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Theater review by Helen Shaw
There’s something nostalgic about the zany comedy Thunderbodies. Kate Tarker’s postmodern romp at Soho Rep is a loud, filthy burlesque, and as the show came to its bumptious close—with people dancing on tables and flinging plates around—the man next to me said, delightedly, “It makes me feel like I’m back at La MaMa.” Indeed, some of the jokes about love, politics and our poor assaulted earth felt like riffs on old Jean-Claude van Itallie plays from back in the Off-Off day. You might be tempted to roll a couple of beer bottles around this relatively polished production, just so it can get that old-timey downtown stickiness back.
“I have a thunderbelly! Careful of my thunderbelly!” cries General Mikhail (Juan Carlos Hernández) in a little bucking-up song, as his multiple medals jingle. He’s gathering courage to propose to his beloved, the Rabelaisian Grotilde (Deirdre O’Connell), who seems to be a kind of titaness: She has recently lost 610 pounds, and the ground still trembles as she walks. Grotilde likes to sit in a La-Z-Boy with her legs akimbo, so that her vagina—the source, everyone says, of her power—can really get a look at things. Grotilde is happy to accept Mikhail’s hand, as long as she can have preemptive divorce first, to get the painful bit out of the way. But the guest list is an issue. Her son (Matthew Jeffers) is off losing a war somewhere sandy, and—despite direct orders from the President (Ben Horner), who micromanages the fighting via personal drone —he’s refusing to come home.
Tarker’s play rolls a few serious issues around in its mouth—with the “climate-economy” tanking, animal species are starting to fuse—but there’s no real attempt to bite down hard. Thunderbodies seems mostly to be an excuse for linguistic, rather than political, mayhem: Tarker has come to talk dirty and make puns. Happily, Blain-Cruz has a careful eye for goofy theater business. Matt Saunders has constructed a set out of yellow and blue panels that open to reveal performers in ridiculous situations, isolated like cartoons inside frames. In this environment, the actors are set off to mainly handsome effect. Jeffers makes several funny, subtle choices; he always adjusts his hair when he’s talking war crimes. O’Connell, meanwhile, takes a drive-a-tank-at-it approach that mows the audience down completely. In yet another splendid Off Broadway performance, the actress roars through the play, devouring the props and chewing the scenery. Whenever she speaks, the audience crows with delight—it’s such a pleasure to watch a woman really eat.
Soho Rep (Off Broadway). By Kate Tarker. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.