Amanda Idoko and Alex Herrald. Photo by Richard Termine.
BOTTOM LINE: A satire set in the not-too-distant future, Future Anxiety presents a world devastated by pollution and misuse where hysteria and hilarity meet.
The Flea Theater’s current offering Future Anxiety is set, well, in the future, when the environmentally unsound practices of our times have resulted in a hot, acidic, hostile planet at the end of its time. Written by Laurel Haines and directed by Jim Simpson, Future Anxiety is both a cautionary tale and a satire, using a spoonful of hyperbole to help our modern fears go down. For instance, the script contrasts the disturbing idea that strawberries are extinct with, in the same sentence, the absurd concept of a new, hyper weather disaster: tornadocaines!
In Haines’s perceived future, not only are most of the things we love no longer surviving, but debtors are sold into slavery, usually to China (China now being the dominant country on the globe). The audience is led through this time and place by five concurrent stories: the mad genius who wants to build a spaceship to flee Earth, a businessman of few scruples searching the globe to exploit the last remnant of the cocoa plant, a struggling young woman who has been forced to take a job in collections, a group of reanimated people who had been frozen in our time and have woken up to new bodies and a shocking Earth, and a Chinese soldier who takes an interest in the debtor poet slave whom she oversees. Between these ongoing stories are smatterings of delightful episodes and monologues of reaction to and commentary on this apocalyptic world.
The entire 23-person cast of Future Anxiety are members of the Flea’s resident acting company The Bats, a group of aspiring actors whose members have gone on to Broadway contracts and other major projects. This is a huge, energetic, youthful ensemble, and the result is a wealth of exuberant performances. The Bats cover the stage physically and fill the space with their verve. In a cast of 23 young performers, it’s surprising when there isn’t an obvious weak link or two, but with the Bats, the ensemble is homogenous; whether playing large parts or selling schtick bits, every actor in Future Anxiety hold his or her own.
There are of course standouts, like Holly Chou, whose character Comrade Li has the advantage of making an actual change through the course of the plot. Chou plays this stifled soldier with restraint and effulgence. Conversely, though his main role is the Commander, Vin Kridakorn brings the audience to fits of laughter with his conveyance of a ho-hum, Eeyore-ish dweeb’s dating video. Meanwhile as cookoo janiter/astrological engineer Ernie, Brett Aresco charms and diverts without speaking a word. I was also personally impressed by Katherine Folk-Sullivan who has a great look and ethos, and by the irrepressibly likeable Joy Natoma.
As for production, Jim Simpson executes a vibrant playfulness throughout the performance, design, and tone of Future Anxiety. Sydney Gallas’s costumes are a fresh mix of futurism and apocalypse, but still have roots in our current time to give the audience instant recognition. Brian Aldous uses stage lighting to the fullest range to create moments varying from cataclysm to an intimate tete-a-tete, from hell fire to tranquility. But Kyle Chepulis’s set dominates—a series of floating platforms climbing up then down like a futuristic garden or a fountain, and when the future is rocked by disaster, the set quakes! And on this multi-level, dynamic set Simpson is able to create spatially-full, multi-directional pictures that flow and shift as quickly as the story. Mix in the wild, evocative sounds from Patrick Metzger and the elements of this show join together to bring theatricality and consideration to every moment.
Future Anxiety is a fun, frightening take on what could happen to our planet and the people who must live on it if we succeed in destroying the environment. In an alarming world without strawberries or fresh air, the people are as desperate and as unbearable as the planet they are forced to inhabit. And yet this piece is not oppressive, but instead brings a warning under the sheepskin of comedy, a comedy well presented by Simpson and his team and enthusiastically performed by the Bats. Future Anxiety is a show with a conscience, coherence, and even cheer.
(Future Anxiety runs at the Flea Theater, 41 White Street between Church and Broadway, through May 26, 2011. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7 PM and Saturday at 3 PM. There is an added performance Sunday, April 17th at 3 PM. Tickets are $25 and are available by calling 212.352.3101 or online at www.theflea.org. Please also note: all Tuesday performances are Pay-What-You-Can, subject to availability at the door, only 1 ticket per person.)