Written by Assembly Theater Company
Directed by Jess Chayes
"Bring the war home," takes on a whole new meaning during home/sick
, the Assembly Theater Company
's new, collaboratively written play about the Weather Underground Organization at the Collapsable Hole
(through July 30). Their participatory mirror game of pomp and narcissism aims to universalize radicalism, humanize the group's cold rhetoric
and put it all in a new yet familiar perspective. Captivating portrayals of orgies, drug consumption, hilarious exercise routines
and just plain goofing fill in the blanks of a potentially lifeless history of the leading members of the nation's most famous and violent student radical organization. Somehow, they remind us that there's some Weatherman in each of us.
As easily as the tight cast could traverse the WUO's roughly decade and a half of active history, they jump instead to the very immediate present. Opening the production, Paul (Luke Harlan), clad in olive drab and plucking away on an acoustic guitar, asks, "Has anyone ever been to a protest?" One audience member—or maybe not, it's hard to tell who's really who—replies, "I was part of something called Take Back NYU
. There was a list of demands, but it was too long, so no one remembers what they were." This immediate frustration of expectations seems prelude to another clever pastiche, but thankfully it's not.
The piece jumps back and forth from this kind of meta-theatrical humor to what the press release calls a "theatrical reimagining" of the WUO's history. These jumps are not without problems, but their execution is very smooth, weaving the play together and sustaining a dramatic interest where a simple linear narrative might falter. Self-deprecating irony precludes tiring proselytizing and allows the audience a necessary critical distance. Never entirely historically accurate, the silliness portrayed by the cast might come close to caricature at times, but it never gets out of hand, and feels very sincere and poignant.
The performance is highly presentational; there's very little mimesis or illusion going on, and disbelief need never be suspended. The Collapsable Hole is a half-dilapidated, bombed out, paint-splattered garage. There could be no better stage to stand in for the bombed out garages, crumbling lofts and dilapidated warehouses where FBI "Most Wanted" list-members presumably take shelter after having gone underground. This historical play, a period piece of sorts, conveys a very strong sense of immediacy, a here-and-now-ness that also allows the cast to integrate an intermission (a Kool-aid dance party!) without really breaking the diegesis. This is a rare feat—most experimental productions today barely have one act, let alone two—and much appreciated.
The break is well deserved and necessary because—warning—there is no air conditioning in the facility. Perhaps this is cost effective. Perhaps this is in interest of maintaining that delicate diegesis. Regardless, when the Feds turn the heat up on Kathy (Ana Abhau Elliot), Tommy (Ben Beckly), Bernard (Kate Benson) and David (Edward Bauer), when beliefs wane, nihilism rises and the Man closes in, by God, you will sweat with them. Bring a towel.
(Photo credit: Nick Benacerraf)