What It Is
Recent Cutbacks, acclaimed for their signature stripped down style of theatrical movie parodies, returns to The PIT with their third and most ambitious show to date, KEVIN!!!!!, a multimedia send-up of perennial holiday classic Home Alone. Playing through January 7th at The PIT, KEVIN!!!! combines puppetry, live projection, a four-part choir, and the free-wheeling ensemble spectacle we’ve come to expect from Recent Cutbacks in a majorly satisfying hour-long show.
And in case you missed their previous shows, they’re offering one-night-only reprises of both Hold Onto Your Butts and Fly, You Fools! as a part of two double-feature evenings, listed below. Both classics are highly recommended — you can even read this blog’s very first review, of Fly, You Fools!, if you need any more convincing!
Why It’s Good
If you’ve ever seen a Recent Cutbacks production, this section could suffice to say, “They’ve done it again!” — and you may know what I mean and be on your way to one of the remaining performances.
For those unfamiliar with what “it” is that the company seems to so consistently pull off, you’re in for a treat. Recent Cutbacks shows are joyous, virtuosic offerings to the theater gods, pulling sacred cows from the cinematic canon and using them as vessels for pure theatrical creativity.
The company began with the 2014 smash hit Hold Onto Your Butts, a two-man-and-one-Foley-artist, “shot-for-shot” parody of Jurassic Park. The next installment, Fly, You Fools! was a similar treatment, adding a third ensemble member and multimedia explorations to recreate the epic beginning of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. KEVIN!!!!, a parody of Home Alone, is the biggest leap in form by far, but remarkably maintains the brilliant low-fi raucousness of past shows, and the consistent vision and playful intensity under director Kristin McCarthy Parker is notable throughout all of Recent Cutbacks’ work.
The ensemble has grown, comprised of Recent Cutbacks veterans and co-founders Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer, and newcomers Natalie Rich and Sonia Mena. The four performers swirl around the stage, juggling characters, projectors, puppets, and more in a stunning multimedia display that never gets old. Literally — the very storytelling style shifts in scale and form as the show unfolds, so no single stage concept overstays its welcome. And amazingly, the narrative clarity appears effortless as KEVIN!!!! shapeshifts on a dime multiple times.
Live sound design has been a signature part of past shows, and KEVIN!!!! doesn’t disappoint. The four-part choir (Sarah Godwin, Evan Maltby, Richard Sears, Michelle Vo) are in constant motion, providing scoring and background vocals, serving as prop technicians and at times props themselves. All four are immensely talented, making it a pleasure each time they’re integrated into the action. They swing from cracking jokes to soaring arias, right in tempo with the fast-paced, concentrated emotional journey being conjured before us.
But it’s really the multimedia explosion at play in KEVIN!!!!! that sets it apart from previous Recent Cutbacks shows. Projections, multi-scaled puppets, live action mixed with live-streamed and recorded footage — it’s an almost overwhelming panoply of low-fi storytelling techniques deftly wielded to take on this movie. But since everything is still manipulated and at times juggled manually by the ensemble of storytellers, it retains that outrageous live theatrical joy that makes this exercise so worthwhile. Gadgetry has always been a storytelling technique for the company, but this is some next-level stuff.
Much of the fun of a Recent Cutbacks show is the solid team effort, but
each performer has plenty of moments to shine. Nick Abeel, as the title character, makes the most of his many iconic moments throughout the show. Kyle Schaefer nails several smaller roles, and shines when he joins the choir as a sort of sound effects secret agent. Natalie Rich’s portrayal of Kevin’s mother (originally played by Catherine O’Hara) is simply a gift, and when she’s joined by Sonia Mena to portray Harry and Marv, the bumbling Wet Bandits, the pair are a source of some of the show’s finest moments.
Recent Cutbacks has always done a good job of selecting source materials with the right balance of popularity, iconic quotable moments, and genuine excellence. Home Alone is a departure from the “epic film made on stage” trope, but I commend the choice to change up the genre, and it absolutely carries the same necessary nostalgic aura. And for a limited engagement, as a holiday classic it’s seasonally very appropriate.
Despite the engaging, fast-paced fun, when I sit watching something like KEVIN!!!!! critically, I can’t help but notice some serious ideas about media and culture being playfully interrogated through content and form. Some particular gag, some delightful theatrical subversion will send my mind whirring, and I’ll look around and wonder, “Does anyone else see how interesting this is?” What I see are smiling, bright faces, rolling on waves of laughter, encouraging me to forget being serious and just dive back in. It’s great.
Though we saw the show earlier in its run, the publishing of this review was unfortunately delayed. In the meantime the show’s surely only gotten stronger, leaving a series of glowing reviews in its wake. It seems fitting to conclude this section with a summary of the well-articulated praise that the production has garnered so far.
KEVIN!!!!! has received accolades from The New York Times, Theater In The Now, Theater Is Easy, and holds an astounding audience rating of 98 on Show-Score, while PopCityLife says they’re “100% confident you’ll love Recent Cutbacks newest offering.” The Times even named it as part of a Holiday Activity feature for 2016. And if you want to hear more about the show, you can also check the awesome Go See a Show! Podcast episode featuring director Kristin McCarthy Parker, and founding ensemble members Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer. This is most certainly a show to catch while you still can.
I don’t need to repeat my earlier thoughts from Fly, You Fools! about the pitfalls of the nostalgia bomb. For myself, Home Alone was less a part of my formation than Jurassic Park or The Fellowship of the Ring, and I’ll admit I felt a difference in the sheer joy. But KEVIN!!!!! deserves praise for never making me feel left out, and doing its best to remind us of iconic moments, and summarize the confusing or filler bits. Whether you remember the shot they’re recreating, the live storytelling is absolutely compelling in its own right; Recent Cutbacks has certainly stepped up to that challenge of their chosen form.
And while the cuts and paraphrase are clearly necessary and done with a careful hand, and some winks come in handy to guide the audience along the abridged version of the script — paring 102 minutes down to just under 60 is no small feat — too much winking can look like a twitch. In the end KEVIN!!!!! earns every trick and sticks every landing, but maybe once or twice I thought something was stuck in its eye, and craved some more verbatim from the movie to ground me.
For all its innovations and successes, KEVIN!!!!! could represent an existential crisis for Recent Cutbacks, and it will be very interesting to see where they go from here. Every new creative idea for capturing the movie felt in keeping with what I’ve loved about previous offerings, as a scrappy theatrical parody done really, really well. But in almost every direction it feels like, “more,” when I thought the original charm was derived from “less.” Then again, it might feel so justified here because it’s “more” of “less”, not actually more. And that’s where it gets philosophical.
All that said: Recent Cutbacks has again proven their bag of tricks to be deeper than our dreams, serving up nonstop theatrical creativity that needs to be seen to be appreciated. And if you have any fondness for the holiday classic KEVIN!!!! is sending up, you’re in for a particular treat!
Created by Recent Cutbacks
Featuring Nick Abeel, Sonia Mena, Natalie Rich, Kyle Schaefer
Music Arranged by Kelsey Didion
Choir Direction by Richard Sears
Choir: Sarah Godwin, Evan Maltby, Richard Sears, Michelle Vo
Produced by Lanie Zipoy
Directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker
– C. F.