Singlet

Theater, Experimental
4 out of 5 stars
Singlet
Photograph: Courtesy Sasha Arutyunova

Erin Markey moves into straight plays, and they may never be straight again.

Theater review by Helen Shaw 

Think you’re prepared for an Erin Markey show? You’re not prepared. You may already know Markey from the cabaret show Boner Killer or the queer pop concert-musical A Ride on the Irish Cream, which featured the performer’s startling, last-trump-of-doom singing voice. The trippy Singlet mostly turns away from music but keeps a beads-on-a-string cabaret structure, slipping from one sequence into another to increase our disorientation.

Instead of songs, the steel-jawed Markey and the sulky-eyed Emily Davis perform sexually charged, absurdist scenelets that have no clear connection other than the pair’s oddball magnetism. First, they’re friends in a dressing room hyping each other up (“I can’t believe I fit into the small!”); then, they wrestle, their ponytail braids swinging around like lassos. Later, they become high-school teachers illustrating vocabulary with charged role-play, then later—I think?—the Jets from West Side Story. The one constant is mood: a kind of excited struggle, the push-me-pull-you competition of a relationship on the brink. As in other pieces, Markey eroticizes the trappings of girlhood: dance classes, friendships, coaches, dolls (“Mmm! A toy human!”). Delivered in a husky, vocal-fry-filled drawl, almost anything seems like a come-on. (The line “Coach Pooh, I like that attitude” actually made me blush.)

Singlet eventually slows its headlong slalom; as it wears on, the jokes become so private that they lose the first section’s pinball velocity. Director Jordan Fein can’t quite shape the evening’s energy, though in the best of his blocking he keeps the pair uncomfortably close; they deliver their lines millimeters away from each other’s lips. Carolyn Mraz’s white photo-studio set treats the pair like art objects, and a snazzy white-on-white Versace symbol on the floor keeps everything dirtbag-classy. (This may be a reference to Showgirls, that cinematic zenith of homoerotic close-talking.) Enver Chakartash’s ritzy, glitzy costumes include warmup jackets heavily bedazzled with pearls and body chains, but Markey and Davis shuck those jackets the minute they can. They set their jaws and settle their stance—they know they can sparkle harder.

The Bushwick Starr (Off-Off Broadway). By Erin Markey. Directed by Jordan Fein. With Markey, Emily Davis. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. 

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By: Helen Shaw

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