Thaddeus Phillips in Capsule 33
(© Maria Möller)
Thaddeus Phillips in Capsule 33
(© Maria Möller)
There's no lack of fanciful storytelling in Thaddeus Phillips' solo show Capsule 33, now playing at the Barrow Street Theatre, nor is there any lack of theatrical ingenuity involved in the solo show, which is literally powered by sustainable energy. (Audience members are asked to pump small generators as they enter the theater to make sure the stage lights run). But, despite the cleverness and good intentions behind the show, Phillips' tale is so slight that it rarely seems to merit the painstaking work that goes into its telling.

Phillips' piece imagines that Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, an actual building constructed in the early 1970s of prefabricated modules or "capsules," large enough to accommodate a single resident, is about to be imploded, having fallen into a state of disrepair. However, one of the building's residents, Milo Dukanovic, a Serbian scientist obsessed with the work and legacy of Nikola Tesla, is refusing to leave the unit that gives the play its title.

It's rough not to be charmed by Phillips' energetic and quirk-filled performance as this eccentric man, who endured an almost Candide-like journey to Japan, as hostilities between the Serbs and Croatians raged in the early 1990s. Equally charming -- and marvelously goofy -- are the digressions into the way in which Milo came to have his most prized possession, a bright yellow rubber duck, which he's named Fumio; it involves an overturned ship and oceanic diaspora of the plastic creatures. All of this backstory is provided by the second primary character in the play: a good-natured and slightly screwball electrician who will be responsible for demolishing the building, whether it contains Milo or not.

As the play unfolds, and theatergoers watch Milo as he moves through his usual routine on what might be his last day on earth, Phillips maneuvers a replica of one of the building's pods around a raised platform on the stage to ingenious effect. At one moment, theatergoers see Milo as he eats his breakfast in a kind of diorama view, chatting casually with Fumio. Later, when the pod is upended and a sheet of blue plastic is draped across one of its openings, one's treated to an aerial view of Milo in his bathtub. The unit even becomes a white board that the electrician can use for drawing charts as he describes Milo and Fumio's journeys to Japan.

Unfortunately, however, the piece -- and its use of clever effects -- wears thin well before its conclusion. The fact remains, however, that underneath all the whimsy are some shrewd points about big business and the impact that it has on our environment.