“Remember the Company motto: “Out With the Old!” advises a stern waitress to a group of vociferous senior citizens unhappy with the quality of their seaweed soup at a Food Distribution Center in the beautifully theatrical 70-minute Brechtian musical fantasia, The Legend of the Waitress and The Robber.
Written by Renee Philippi, this witty mockery of authoritarianism is derived from Friedrich Schiller’s play The Robbers and the Korean novel The Story of Hong Gildong. Composer and lyricist Lewis Flinn’s smart original score joyously recall’s Kurt Weil’s galvanizing melodies and Bertolt Brecht’s biting lyrics. It’s rousingly rendered by musical directors Jacob Kerzner and Hee Eun Kim.
Citizens of a food-challenged dystopian land are bound by a contract which compels them to own cell phones that track their movements. Books are illegal and are destroyed in an ominous sharp-toothed shredder.
No public gathering,
No theater to be seen
No religion or relationships
Except for with your screen
The past must be forgotten
None must protest or decline
For those that break the contract
Will pay a hefty fine
After a series of Ms. Philippi’s clever expository scenes, the age-old plot emerges. The dispossessed second son of the Company’s king and who has a villainous older brother joins a group of militant burglar-masked outcasts. In Robin Hood-fashion, they steal and smash people’s cellphones to overthrow the Company. “Live cellularly free!”
The racially, age and physically diverse ensemble of Carlo Adinolfi, Rolls Andre, Ju Yeon Choi, Hye Young Chyun, Nam Pyo Kim, Lisa Kitchens, Eunji Lim, Yura Noh, James A. Pierce III, and Kyongsik Won all dynamically portray a host of stock characters. While clad in costume designer Laura Anderson Barbata’s shimmering gray garments, each of these personable performers offer exuberant characterizations in their various roles through their superior vocal and singing skills and commanding physicality.
Co-directors Eric Nightengale and Philippi’s precise, lively and choreographic staging achieves picturesqueness and momentum. The king wheeled about on a throne and the first son’s malevolent plotting via song while raised high up, have welcome shades of Jesus Christ Superstar. Employing a variety of rectangular light-toned wood frames, other wheeled components and cartoon-like cut-outs, scenic designer Carlo Adinolfi ingeniously creates a comic book-like landscape.
Above the spacious stage’s back wall, supertitles project translations of the dialogue into Korean and occasionally into English. The Legend of The Waitress & The Robber is a collaboration between the Seoul, Korea-based Playfactory Mabangzen and the NYC-based Concrete Temple Theatre. In development since 2018, the show’s 2020 debut was delayed by the pandemic. Premiering now, during an era of profound discord, its cheeky, sincere and entertaining treatment of its theme of freedom of expression is even more resonant and cautionary.
The Legend of the Waitress & The Robber (through May 29, 2022)
Concrete Temple Theatre, Playfactory Mabangzen, Yellow Bomb Inc. and Korean Cultural Center New York
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.DixonPlace.org
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission