Review: (oh my god I am so) THIRST(y)
Fri Oct 29 2010
** (TWO STARS)
Incubator Arts Project at St. Mark's Church (see Off-Off Broadway). Based on Eugene O'Neill's Thirst. Dir. Michael Levinton. 1hr. No intermission.
As you walk into the Incubator Arts Project to see the avant-downtown company Little Lord's larky deconstruction of Eugene O'Neill's Thirst, be sure to stop by the bar. Wandering techies from the show will be happy to serve you a beer, and you ought to take them up on it. I saw (oh my god I am so) THIRST(y) sober, and I truly, truly do not mean to be cruel when I say: Sober was a mistake. Michael Levinton's cheap-and-cheerful show, one in which postmodern high jinks and visual puns run riot, benefits from a sense of convivial relaxation. The frothy thing won't sustain the unintoxicated imagination—the deliberately hokey aesthetic often slips into simple amateurishness. But if you can let your hair down for the scant hour-long running time, there are compensations.
In its original, undoctored form, O'Neill's 1913 one-act already sounds like an expressionist provocation: On a drifting raft, three survivors of a Titanic-esque tragedy go abruptly mad under a blazing sun. A dapper fellow in evening wear, a bespangled dancer and a West Indian sailor (played first by O'Neill himself—in blackface) drift along, sweltering, until finally the dancer snaps, the sailor pulls a knife, and all three go ass-over-teakettle into the shark-infested waters. Levinton physicalizes O'Neill's stage directions, so the "sun" is a woman in glittering gold lam and the "sharks"—two thugs dressed in white—play a sinister game of pool. (Get it?) Levinton, busily chucking in experimental gambits, makes some feeble gestures toward racial recontextualization, but his best idea is having several different actors play the dancer. This neat little (re)casting coup introduces Von Hottie (pictured above) onto the raft—and saves the show. That woman is like a puff of fresh air into a deflating inner tube; she has genuine, dangerous anarchy in her eyes, and yet you find yourself wistfully contemplating the possibility of getting lost at sea with her.