Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: It's My Party So Put Down The Baseball Bat

By Ed Malin

Something lovely from Québec has landed in New York.  Award-winning Canadian playwright David Paquet’s play Porcupine is now playing in downtown Brooklyn, directed by Leta Tremblay, translated from the original French by Maureen Labonté.  The writer and director state “that there are three major ingredients to the play: surrealism, dark comedy and day to day poetic vulnerability.”
That does a good job of summing up the surprising theater spectacle, which reveals much more than first meets the eye.  There is great honesty, such as the way that one person’s happy birthday party brings out the worst in others.  There are subtle explorations into woman-on-woman violence (admittedly inspired by competition over an unworthy male) and the much healthier cooperation that might take its place.  And there is a surprise birth scene (to the tune of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”) and lots of balloons.
Maybe, just maybe, feelings are not the best way to choose a solid relationship.  Noami (Jessica Kuhne) loves Theodore (Jean Brassard) so very much, she has brought up her great desire to have a baby.  While the two sip cocktails in lawn chairs, Theodore replies that he no longer has feelings for Noami and then walks out.  Meanwhile, in her tinsely residence, Cassandra (Sofi Lambert) is preparing for her birthday party. She throws a bunch of ingredients into a bowl and then voilà she has an exotic chocolate cake with wild frosting that resembles a porcupine.  Strolling down the street, Cassandra meets Theodore and gives him an invite to her party. The next stop for Cassandra is Phil’s Corner Store, where Suzanne (Yeauxlanda Kay) chain-smokes as she minds the register. When Suzanne stands up to help Cassandra with her birthday balloons, we see that Suzanne is pregnant.  Cassandra invites the resentful Suzanne to her party. The Owner of the store (Vincent D’Arbouze) is the lonely, virginal gentleman whose dyslexic mother named him Phillilip.  He adores Cassandra, and is sorry to have missed her, but is overjoyed at the thought of crashing her birthday party.  Suzanne goes for a walk and meets the newly-single, distraught Noami.  As the two chat in lounge chairs, Suzanne dozes off.  Without warning, Noami swings a baseball bat at Suzanne’s stomach.
photo by Audubon Dougherty
Theodore gets his hair dyed black in the back of the enterprising Phil’s shop.  Cassandra feeds Theodore cake and Theodore feeds Cassandra bad pickup lines.   They talk about a duck named Gilbert, who Cassandra once rescued.  The self-centered Theodore realizes he is not compatible with Cassandra, and goes back home to tease the suddenly pregnant Noami.   After learning about Theodore’s day and throwing him out, Noami resolves to go to Cassandra’s birthday party.  There, she coaxes Cassandra into putting on a blindfold (for a special variant of piñata games) and then brings out the baseball bat.  Suzanne, no longer pregnant, arrives to mediate, but by the time the love-sick Phil gets to the party, Cassandra is pregnant.   Phil, the innocent and yet awkward one, sometimes tortures ducks in his spare time, while Cassandra sometimes cuts herself, so perhaps they cannot give each other what is needed   Indeed, 33 is a special number since the 3s spoon each other.  Counting to 33 can either lead the way to premeditated violence or give one a chance to diffuse a bad situation. After some magical events, some very new and unexpected relationships emerge.    
A few master strokes in this play turn the whole thing pleasantly upside down.  The happy day on Angelica Borrero’s sets, with the Francophone pop music soundtrack collapses into questions of abusive relationships.  Allison Dawe’s costumes include multiple different dresses for each of Cassandra’s moods and several hairpieces and even a ski mask for Theodore as he confronts and then retreats from reality. Jesse Geguzis’s fight choreography shocks every time.   Why do people hurt themselves and others?  If abuse left a clear sign (such as pregnancy), would we finally be able to stop our hurtful behavior?  A puppet duck designed by Jean Marie Keevins—a symbol of hope—later appears.   This play certainly does innovative things with the lanterns and balloons which inhabit the set.   Sofi Lambert’s larger-than-life happiness soon eases into a variety of other compelling feelings, while Jessica Kuhne’s initial drive for revenge on her beloved  later morphs into sympathy for those she meets. Yeauxlanda Kay startles the happy world of the play with the things she says, and then helps heal others with the things she does.  The men are revealed to be forever looking for (or recovering from) women.  Jean Brassard’s elegance is a nice complement to Vincent D’Arbouze’s awkwardness. Leta Tremblay’s direction helps put the real in surreal, and offers many suggestions for how to build a better world.