LongYarn: Theater review by Helen Shaw
At the end of the deliciously odd LongYarn, an audience member turned to the fellow next to her and said, eyebrow raised, “Well…welcome to New York downtown theater.” You bet, baby! This is what it looks like—or, at least, this is what it looked like before Banana Bag & Bodice left town a year ago. Now that they're back with a show, the world is safe again for deranged, profane, language-drunk gorgeousness.
In a weird, pooling marsh made out of black plastic, a six-foot mound rises. It's awful and fleshy—it looks like a pile of heavy udders. Once Jessica Jelliffe appears in it, sunk to her waist, we see the whole thing is a body…an obese, sessile, dripping organism. Almost all of Jason Craig's text for LongYarn will be Jelliffe's storytelling, delivered from atop this hoopskirt of flab.
Jelliffe plays an unnamed old woman, “an old lady with bad gas but with good odor,” who has sat down for the last time and now wants to share her obscene, often hilarious life story. Was she really raised by cows? Did she run away with pirates? Even if her “makey-uppies” aren't real, you can still feel the details: She revels in the sucking mud of her infancy, the feel of a presumptuous man's eyeballs in her clenching hands. The old relic may look like Winnie from Happy Days, but she's got, amazingly, an even more can-do attitude. When she went aboard that pirate ship, she says, “They tied me down to take turns tea-bagging me—which [Jelliffe makes a wry face] was new. But isn't life about the new?” Behind her, cooking themselves breakfast and paging through Marie Claire are her adult sons—the sweet one who believes (Peter Blomquist) and the asshole one who couldn't care less (Craig). When she comes, at last, to discussing what having children has done to her, the show explodes. No deprivation seems as awful as the trap of having children, and Jelliffe—who is basically a ballistic missile—turns on her sons. At this point, she takes the goddamn roof off.
I can't think of another company that plays so confidently in Beckett's shadow, with dense pages of writing interspersed with wry, self-deflating commentary. Inevitably, a baroque sequence will end with someone (usually Craig) yelping, “What the fuck?” Mad, careering prose and the sudden brake—it's a rhythm only Banana Bag does so well. All three, steered by Elena Heyman, do great work: Blomquist is marvelously understated; Craig seems to have made a minute study of the worst part of older brother-hood.
But the show belongs to Jelliffe. The theater is full of monster mothers—you can't swing a cat around serious drama without hitting an Amanda Wingfield or a Mama Rose. Here, Jelliffe has created another such creature, but there's something simultaneously less and more real about this one. It's a funny portrait, yes, but she dares to show us the self-loathing, the body horror and the anger that lie on the dark side of motherhood. She hasn't got a name, but you'll remember her. She'll come squelching out of your dreams if you don't.—Helen Shaw
Bushwick Starr (Off-Off Broadway). By Jason Craig. Directed by Elena Heyman. With Jessica Jelliffe, Craig and Peter Blomquist. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.