A Ride on the Irish Cream: Theater review by Helen Shaw
After the first 20 minutes, you might find yourself recovering from the weirdness assault that is Erin Markey's gonzo chamber rock musical. Suddenly, you can think clearly enough to get a little distance. Hey, you might suddenly wonder, How old is Markey's character here? Is she a four-year old, obsessed with odd, private games? Or is she a grown-up, ordering drinks and hashing through her relationship issues? As with most questions that come up while watching the A Ride on the Irish Cream, the answer is: Yes.
Yes, Markey is singing her high-half-ponytail off as both a child named Reagan and Reagan's adult self; yes, Reagan's lover/playmate Irish Cream (Becca Blackwell) is simultaneously a pontoon boat and a horse with hooves; yes, Cream's emotional beats echo conventional narratives but the words are as disorienting as pure dada. Basically, if you're hung up on binaries, this may not be the show for you. But if you like feeling discombobulated, yanked around by rousing musical numbers and delighted by the hectically romantic, you should head to Abrons.
In Cream, Markey's persona as Reagan is very close to one we've seen her play in her own autobiographical pieces (Puppy Love: A Stripper's Tail) and in Tina Satter's feminist camp pieces (Family)—namely, a hilarious combination of jaded cheerleader and hard-charging, wide-eyed rock god. Markey swivels easily between belting out songs co-written with Kenny Mellman and Emily Bate and playing bizarre scenes in which she and Irish Cream bicker about calling the Coast Guard (“We have a Sprite emergency!”) and sort out whether it's nice to say someone's tummy looks like oatmeal.
If you could record a brilliant toddler's conversations with her dolls, you might approximate the dialogue, but the tone is steadily, insistently sensual. Markey and Blackwell are a couple in real life, and the charge between them could power the lighting grid. There's an ozone tang in the air every time Markey watches Blackwell deliver a monologue, a sense that lightning's about to strike. So while some sections move less forcefully than others, for the most part the show's passionate soul sweeps us into its headlong, crazy gallop. It's Markey's ride, but we go cheerfully along.—Helen Shaw
Abrons Arts Center (Off-Off Broadway). Book and lyrics by Erin Markey. Music by Markey, Emily Bate and Kenny Mellman. Directed by Jordan Fein. With Markey and Becca Blackwell. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.