A Great Big Recession

12/22/2009 12:45 AM |

The next play in the series is called Fucked and despite the severity of the title, it is a complete counterpoint from the tone and subject matter of Kitchen Timer, in so many ways that one half expects the Host to come back out and start killing these new actors. The play is written by Itamar Moses and focuses on two Upper East Side post grads who have been dating for a while, have their first apartment together, and are kind of, sort of thinking about marriage. Cindy (played by Jessica Pohly) and Reed (Dorien Makhloghi) are going on a trip to Europe courtesy Reed's Dad, as an after college gift, and are also having a silly fight about when Reed started to "think" he might want to break up with Cindy—or, you know, take some time apart (single in Europe, dude!). Cindy storms out dramatically just as Reed's father a trader in the commodities market, calls and says the trip is off because he just lost his fortune in the crash. Cindy and Reed’s privileged positions contrast so starkly with the previous dramatic offering that the result is infuriating. After seeing the conditions of the opposite tax bracket (killing babies for money and whatnot), this story seems preposterous and ultimately just doesn't matter—who cares? But the piece's sequencing in the evening's line up is crucial, and offers an answer to a larger question. The recession affects all sorts of people despite class, and although it does not seem to be a defense of the privileged class, the mere mention of it is enough to get us thinking about society as a whole and how fucked this whole division of wealth thing really is.

Recess by Sheila Callaghan is the fifth play in the program and the most elaborate, but well worth mentioning because of its satiric treatment of the recession. Callaghan imagines economic depravation as a dark period in human history following "the crash" as if the financial troubles of our times were truly apocalyptic. The play centers on a rag-tag band of misfits holed up in a room, hungry, all dying and in pain, waiting for something, anything, to happen. One of the group (Pohly) lies dead on the floor, blood pooling around her head; another writes furiously in a notebook; others still have sex behind a curtain in the background; Eric (Stephen Stout) screams: "I was a father before the crash!"; later two of the others get into an argument over food scraps. The coterie come across some Tofu Pups, and all those still alive get to eat about an inch of fake meat. The play ends with the whole bunch singing Bowie's "Life on Mars" a-capella, in slow, monotone voices. It's a truly beautiful moment that gave me goose bumps. Seeing something as atrocious as the recession as imagined by Callaghan made me feel a whole hell of a lot better about the actual recession as reported by The News. The apocalypse hasn't happened, after all, and are things really as bad as everyone says?

The Great Recession as a whole is a whirlwind night of theater and a preposterous and serious adventure into the contemporary American predicament, real or imagined, murderous or holidaying in Europe. The dichotomy of morbid and flippant subject material is grounded by the exaggeration of all the sentiments involved and makes for an enjoyably up and down evening. All the playwrights involved seemed to be reaching for the extremes of this moment in history, and their visions attempted to accurately depict the routes that the course of events might have taken, and still might take. The Bats, the company at the Flea, are a joy to watch and their ranks are filled with youthful players who are clearly having a really good time on the stage. The excitement in their performances shows through and makes this ambitious outing a success. There's happiness in their performances, to be participating in great theater, despite detracting diegetic mentions of acting being a "crap job anyway," and somewhat patronizing human interest pieces in the L.A. Times. But perhaps the most interesting and exciting lesson theater lovers will take from the evening is that whatever form this crash takes and no matter how hard or how lightly it smacks the arts in the face, despite it all, amazing new theater is still getting produced, which really does make this a great recession.

(photo credit: Ryan Jensen)