By Mac Wellman; Adapted and Directed by Elena Araoz
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 2.11.18
Next Door at NYTW, 79 East 4th Street
by Ran Xia on 2.8.18
Timothy Siragusa in A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds. Photo by Al Foote III.
BOTTOM LINE: Mac Wellman's exquisite and hilarious short stories come to life in this production where imagination and stark reality intersect.
A tangle of electric wires connects the overhead lighting fixtures in the modified space of Next Door at NYTW, a traditional black box converted into an elongated frontier of speculation. A band of musicians pluck out notes from a collection of instruments that don’t normally go together. Anna McClellan, Daniel Ocanto, Sean Smith, and Graham Ulicny’s performances are as much of a treat as the rest of this exhilarating production. The result is a whimsical exploration in the mold of such bands as Tunng and Son Lux.
Adapted for the stage and directed by Elena Araoz, the two stories told here are from Mac Wellman’s A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds, a book of short stories about the imaginary inhabitants of a series of asteroids. The first story is told by Mary Carnivorous Rabbit of the planet Wu, who immediately informs us "that all of us on Wu have the same name: Mary Carnivorous Rabbit." Played by the charismatic Timothy Siragusa in a crimson bow tie, Mary reveals a tale of his family lineage that’s tinged with horror and violence. Wellman’s text is both poetic and volatile, and combined with Siragusa's excellent comedic timing and atmospheric music, it transports us to an altered state.
The second story also reflects on, and perhaps attacks more directly the issue of sameness and inclusiveness in society. The structure and style of the story reminds me of Italo Calvino’s Cosmocomics: like Calvino, Wellman uses creatures of faraway places (some of them part bird, part human) to reflect what’s closest to our own reality. The narrator, a tall girl named Pollen (played by Anastasia Olowin, the embodiment of an otherworldly charm), recounts her memories as a witness living through a changing world. It’s at once a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale, but with an Alice in Wonderland-level imagination. Set in the "future," it’s heartbreaking to realize how much of it is a very tangible part of the 21st century. Pollen speaks the nervous breakdown of a world that was once more inclusive, and much happier, but where now, "Difference constitutes a threat." It will strike a cord with anyone who recognizes the issues caused by intolerance.
(A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds plays at NYTW Next Door, 79 East 4th Street, through February 11, 2018. The running time is 1 hour 20 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:00; Fridays and Saturdays at 3 and 7:00, and Sundays at 6. Tickets are $34 ($38 reserved seating) and are available at nytw.org.)
A Chronicle of the Madness of Small Worlds is by Mac Wellman, based on his book. Adapted and directed by Elena Araoz. Music composed and performed by Anna McClellan, Daniel Ocanto, Sean Smith, and Graham Ulicny. Production Design by Justin Townsend.
The cast is Anastasia Olowin and Timothy Siragusa.