Essentially it’s a glorified and arch 90-minute, scripted, sketch comedy show. The conceit is that it’s inspired by audience suggestions. The composition of the program changes from performance to performance.
Throughout the show, slides are projected of printed extracts from online surveys of people’s theatrical preferences with the dates that they responded. These have been collected over a period of many months. The cast then performs a scene based on these answers.
Several respondents express interest in Hamilton. Wearing frock coats, the company of four then faithfully sings a song from that musical and it’s quite thrilling. They comically have to stop midway due to copyright infringement issues.
An actor holds up a sign with name of a playwright, Chekov, Ibsen, Odets, etc., and another actor then performs a speech from that author.
There’s a wild puppet sequence involving hand marionettes with the likeness of an actor and later cutouts of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debating. During the course of the event there is a modest amount of subtle political commentary.
To represent a portion about women, there’s a terrific, raunchy country and western number with two performers wearing paper doll dresses.
Popular culture references include Malcolm Gladwell, The Matrix and comic book super heroes.
A request for nudity instigates a bit where two performers play rock, paper, scissors and the loser remove an article of clothing until someone in the audience says stop. Later on there is brief, male semi-nudity for jocular effect.
Audience members are brought up a few times as participants. Earlier, when they arrive at the box office for their tickets, they’re encouraged to fill out an index card stating what they would like to see at that performance, and these gets integrated in.
Cast members routinely share autobiographical information about themselves. There are such are personal revelations as having been a male prostitute, painful childhood experiences, and the travails of being a struggling artist in New York City today.
The personable and lively ensemble is refreshingly diverse in terms of age, nationality and ethnicity. They are Nicole Hill, Katy-May Hudson, Dan McCoy and Connor Sampson.
Mr. Sampson created the show and wrote it with the other cast members. He co-directed it with dramaturg Greg Taubman. The staging of the scenes is swift and achieves the suitable tones of humor and occasional seriousness as required.
When the audience arrives, on the bare stage with a white back wall is the very talented, young singer-songwriter Lijie Y playing guitar. Her haunting voice which at times has a chanting quality, also performs in the show’s musical portions.
Technical Director Justin Cornell’s able lighting design adds a modulated visual variety to the production. Ross Jernigan’s projections are mostly graphically pleasing representations of the survey excerpts as well as well chosen illustrative images of various locales.
“This show is not finished…the experiment continues…” announces Sampson at the beginning. This precept is constantly restated and this intrusiveness slows down the show’s pacing. Some of the sequences ramble and are not so accomplished, but then it’s on to the next one as they are uniformly short. These are all exactly as intended features of the overall conception.
This is a production of the New York Neo-Futurists. This alternative, post-modern theater company’s roots go back to a Chicago troupe from 1988. Among their aesthetic principles and concerns are:
From our namesakes, the Italian Futurists came the exultation of speed, brevity, compression, dynamism, and the explosion of preconceived notions. From Dada and Surrealism came the joy of randomness and the thrill of the unconscious. From the theatrical experiments of the 1960’s came audience interaction, breaking down all notions of distance, character, setting, and illusion. Finally, from the political turmoil of the 1980’s came a socially conscious voice and a low-tech, “poor theater” format.
The Great American Drama definitely adheres to these concerns and the result is sporadically entertaining and modestly provocative.
The Great American Drama (February 5, 2017)
The New York Neo-Futurists
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre/ A.R.T. New York Theatres, 502 West 53rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.nyneofuturists.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission