Panic! Euphoria! Blackout!

Written by Ellen Maddow; Directed by Katie Pearl

(From Left) Paul Zimet, Mary Shultz, and Randolph Curtis Rand in Panic! Euphoria! Blackout!

BOTTOM LINE: Great production values like innovative choreography, creative direction and great acting can't save this poorly composed avant-garde piece. I was confused and bored.

It's always a disappointment to see a show that has all kinds of work behind it but isn't good at its core. Perhaps someone falls in love with a concept, and puts all kinds of effort and money behind it, but doesn't deal with a major problem in the script. The phrase "like putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind. In the meantime, there are a ton of great ideas that don't get enough attention, and it can be frustrating to watch such hard work given to below average material. And this is the case with Talking Band's Panic! Euphoria Blackout! By the end of this 90-minute piece, I wished the courageous acting and really awesome choreography and direction had been dedicated to a better script.

Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! is a commentary on the ridiculous frenzy of the stock markets and their careless brokers, and the lack of meaning behind the trades that control our global economy. Throughout the show the three actors onstage take apart the set as the crisis occurs, and then slowly put it back together while performing the show in reverse order. It reflects the circular market, and how the same deception and chaos happens in all markets, past and present, large and small.

There is a lot of movement in this show, and the choreography by the talented Faye Driscoll is a highlight. I loved the quirky dance transitions - they are absolutely delightful and add to the fruity nature of the play. The three actors meet the piece's many challenges with almost exhausting amounts of energy. This high energy is especially quirky in juxtaposition to their age; seeing a women who looks like my grandmother swingdancing across the stage and doing lifts is highly entertaining.  Katie Pearl's direction is a lot of fun; the foolish playfulness of the scenes when the actors greedily trade nonsense objects with each other is engaging and funny.

With all of that said, Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! failed to impress me. There is so much, SO MUCH material available about the financial crisis and the ridiculously backward values of our financial system that I think the subject is incredibly approachable, and practically begs to be satirized. But Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! doesn't execute this well, and likely may leave audience members bored and confused. The market scenes are OK, but the relationships between the characters are inconsistent and confusing. The segways between scenes that aren't just choreography feel very disconnected from the rest of the play, and thus come off as distracting and pointless. The biggest disappointment is that instead of using material from today's crisis, Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! is more of a reflection of the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. People yell into phones, watch ticker-tape go by with dwindling optimism, and witness how inflated prices just pop, without anyone gaining much understanding about who is to blame or what went wrong. It's a cop-out and uninteresting. Avant-garde, farcical theater is supposed to be fun while being very clever, and Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! misses that mark.

(Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! plays at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue between Spring and Broome Streets, through October 23, 2010. Remaining performances are Saturday at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $25.00 and are available at or by calling 212.352.3101.)