Who Are You to Judge the Pig People?

06/23/2010 4:00 AM |

Dandilion and the Amazing Bicycle Powered Cloud Plane
Written by Heather Coffey and Andy Hadaway
Directed by Heather Coffey

On the Tiny Black Hearts theater company's blog, one line stands out: "Donations are more than appreciated and heartily approved of, we are after all, orphans." The sentiment informs the Hearts' latest offering, Dandelion and the Amazing Bicycle Cloud Plane at The Brick as part of the always surprising Too Soon Festival through June 27. Cloud Plane is about the imagination of childhood and the absence of authority, and though the Hearts may not be orphans in the literal sense, they stand alone in other ways, producing theater by themselves without the backing of any larger outfit. In the midst of a generation where post-grads are living at home to save money, and in an art world that necessitates personally bankrolled self-production, the Hearts and Cloud Plane reactivate the idea that to be orphaned shouldn't be a debilitating circumstance and rather, a freeing experience.

The fledgling group, comprised of Heather Coffey (who also directed Cloud Plane) of Austin and Andy Hadaway of Brooklyn, exudes that basic DIY aesthetic that champions the unpolished and playful—which, can either be "so very charming" or "just tolerable" and a bit frustrating, but always ends up strangely engaging. These headier notions however are buried beneath a layer of glee, child speak, and flower power dancing, as well some funny set pieces involving hand written placards. Though Cloud Plane can be a bit obvious and awkward—probably the point—the orphan child in all the cynical culture fiends in the audience can take a little joy from the simplicity and innocence of a couple of kids going on adventures and building pedal-powered airplanes.

Dandelion (played by Nurk Njordsen) and Strawberry (played by Heidi Girard) are brother and sister on a modestly-appointed set-cum-magical landscape consisting of two green wooden bushes. Dandelion is dressed like Tom Sawywer on Bedford Avenue and Strawberry is decked out with rosy cheeks and a white on red polka-dot dress and red high top sneakers. Cloud Plane opens with Dandelion teaching Strawberry how to catch a ball, and the cute comedy of Strawberry trying, failing, blushing, and trying again, giggling throughout. Both actors are the type of bright-eyed and big-smiled twenty-somethings that seem to populate the quirky advertising scene these days and play up, to great effect, the awkwardness of adult bodies trying to imitate the clumsiness of kids.

Things go awry when Strawberry throws the ball too far and, as Dandelion searches for it, Strawberry is lured away by the Pig People, barefoot with strap-on pig noses and wearing grass skirts. Dandelion makes sure we know that the Pig People's hideout, the Sty in the Sky, is the grossest place, like, ever, and that the pig people are definitely nasty—or so he thinks. This supposed kidnapping triggers a reference-heavy montage (lifting weights while reading the Life of Pi; extreme!) in which Dandelion trains hard a la Rocky, builds a fixed gear airplane, and heads off into the wild blue yonder.

Meanwhile Strawberry is having a blast with the Pig People and their kooky salsa dancing, and the audience realizes that, oh, hey, the Pig People aren't so nasty after all. Dandelion shows up and shoots some lighting out of his plane which does nothing but start a bonfire (a box fan on its side blowing up orange tissue paper, which, amazing!) that becomes the focal point of a new dance where everyone is friends and happy and together again. The topical message is simple and direct: Pre-conceived notions suck, acquire empirical evidence. But the theme of being on the fringe and the carte blanche that comes with outsider status runs deeper and with all the super serious theater happening all around us, I was tangentially reminded of a scenario not unlike like the exile of Philip Guston when he started drawing cartoons instead of stuffy abstract art. Perhaps the Hearts, Cloud Plane and their empowering orphanhood—happy on the fringe with no expectations—is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to finding the bright side of art in these (sort of) dark times.

(photo credit: Heather Coffey)