The radical self-expression experiment known as the Burning Man Festival holds inexplicable draw to those who have been and perhaps an even greater mystique for those of us who have never set foot in the Black Rock City desert where participants gather each year to create a temporary community.
The title of Maggie Cino's thought-provoking play, Decompression, at the Kraine Theater, refers to parties held after the fest that act as a re-integration back into society for Burning Man participants. At this particular one in Bushwick, eight friends seek to recapture the freedom they felt in the desert.
The group ends up at the nearby apartment of Amanda (Hannah Vaughn) and Justin (Michael Criscuolo) where a dangerous game emerges. At the suggestion of Justin, everyone agrees to pool their collective wealth and then have each person pick a piece of paper out of a hat to determine who gets to keep it all (nearly $100,000) along with the apartment for a year. The idea is that it will force everyone to reinvent their lives and create the equality they found at Burning Man.
As Elena (Victoria Anne Miller), a part-time teacher who lives off of her childhood acting royalty checks points out, the festival is only for people who can afford to drop two thousand dollars to spend a week in the desert, having to buy a ticket to the fest, transportation to get there, and all the supplies needed to survive in the desert. This excludes a vast amount of the population from participating in the supposedly inclusive society.
As much as they try, the well-intentioned friends cannot escape the confines of their privilege. Cino, who based the play on Isak Dinesen's short story "Carnival," has created vivid characters that are fascinating to watch as they wrestle with identity. There are many big ideas woven in about the fairness of capitalism and the distribution of wealth, but Cino ties them so organically to the characters that there isn't a preachy moment in this riveting show.
-- Chris Kompanek