The New Colony at Signal Ensemble Theatre. By David Zellnik. Directed by Andrew Hobgood. With Evan Linder, Jessica London-Shields, Kevin Stangler, Morgan McNaught, Josh Odor, Joey Romaine, Alex Grelle. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
Five young actors and a stage manager traverse the country in a van, performing a goofy educational play about the Wright Brothers for elementary-school audiences by day and engaging in soap-operatic debauchery and dysfunction by night. Playwright David Zellnik—the co-author with his brother Joe of Yank!, a lovely little musical about gay servicemen in World War II—reportedly based this broad new metacomedy, developed with the New Colony, on real-life escapades with an actual theater-for-young-audiences touring company. One particularly biting joke, in which the young audiences keep confusing an African-American actress cast as the brothers’ mother for their “mammy,” is pulled directly from true experience.
The show’s first act held a good number of laughs for me, as someone who’s actually gone through the experience of performing theater for young audiences and the contrast between the presentation of exemplary behavior onstage and the counterbalancing licentiousness backstage. I worry, though, whether it’s all too inside-baseball for a general audience. Apart from the parodic performance scenes (including a handful of funny-cheesy songs by Zellnik and Eric Svejcar), much of the humor seems geared to come from recognition.
The second act, though, putters into the territory of overindulgence, with the playwright’s attempt to give every character equal attention leading to too much diffuse bickering and an indistinct tone despite a number of appealing performances. There’s potential in Zellnik’s concept, but in its current form it feels like the van left too many of us forgotten at a gas station.