The question of representation in entertainment is a front-and-center issue of our time, even if you’re not working in the industry. With trending topics like #OscarsSoWhite, the raging back-and-forth around Hamilton’s non-white casting call, audition room role reversals, and a recent surge of Asian awareness in Hollywood, it’s pretty familiar territory to anyone with a finger on media’s pulse.
Room 4, by Marina and Nicco, and playing twice more at The People’s Improv Theater (5/26 & 5/27 at 9:30 PM) takes an extended look under the hood, moving deeper than hashtags and taking full advantage of comedy and theatrical history to deconstruct depictions of black characters and the use of black actors in America. Four actors stuck in an existential time loop play out their most stereotyped role, tortured from beyond time and space by the twin fantasies of white supremacist media — the Angry Black Guy and the Magical Negro.
The piece moves as a series of comedic scenes spiraling on a theatrical framework that draws variously from Beckett, commedia dell’arte, and Groundhog’s Day. To quote the aptly worded release, “It’s funny, but a little angry, but mostly funny.”
If you set out to the multi-purpose Central Arts space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, you may find yourself transported to a suburban prom circa 2003 for the duration of your visit, before and after the production of Taylor Mac’s “Okay”, now playing through May 28th, by UglyRhino Productions. The arena stage is ringed by seating, a DJ booth pumping early-Aughts beats all night, and a bar with beer, wine, and cocktails — including a spiked punch.
The intimate arrangement brings the audience inside a high school bathroom, where all the action swirls around one girl’s stall as she deals with the oncoming birth of her baby at prom. Originally conceived and performed by Mac as a solo piece, UglyRhino has created an expanded vision of the world with tight direction, impressive design, and a solid ensemble of performers.
It’s a social affair, so consider arriving early for a drink, or staying after — you might need one.
Given just a one-line description of Recent Cutbacks’ “Fly, You Fools!”, currently extended through July at The People’s Improv Theater, it feels like a bit of a joke: a nearly shot-for-shot parody of The Fellowship of the Ring starring just three actors and a Foley sound artist, sending up the first installment of Peter Jackson’s historic The Lord of The Rings trilogy in about an hour-and-a-half.
And after all, it’s being produced at one of the preeminent comedy centers in NYC, which until recently hasn’t necessarily been known as a breeding ground for traditional theater. But this show, along with some of the other recent offerings at The PIT, should challenge that assumption pretty directly.
Running at The PIT through July, “Fly, You Fools!” will also include limited run / double-feature presentations of Recent Cutbacks’ original production, “Hold On To Your Butts” on 6/28 & 7/12.