The Service Road
A storm-ravaged city hasn’t been that hard to imagine lately, but the sensory sweep of its artistic manifestation in the play "The Service Road" rivals an act of God indeed. Mounted by the Adhesive Theater Project, Erin Courtney’s new drama blends a young woman’s search for redemption with enough technical prowess to make the term "multimedia" seem like the stunted root of a word that somehow lacks enough syllables to capture the innovation now on tap at the Voorhees Theatre.
Set in Prospect Park, the play takes place just before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of a freak tornado. Gathering her wits and canvassing for a lost child, tour guide Lia is simultaneously driven and harangued by a haunted past, convinced that willful and indefinite suffering is the only proper atonement for sin.
We’ve had writers’ theater, readers’ theater, directors’ theater, and once in a while someone will ask an actor what he thinks. But a designer’s theater is a rarity, and the people at Adhesive have assembled a team that seems to have redefined the word "go." If Julie Taymor had staged the Book of Genesis for the Almighty himself, the best they could hope for would be second place.
Like the people in Genesis, however, the characters we find within are a bit lacking. They have a disconnect from reality, but it isn’t the kind of disconnect that makes them charming or fantastical, just a little weird.
As Lia, Kalle Macrides is consistently flat and cloying. She has a complicated backstory that eventually comes out, and with some interesting dynamic twists. But there is no discovery whatsoever in the part, just a clear indication that something isn’t right with her.
When she runs afoul of bad plumbing and drapes herself in the skins of sacrificial beasts, it’s really not all that surprising. You always sort of figured that sooner or later she’d end up in a situation like that somehow.
The same pitfall ensnares Cory Einbinder as her boss Frank. Troubled by his inability to rescue a woman from the storm, he takes it unconvincingly further, blaming himself for the whole cyclone. There’s no dissection of Frank’s psyche here, or why he wants to scapegoat himself so absurdly. And the lack of nuance thus far doesn’t really make us want any.
We are more apt to dismiss him as a stereotypically narcissistic Park Sloper, the kind of man with a guilt fetish, prone to climbing upon designer crosses because his grandfather used to say words like "Chinaman."
Einbinder fares better in subsequent roles, a troubled high school teen, an eccentric carousel operator and especially as Gus, a city worker charged with removing broken branches from trees. Gus is the most relatable figure, but has an immediate and unexplainable attraction to Lia, probably because she’s the only other person in the play.
The show is rounded out by Caroline Tamas as the puppeteer of a giggly lost child (not to mention three demented eggs that prod our hapless heroine), and is all but stolen by Claire Moodey, whose presence permeates the production as a stray dog and most effectively, with sound designer Mark Bruckner, as a Foley artist.
This duo makes magic with their live aural accompaniment, conjuring everything from wind, birds and house music with focus and genuine skill. Moodey’s ethereal voice as she sings during the preshow should be enough to convince the Cocteau Twins to make her a triplet if they ever choose to expand.
Making his theatrical debut is set designer Michael Riccio, and audiences deserve many an encore. His slice of the park is a terrarium writ large and thickly cut down the middle, with bold angles and elevations. These make for playing spaces that are not only striking but also always open, a daring design that superbly combines both form and function. It foregoes any frills and yet is somehow a playground.
Warped trees that sway and break in the storm, ably accentuating the smoke and mirrors brewed up by Sue Brandt’s lighting, crown the set. They frame a video screen that projects arresting imagery by animators Einbinder, Moodey, and Natalia de Campos. Director Meghan Finn rivets these elements together sturdily.
The question is, does all this alchemy prove that the play is actually any good, or does it just cover up the script’s shortcomings with broad spectacle? The design elements are certainly the best thing about the production. Strip those away and we’re left with a pretty listless evening. It would be unfair to say that Courtney has neglected to give her play a narrative arc. It’s there, just not very steep. Watch your head if you plan to walk underneath it.
The patchwork tone of the writing gives the play an elasticity that’s suitable to almost any kind of interpretation. This may be on purpose, maybe not. But it gives the production’s clutch of wizards lots of opportunities to interpret something.
Their handiwork is worth a look, and it would be a wise investment to take a gander now, at Brooklyn prices, before talent like this inevitably goes up in the market.