Reviewed by Martin Denton
January 20, 2005
(See the original review)

 

Reviewed by Michael Niederman
January 21, 2005
(See the original review)

     
Lots of young theatre artists are playing around at bringing cartoons, comic books, and pulp thriller/sci-fi genres to life on stage (Mark Lonergan and the Vampire Cowboys come to mind). For several years, Jeffrey Lewonczyk and his partner/collaborator Hope Cartelli have been at the forefront of this mini-movement, and their newest work, Bizarre Science Fantasy, provides a lighthearted, enchanting, and thoroughly entertaining example of this enjoyable and burgeoning style of theatre.

BSF is a trilogy of three short pieces, each of which tells a silly/fantastical tale without dialogue. Movement, dance, and music are what propel these stories, and much of the fun comes from the ways that Lewonczyk (author/director of all three) has mixed up styles and preconceptions to keep his audience amused and surprised. So a spacegirl saga that feels like a winking parody of Charlie's Angels quickly morphs into a hilarious, netherwordly cartoony fantasia where three aliens that look like a cross between TeleTubbies and the Lullaby League from The Wizard of Oz execute an entrancing comical dance. And a tongue-in-cheek allegory that starts out feeling like a paean to Harold Lloyd movies is suddenly interrupted by what I can only describe as a live Bugs Bunny routine (with three bewitching lovelies as the gravity-defying Bugs and our Lloyd-esque hero as a hapless Elmer Fudd), and later by a pair of delicious choreographed routines performed to nifty and unusual recordings of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

So at its best, Bizarre Science Fantasy is a triumph of imagination and invention; and even when it's not so inspired, it's always a darned good time. Narrated by Lewonczyk in the disembodied guise of a fourth-dimensional being called The Nightmarer, the show begins with "The Amphibians," set in a desolate bar where a man (Devon Hawkes Ludlow) and a woman (Jessi Gotta), both of whom have seen better days, sit across from one another drinking alone; the only other occupant is the bartender (Robin Reed, delightfully slatternly in a shapeless housedress and rolled-down knee-highs). Until, that is, we start to hear the sound "rivet-rivet-rivet." Something has gotten into the tavern—something froglike and, it turns out, terrifying. The bartender deals with the first intruder, but many more of these invisible creatures follow in this fast-paced and very silly sci-fi/horror spoof. Best moment: Gotta, feigning a sedate retreat to the ladies' room after Ludlow makes an unwanted advance, comes face-to-face with one of, er, Them.

"North of Polaris" features Cartelli and Katie Brack as a pair of sexy astronaut-ettes on a mission to outer space. It starts off as a loopy spoof of the sexy-girl-crimefighters-in-impractically-revealing-outfits genre, with Cartelli a hoot adjusting her makeup while seated at the spaceship's controls and Katie Brack, as the serious one, pressing zillions of imaginary buttons on a make-believe navigator's console. Eventually they land on a faraway planet, where Brack meets that winsome trio of aliens I told you about earlier and Cartelli wonders off on her own. The piece includes a neat after-school-special sort of moral, and contains the inspired notion, right out of a Get Smart rerun, that the girls' compacts double as walkie-talkies. Ludlow, Gotta, and Reed play the space creatures, adorably.

The final item on the program is "Hell's Belles," a somewhat longer and more abstract piece that originally premiered last summer in the Hell Festival. It revolves around Ludlow as a not-so-innocent rube who gets sentenced to eternal damnation in the company of the three demonic title characters. This piece is the most ambitious of the trilogy, and though it's more uneven than the other two, it achieves the evening's most blissful high points (notably the Loony Tunes-inspired sequence in which Ludlow dodges Belles, brooms, and other obstacles with rapidfire grace). Ludlow's clown persona doesn't always mesh with the more actorly work of the women in the cast, and the throughline is more complicated and confusing than the more direct plots of the two other pieces. But it's a fine, fun piece nonetheless, and a giddy and effective closer to the bill.

BSF is being presented in the intimate storefront Brick Theater in Williamsburg, which is rapidly becoming one of NYC's most dependable venues for high-energy, low-budget theatre. Lewonczyk uses the space masterfully, and he's abetted by his designers (Cartelli on costumes, and the estimable James Bedell on lights). And the eclectic soundtrack for the evening—happily disclosed fully in the program—is priceless.

I don't care how cold it is outside. You need to get onto a train and travel to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (otherwise known as the Fourth Dimension), and go see Bizarre Science Fantasy, which is playing at the Brick Theater until Feb. 5.

Yes, I know the city is covered in a blanket of unforgiving snow and you can see icicles forming in your breath with every exhale. Those excuses for not leaving the house and seeing this wonderful piece of theater are not good enough. Inside the cozy, brick-lined black-box walls you will be offered a bottle of beer or a glass of whiskey before being whisked away to a place where your darkest nightmares become real.

Under the direction (and über-spooky narration) of writer Jeffrey A. Lewonczyk, Bizarre Science Fantasy takes elements from the scariest and cheesiest of sci-fi and horror comic books and serials from the 1950's and turns it all into a wonderful evening of wordless theater. Every member of this cast employs note-perfect pantomime to portray a variety of horrific and frightful characters. Over the course of the evening, I had the bejesus scared out of me by barflies, streetwalkers, Southern Baptist preachers, homicidal frogs, playful Martians, and Space Vixens From Outer Space.

The Brick's bare stage was transformed into worlds never seen on this earth, utilizing only enough smoke to make all of the actors appear to be in a soft-focused 1930's film. Surrounded by this unworldly haze, the players danced and mimed a fearless performance to create a theatrical evening full of magic, wonder, and, yes, bone-chilling and blood-curdling horror.

In the first, wordless piece, The Amphibians, Jessi Gotta, Robin Reed, and Devon Hawkes Ludlow portray the kind of dive bar patrons that could exist in an obscure Charles Bukowski story or Eugene O'Neill play. They sipped whiskey, hit on one another, and whiled away the hours, deadening their souls with liquor and dreams of a better life. They did this until their lives were threatened by a horde of vicious, bloodthirsty, evil frogs. The performers' dead-on, subtle movements, accentuated by brilliant sound design by Matt Hall from a zoological score compiled by Charles M. Bogert, created an entertaining, playful, and spine-chilling playlet.

The second piece—and my favorite—–was North of Polaris. A pair of buxom Space Vixens From Outer Space travel to a planet deep in space to investigate the aliens who live there. Dressed in hipster space outfits—apparently they still wear zippered track suits in the future—performers Katie Brack and Hope Cartelli explore strange and new worlds, and their possible bisexuality, until they come across the cutest, and scariest, tutu-wearing Martians ever. The Space Vixens From Outer Space and the Martians dance the starry, starry night away, ending the piece on an emotional note that is both whimsical and melancholic. Oh, and absolutely terrifying as well.

The third piece, Hell's Belles, combined elements of J.D. Salinger, Damon Runyon, and Flannery O'Connor to tell a morality tale about sex, liquor, loose women, and the Lord. All of the evening's players came together to perform this dark and complex story. Brack, Gotta, and Reed, dressed as cigarette girls and other assorted women of the night, danced around the hapless Ludlow, as the ghost of his former love, played by Cartelli, haunted his every move.

Bizarre Science Fantasy was one of the more magical—and scary—evenings of theater that I have seen in a long time. All of the performers were more than game for every situation that director Jeffrey Lewonczyk put them in, and I found great joy, and spine-tingling horror, in being brought along for the ride. I highly recommend this evening of silent theater. Words just can't do it justice.