone is else is saddled with one dimensional cartoon characters and all do their best and succeed within the limitations of the material. Other satires and parodies have dramatized similar archetypes but had the creative talent to pull them off.
The stagecraft, design and scenic projections are all top notch and the fight direction is superb. Elizabeth Swados composed good music for the songs and interludes. Daniel Talbott’s direction is fast paced, yields often wonderful visual qualities and serves the material well.
The play itself aspires to cleverness but is stale and uninvolving.
A Fable (through June 28th, 2014)
piece by piece productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory in association with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.OvationTix.com
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission