UPDATE: OFF-BROADWAY COLUMN
The Borough of Manhattan Community College (home of the Tribeca Performing Arts Center) is an angular, cement monument to post-Bauhaus architectural indolence. A banner, hanging in the fluorescent lobby, commemorates the founding of New York State's first EMS program. Here begins our experience with Evolution, a new rock musical.
First to greet you are John and Mary Everyman (Chris Lynch and Rebecca Gentile). Lady Elektra (Michelle Daniels), a diminutive dominatrix, holds leashes attached to The Everymans' collars. In the course of the show, we learn that they are captive yuppies.
Interactivity and captivity are constant themes in Evolution. Inside the theatre, we confront a barrage of cast members, who beg you to clap for them when they are introduced latter. They offer temporary-tatoos, souvenir buttons and enough enthusiasm to win a land war in Asia. Audience participation achieves a fever pitch with concerted chants. Otto, a white-faced, Kojack-bald Calaban, struggles violently in his on-stage cage.
The side-show set comes to order with the appearance of composer/lyricist/ringleader Steve Guyer. Wearing an aroused checker board top-hat (no doubt nicked from a Tom Petty video), he surveys his minions like Dr. Moreau, basking in adulation and madness. The apocalypse, or at the least the advent of self-proclaimed "performance-rock," is announced with thunderous drum roll. No fewer than six percussionists (ominously named The Beast, Tick, Anaconda, Tock, Mr. Mental and The Quiet Menace) relentlessly punish their drum kits for the duration of the evening.
The electric guitar has been the definitive instrument in the rock 'n' roll genre for several decades; it carries the melody and accentuates the vocals. It is missed here only if we disengage from the frenetic pace. I took a mental break, to ask myself if I identified more closely with Mary Everyman or Otto. Then I found myself asking how Roger Davis (you know, from that other '90s rock musical) would twang a complimentary groove.
Back at Evolution, in a Fellini-esque touch, a grown woman plays a midget, squat-waddling with a T-shirt drawn over her knees. Near psychedelic lighting effects, a knife-throwing shtick, earnest vocals, and a series of contemporary vignettes follow.
The energy the cast had diverted to greeting its guests is channelled into ecstatic, carnal modern dance. In the Flamenco tradition, which favors passion over precision, their dancing rivals the eroticism of any legit New York productions in recent memory.
With his book, Guyer addresses myriad human quandaries. The rule of law. Procreation. Conspicuous consumption. And, of course, how to keep that lovin' feeling when the feel for love is long gone. Self-congratulatory for its breadth and self-deluded as to its depth, it is giving the benefit of the doubt to assume that the inspired medium is this production's message.
Building to a climax, much like a series of videos on MTV's "Buzz Bin," the production achieves its end and these talented kids take their curtain calls. We make our way to the exit, as the still-smiling cast wishes us fond goodnights. We had shared a tacit, terpsichorean intimacy. With the harsh light came a morning-after pang of embarrassment. Somewhere herein is an argument for the maintenance of the fourth wall.
But then, within the grey concrete of the Community College courtyard, we look out at the Manhattan skyline. The Woolworth Building. The twin towers. Borough Hall. Originating in Ohio, then touring the Midwest, this production has found its way to Manhattan's Tribeca. It has tremendous value, if only for having blazed a trail.
-- By Kevin W. Reardon