BOTTOM LINE: If I’m laughing at your poop jokes you must be telling them really well.
“We bathe. You swallow.” That is the motto printed on the programs of the Neo-Futurists’ latest theatrical offering, The Soup Show. And bathe they do. Oh yes, the ladies of The Soup Show are naked and bathing, lounging or splashing around an inflatable “tub” for a good portion of the show. They start the show naked, they close the show naked and in between they occasionally don teeny white robes, only to whip them off again for the next vignette. There are boobs, butts and vaginas galore; unshaved, uncensored and totally in your face. In accordance, the script itself is an equally uncensored affair.
The Soup Show’s script is comprised of snippets from interviews, media and the actors’ own stories. It has its performers speaking directly to the audience, chit-chatting with each other and asking for LOADS of audience participation. Honestly, between the blatant, gratuitous nudity and the constant prodding of the audience there are myriad reasons why we, the average audience, would NOT swallow. But we do. We totally swallow and we ask for more. And not because we are teenage girls looking for love and acceptance.
Why then? Well, when a piece of theater comes together as seamlessly as The Soup Show does it can be hard to pin down exactly why it’s so lovable. Usually we chalk it up to the elusive ‘magic of theater’ and move on. Indeed during my post-show conversation I was left wanting for words to describe the way this brilliantly conceived and executed show had absolutely tickled the audience (and by the way, what was it even about!?). Was it the fantastic rapport between actors Desiree Burch, Cara Francis and Erica Livingston that had won us over? Was it their impeccable comedic timing (who knew there were three different kinds of deadpan)? Perhaps it was the way director Lauren Sharpe brings it all together, giving shape to the raw sincerity of each performer and keeping the proverbial engine of the show rolling forward. Indeed the show’s pacing is daring by current theater standards. It never slows for a moment in order to let us ‘catch up’ but sticks to its own, natural rhythm preserving the integrity of the piece and inspiring us to sit forward and keep up.
Sharpe has nearly every moment of this intermission-less show beautifully choreographed. From an opening tableaux in which we see three naked women (silent, posing and severed from their recorded voices), to the specific physicality and smart staging of a Miss America sequence, right down to the saccharine facial expressions during deeply personal anecdotes. Sharpe makes every moment a catching one for the ears and the eyes. Impressively, her craftiness as a director upstages her choice of near-constant nudity. She establishes nudity as the norm, asks us to get the f*** over it, and directs a damn good show.
Only once or twice does the show tip-toe near the maudlin air of a collegiate production of The Vagina Monologues. But we readily forgive that because The Soup Show is not so much about angry, downtrodden vaginas as it is about happy, confident, celebratory ones. It is a piece that celebrates life in all its glory, confusion and embarrassment. It takes the mundane moments with the remarkable, the hackneyed ideas with the new and puts them all on stage for us to empathize into and enjoy like a bowl of hot soup on a cold day. Moreover, in varying degrees it has everything and nothing to do with all the pervasive nudity. Curious yet?
The Soup Show creates its own zip code and like most sure-footed entities, outsiders want in (no lewd pun intended). Isn’t this how theater should work? I think so. But unfortunately it’s not until we see it in action, on rare occasion, that we realize we’ve been eating theater gruel all this time when we could have been having, well, hearty soup. And yes, if there will ever be a concise explanation of ‘what makes good theater’ it will probably read much like an explanation of how to make a good soup; from the ingredient list to the preparation and finally the nourishing, satisfying act of consuming. That and, I don’t generally find poop jokes funny so if you can put one on stage and make me laugh like a child then you must be doing something right. Thank you, Neo-Futurists.
(The Soup Show plays at HERE Arts Center, 45 Sixth Avenue near Spring Street, through March 27th. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays at 7pm. Tickets are $18 and are available at www.here.org, or by calling 212-352-3101. $12 student rush tickets are available before each performance at the box office with a valid student ID. The show runs 75 minutes with no intermission. For more show info visit nyneofuturists.org.)