Ding Dong It's the Ocean
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Theater review by Helen Shaw
“What you’re about to see is a five-minute mackerel opera with milk projections,” says the guy giving the curtain speech at the start of Ding Dong It’s the Ocean. “It’s followed by a 90-minute scene.” How thoughtful of him to let us know: Any hand-holding in this loopy show is a lifesaver. Yet he still manages to set us up for a surprise. You may expect the weird part to be the “mackerel opera”—a whale-song composition by Joseph White, sung by scuba-suited actors playing fish—but the Alex Borinsky–penned “scene” that follows is actually much stranger. It seems simple enough: a party in which the guests start political conversations or impromptu theatrical displays. Yet the Rady&Bloom production manages to be disorienting on two fronts. We see how nasty we can be to those we love and how that breezy callousness—scaled up slightly—may have doomed the earth.
The glassy-eyed Jeremy (Jacob Perkins) is celebrating his birthday. The doorbell rings, and the first guest, Sasha Masha (Robert Dowling), enters shyly. Sasha Masha is trying to write a play about the ocean, but he keeps scrapping drafts. He’s also constantly being wrong-footed by Jeremy and his friends, who dribble in one doorbell at a time. Matthew Deconstanza plays a goof attempting “to write a poem as big as the Baltic Sea,” and a sprinkling of downtown stars gives the huge cast extra sparkle: Eliza Bent holds forth; opera singer Beth Griffith sings a spacey song; and Yehuda Hyman stages a late-show intervention that grounds everything that’s come before.
It’s not entirely clear if director Jeremy Bloom’s production is showing us scenes of Sasha Masha’s play; people sometimes launch into monologues right after he locks himself in the bathroom. Sasha flushes one draft and, later, the party guests do a musical number with decorated banners, running in circles so that the images blur together. Is that the play—spiraling the drain? An earlier Rady&Bloom work, The Upper Room, also dealt with the ocean and climate change, but collaborating with Borinsky has sharpened their attack. That older piece was a post-apocalyptic fantasy about the end of humanity, but Ding Dong manages to be scarier. It’s not a roaring success; the too-sweet sentiments at the end don’t live up to show’s bright acidity. But it commands attention for its marriage of the personal and the political—its insistence that the world is with us, even at a party.
Jack (Off-Off Broadway). By Alex Borinsky. Directed by Jeremy Bloom. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.