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Americana Absurdum

Brian Parks' remarkable testament to human cruelty and corruption gets a first-rate revival at P.S. 122. logo
A scene from Americana Absurdum
(Photo © Rachel Roberts)
You would be hard pressed to find a more corrupt and venal bunch than the denizens of Brian Parks' Americana Absurdum, which has returned for a limited run at P.S. 122. This remarkable show debuted at the original New York International Fringe Festival 10 years ago, and will making a reprise visit there in August. But why not just catch it now!

In this evening of two one-act plays, "Vomit & Roses" and "Wolverine Dream," corporations work to swindle the little guy, who in turn is trying to rise on the backs of his fellow townsfolk. Indeed, the only human quality that the play's characters share is cruelty , tempered by the weight of dashed hopes and ambitions. The playwright's political satire is right on target, his humor is both bitter and hilarious, and his poetic language of his dialogue is the real thing.

"Vomit & Roses" follows a family of undertakers on the day that big business plans a hostile takeover of their home. The clan naively decides not to budge, and hires an unctuous lawyer Ermine Miami (Paul Urcioli) to defend them. This angers "The Suits" -- actual three-piece outfits that actor Brian Dykstra puppeteers -- and they plot to undermine the clan with palpable glee at their misfortune. Still, it's hard to feel sorry for this put-upon bunch when they practically salivate every time a death in town brings them a new customer. Mother (Nancy Walsh) has a disturbing enthusiasm for her job, launching into flowery verses with every internal organ that she removes. Father (David Clavitto) plans the business's expansion and wonders why one can't "just shoot people in the head." Considering his upbringing, son Perth (Jody Lambert) grew up surprisingly well adjusted, and he's on a fast ticket to college and a better life; however, his sister Kea (Eva van Dok) has become awkward, shy, and contemplative.

There's a glimmer of hope when Kea meets Lieutenant William Calley (Matt Oberg), with whom she hits it off because they've both seen death up close. Audiences may be able to guess how long their understanding will last, but they won't be able to predict the many turns the narrative takes by the play's conclusion. When court cases and personal dramas are unexpectedly resolved, the one-act's title is revealed to be a sardonic metaphor for life.

"Wolverine Dream" takes place during the aftermath of a plane crash that killed all human passengers. Grieving daughters Mashie and Spoon Balata (Walsh and van Dok) divide their father's inheritance, down to splitting his cremated ashes, but they eventually find the time to sue the airliner. The problem is the only witness to the crew's negligence is a wolverine, and he's not talking... because the insurance team may have bought his silence! It doesn't help that their legal representation is an overdrinking Irishman, Peat O'Mayo (Dykstra), whose assistants are two bumbling leprechauns.

When you think things couldn't get weirder, Parks throws out more surreal curveballs, including a morphine-addled mother (Leslie Farrell) who gave birth to two clowns that literally came out of the birth canal with enormous feet. The head of the airline is Wallace Stevens (Calvitto), who is clearly modeled after the acclaimed American poet of the same name During the trial, he refers to an unsympathetic judge as "The Emperor of Ice Cream" (Stevens' best-known title), and his lawyer pressures the Air Traffic Controller (Jacobson) into admitting that he envies the pilot's salary and love life. This play also has a surprise ending, which gives the giddy romp an unexpected pathos.

Director John Clancy steers his actors with the precision of a surgeon wielding his scalpel. He is also to be commended for his innovative noir staging; for example, actors shine lights under their chins like children telling campfire stories.

That Americana Absudrum has been a hit in London and Edinburgh is no shock: Brits and Scots can always be expected to shell out money to see Yanks behaving badly. Just because you live here doesn't mean you shouldn't join them in opening your wallet.

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