Mia Katigbak (standing), Nathan Elam, Jon Norman Schneider, and Brian Hironoin in A Play on War. Photo by William P. Steele.
BOTTOM LINE: It's not for everyone, It's not perfect, and I loved it. Good times.
The good news about a show like this: it's easy to review. Some of you will love it, and some of you will not love it. It's a theatrical weed, and not everyone enjoys dandelions, you know?
For serious, kids, listen up. If you are a fan, as I am, of non-linear performative storytelling that bends the boundaries of theatrical expectation, stage, and space, and don't mind the sensory bumps and bruises along the way (and there are some, it wasn't all smooth and seamless), go see this show. If you are more likely to enjoy straightforward and cleaner storytelling (I'm looking at you, people who enjoy straightforward, clean storytelling), I recommend this show anyway. It may surprise you.
What the press notes say: Jenny Connell and Rubén Polendo's World-Premiere play A Play On War - inspired by Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage And Her Children - (to my interdisciplinary theatrical delight) incorporates abstractions of musical theatre, Arabic clowning, and Peking opera to create a new ferocious comedy about a war-torn landscape populated by characters on bicycles, all desperate to survive.
What I say: A beautiful, sensitive and harsh adventure of the highest ambition and intent that was exactly 20 minutes too long and succeeded about 65-70 percent of the time. Performative art (which this was) can be difficult to watch after an hour (I just get sleepy from the effort of staying engaged, but maybe not everyone has this problem? Feel free to comment and let me know). I loved it, but I would have loved it a little bit more if it had been 20 minutes shorter.
Was I surprised by the story? No. Is it perfect? Nope. Did I love it? Absolutely. A feat of theatrical collaborative fusion like this rarely happens, and I recommend taking part. The acting, sans a few moments here and there was as truthful as can be, an even more impressive feat in a deliberate methodology of the fantastic. Direction felt a bit uneven, but the few small discordant notes here and there did little to diminish my otherwise whole experience. The show design, across the board, is phenomenal (and I know others will disagree on this, but I stand by it). Simple and theatrical, the perfect balance to the purposefully discordant and at times ridiculously florid music and sound (and I have yet to fully process how delightful I find the Sound of Music motifs, that other and more demure family of war and sacrifice). Well done, designers and associates. Well done, all.
If you've got the time and inclination, everyone, have a go at A Play on War. If it weren't for the weeds, we wouldn't appreciate the flowers.
(A Play on War is presented by the National Asian American Theatre Company in collaboration with Theater Mitu at the Connelly Theater, 220 East Fourth St. Performances run through March 6th, Monday through Friday at 7 pm, Saturday at 2pm and 7 pm. Tickets are $15 to $20 and are available by calling 212.352.3101, 866.811.4111, or by visiting www.theatermania.com.)