By Ian Storey and BREAD Arts Collective
Directed by Katie Melby and Eric Powell Holm
Off Off Broadway
Runs through 11.22.15
The People's Lounge, 163 Allen Street
by Artem Yatsunov on 10.28.15
Kate Gunther and Katie Melby in Rise and Fall by BREAD. Photo by Rowan Douglas.
BOTTOM LINE: A hilarious, no-holds-barred adaptation of a Brecht classic set in a bar with a live punk score.
The People’s Lounge has been taken over by the punk party-play Rise & Fall! Adapted by Ian Storey and the BREAD Arts Collective, this grundged-out romp musical is a send-up of Weil and Brecht’s 1930 political opera. Reimagined as a play-within-a-play-within-a-bar, Rise & Fall takes over the stage, the dance floor, the bar itself, and the upstairs of The People's Lounge. They make themselves perfectly at home within this popular LES destination. Rocking for just a little over an hour, Rise & Fall is a self-aware punk-rock experience wrapped inside a timely parable.
The cast, most of whom mingle and joke around with the audience pre-show, guides us mirthfully through each transition of the play and every scene is announced live. Every character is personally introduced and even the LES and The People’s Lounge end up “playing” parts in the show.
At the outset we meet two crooks on the lam, Trinity Moses and Willy the Veep, played in wise-guys drag by Toni Anne Denoble and Kelly Klein with some serious balls. Their car croaks approaching the BQE, they’ve got nowhere to hide, and need a plan quick! Thankfully, their boss in the backseat, the high-heeled Widow Cadence Dakota Begbick (composer Andrew Lynch in drag as a DIY fusion of Sharon Stone and Morticia Adams) has a sly ploy: what better way to escape the long arm of the law then to build your own society with your own laws? Thus the trio settles down and establishes a new town. “We’ll call it Mahogany!” meows Begbick, “cheap luxury wood—perfect for tasteless assholes!” Apropos to the night’s unyielding social commentary, the LES plays the role of “Mahogany” and The People’s Lounge stars as the criminals’-turned-founding-fathers’-and-mother’s very on town-hall-n-pub, “The Wealthy Fucker.”
Here come the clientele! Whiskey slugging and jerky chewing Alaskan oil-diggers Hank, Jake, Joe, and their leader Jimmy Gallagher who’s “famed for his knife tricks from Mobile to Manhattan,” come a-stumblin’ in! Half of this raggedy crew of “Alaskan cowboys” are played by women in drag, who not unlike Denoble and Klein toy with the machismo and gender stereotypes with a fierceness of lion tamers. Before long Jimmy Gallagher (co-director Katie Melby) catches himself a crush: the girl-next-door turned bar-top-pouncing tigress, Jenny Smith (a coy and lustful siren Kate Gunther). Gunther spent a lot of pre-show exchanging pleasantries with the audience as they trickled in, so by this point in the evening she had become a fave amongst the spectators. This too is by design, as a big part of the communal joy of a BREAD production is their ability to bring us in on their inside jokes. Now, with added glee, we watch as good-ole Gallagher spends his dollars on Jenny at The Wealthy Fucker, singing depraved melodies, sharing shots with his comrades and audience alike!
All that rabble rousing catches up with Gallagher: “There is nothing here… just hanging out, so much hanging out there’s nothing to hold onto anymore!” While pondering his true purpose, a storm of the century threatens New York and tests the placid chaos of The Wealthy Fucker. Gallagher rises up as a beacon of hope through the catastrophe and in the following chapter titled "In this terrible night, a crude man named Jimmy Gallagher had a vision… of the laws of human happiness." In a rallying chant, Jimmy discovers the true joy of capitalism with the motto: “DO WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT… so long as you got the money.”
Through the madness and the mayhem, BREAD cleverly worms in a conversation about humongous issues, such as body politics and survival in a capitalist regime. In light of current global class clashes, the finale “You can’t make rules for a dead man,” speaks profoundly to the notion of exactly how much liberty constitutes a ‘free life.’ Some of the audience even joined in singing and drinking along with the performers.
Since Rise & Fall’s original conception—this is the third iteration, the biggest and bad-ass-est yet—BREAD has garnered a humble cult following. Co-director Eric Powell Holm raised a glass to all the familiar faces and newcomers with a celebratory post-show toast, which felt touching and truly keeping in spirit of this hilarious and big hearted evening of fine indie theatre.
At Rise & Fall you will be treated to all of that and more: live punk and country ditties; a wet knuckle brawl; fornicating shadow puppets; a chicken eating contest; fatal defecations; full-frontal nip-n-tip; and at some point someone’s going to get their toes sucked. Nothing is sacred, and most taboos are fair game. The remarkable beauty of BREAD is that their pure, uninhibited sense of play is actually capable of awakening a genuine chorale for social justice.
(RISE and FALL plays at The People's Lounge, 163 Allen Street, through November 22, 2015. Performances are Sundays at 8. Tickets are $10-$20 suggested donations, plus a one drink minimum. Reservations strongly recommended, and can be made at breadartscollective.com/rise--fall.)
Rise & Fall is adapted from Brecht by Ian Storey and BREAD Arts Collective. It is directed by Eric Powell Holm and Katie Melby. Original music is by Andrew Lynch.