REVIEW: Alligator (Brikenbrak Theatre Project)

 

Brikenbrak chomps into “Alligator”

 

Alligator Show 056

  
Brikenbrak Theatre Project presents
  
Alligator
  
Written by Jeremy Menekseoglu
Directed by
Paul Cosca
at
Dream Theatre, 556 W. 18th Street (map)
through August 14  |  tickets: $15-$20   |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The Brikenbrak Theatre Project had quite a memorable final rehearsal of their new show, Alligator. They arrived at the space to find it completely flooded, and had just a few precious hours to caravan everything over to Dream Theatre. They also had to change up their schedule to allow for the Dream Theatre’s own Orestes. That means that the weekend shows start at 10:30, but they have more manageable start times on Mondays and Tuesdays. Although stripped, stark, and often indulging in the melodramatic, Jeremy Menekseoglu’s little 5-character play sparks and pops alive in director Paul Cosca’s hands.

Alligator Show 086 First, a note for playwrights. There are plenty great, screwed-up plays out there brimming with molestation and incest (there are also plenty of bad ones). We know this sort of depravity adds instant drama and shock value – but wears thin quickly. Unless you’re planning to view child abuse in a new way—Blackbird comes to mind—find something else to push buttons. We’ve been seeing incest on-stage since Oedipus first poked out his eyes. One of the chief problems with Menekseoglu’s script is that it falls back on hushed family secrets at the expense of strong characters. Child abuse is tragic when it happens in real life; on-stage, it feels a little cheap, probably due to repetition.

That said, Alligator does explore some intriguing consequences of abuse. We follow the neurotic antics of Velvet (a ragged Clare Kander) as she is chauffeured to a mental hospital by her brother Lone (Graham Jenkins) and his girlfriend, Cricket (Jessica London-Shields), who both happen to be Olympians. She also forges a relationship with a grocery store-clerk/ex-con, the portly Ben (Michael Plummer). As Velvet slowly loses her mind, the alligators in her past come out to feed.

Kander is the one who really drives the show forward. She is belligerent, self-destructive, and nuttier than a Payday, but ultimately engaging. She teases the audience into being on her side. Jenkins also adds interesting facets to Lone, who may be just as insane as his sister, but much more violent. Plummer does well picking up on chemistry from other actors, but he sinks during long scenes where Ben is interacting with invisible characters. Whether he’s herding customers through his line or fighting a non-existent diner owner, the scenes just aren’t believable. On the opposite end of spectrum of Kander, Shields drags the pace down, coming off as whiny and stiff. When they’re all together, the group of actors explodes into life, shattering any of their old acting habits.

 

Alligator Show 040 Alligator Show 082 Alligator Show 013

The entire cast (with the exception of Plummer) way overpowers the space. Cosca allowed far too much shrieking, screaming, and screeching. While crazy people in real life may yell a lot, no theatre audience wants to be assaulted like they are in Alligator. It takes us right out of the play and breaks the carefully-constructed link we had to the characters. There are other, far more interesting ways to build intensity.

Menekseoglu’s script is messy. There is a layer of metatheatricality that is poorly handled, especially in the final moments. Velvet seems to directly address the audience, but it’s left unclear. The play veers into controversial topics like mental health and domestic abuse without really saying anything new. It’s reminiscent of Sam Shepherd, obsessed with blue collar Americana but allowing for some Classical Greek undertones. Unfortunately, Alligator fails to resonate like Curse of the Starving Class or True West.

But Brikenbrak brings tons of heart to the play; the cast’s commitment is rock-solid. They do a remarkable job using the almost bare stage, creating and transforming worlds with just a few props. Cosca remains faithful to the text, even if leads the production down some dead-ends.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Cypress Swamp
Lance Rosier Unit of Big Thicket National Preserve
near Sartoga, Hardin Co., Texas
3 April 2004

           
All photos by Paul Cosca      
        

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