Monday, November 12, 2012

The Theme of Family

Contributed by Doug Strassler

I don’t think it’s any secret that some of the most exciting and innovative theatre going on recently in New York has taken place at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, the surprisingly accessible performance space that played host to one of the year’s great theatrical triumphs, Mac Rogers’ Honeycomb Trilogy. His three visionary plays – Blast Radius, Advance Man, and Sovereign – all part of Gideon Productions, ran through the first half of the year, but made such an indelible impression that I’ve been talking about them through the second half as well.

The trilogy covers a world upside down, though in ways more metaphorical than literal. I love the way that Rogers uses obviously expert knowledge in sci-fi lore like alien invasions and spaceships to inform more thematic plots about human relationships. Much of the first work dwelled on the bonds between friends and parent and child when tested, and then as the stakes got higher, the greatest relationship was that of brother and sister, played at various stages by Becky Byers, David Rosenblatt, Hanna Cheek and Stephen Heskett. Torn apart by ideology but still bonded by love, the Honeycomb plays used transcended its genre trappings to highlight something far more universal: the ups and downs of family ties.

The theme of family – specifically, how one defines it and who one should remain loyal to also permeates Micheline Auger’s American River, the latest production from the downtown collective Lesser America. Laura Ramadei and Robbie Collier Sublett play lifelong friends who eventually add benefits into the mix. The play, directed by Stephen Brackett, faces a lot of the more hidden, dark corners of the American psyche head-on; both characters have substance abuse issues and loyalty and reliability are neither of the pair’s strong suits. John Patrick Doherty and a hilarious Brendan Spieth completed the never-a-false-move cast, but it’s Ramadei’s searing turn that has stuck out in my mind ever since.

These shows, as disparate as they are, have plenty in common. More than anything, they all put an entertaining face on lost people struggling to find their way. Good thing the companies that mounted these works had their stuff together.

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