Theater review by Helen Shaw. Bushwick Starr (see the Off-Off List). By Michael Levinton and Laura von Holt. Dir. Levinton. With ensemble cast. 2hrs. One intermission.
For a band of theatrical tricksters interested in the postmodern, the thicket of misinformation around Powhatan “princess” Pocahontas rustles with possibility. Beasts move in that epistemological underbrush; some are easy prey, such as Disney’s cheesy 1995 portrait, and some are trickier targets, like the moving “truths” of history. Clearly these are good hunting grounds, and Michael Levinton’s avant-garde Little Lord ensemble does well to bring us here. So it’s not lack of intellectual quarry that hamstrings its uneven pseudo-pageant Pocahontas, and/or America. Rather, it’s the unfortunate fact that pastiche-based works need to address pace and focus just as their conventional theatrical brethren do—even if the methods differ wildly.
The aesthetic for Little Lord’s talking diorama is a deliberately amateurish one: Goddess Columbia (Kaaron Briscoe) rules over a world in which cowriter-performer Laura von Holt bursts from the onstage bathroom, screaming that a monster with “8, no, like 20 rows of teeth!” is menacing intrepid ole Christopher Columbus (Enrico D. Wey). History moves forward, but the cast’s seeming age is rolling backward: A kindergarten level of glee animates early Virginian John Smith (Polly Lee) as he reads his elaborately worded letters behind an adorable paste-on beard. But while Pocahontas riots with detail, including designer Elizabeth Barrett Groth’s handmade museum set and a text adapted from dozens of sources, the whole feels lumbering and awkward. Levinton and Von Holt don’t shape their material; smart stuff whizzes by, while dull moments overstay their welcome.
History customarily belongs to the victors, and this piece certainly shows them as an underserving crew. Perhaps it would be better to let someone else have history for a moment? Might one suggest…the editors?—Helen Shaw