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Cape Disappointment

The Debate Society's latest offering is more notable for its design and its acting than its storylines. logo
Hannah Bos, Michael Cyril Creighton,
and Pamela Payton-Wright in Cape Disappointment
(© Ryan Jensen)
In the amusing prologue to writer-performers Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen's Cape Disappointment, currently performing at PS 122, a proper, upstanding couple from a bygone era take turns gleefully listing the wonders of Detroit until their enthusiasm wanes and they have nothing left to say. Ironically, the isolated scene foreshadows the experience of watching the show that follows. It's easy to be initially excited about, but finally lives up to its title.

The strong suit of the 70-minute show, the latest from the hip Brooklyn-based group The Debate Society, is the novel ambiance of its presentation. Karl Allen's evocative set transforms the playing space into an abandoned, decrepit drive-in, with car speakers hitched to posts throughout the audience and coolers full of free popcorn in the aisles. Mike Riggs' spooky lighting and Nathan Leigh's often eerie soundscape contribute to the sensually intriguing environment, which often puts the audience in near or total darkness.

The design team has ably set the mood for the show's juxtaposed stories, which initially play like creepy road movies that might have comprised the drive-in's double features. In one, a couple of clean-cut kids get lost in the woods after their car runs out of gas; in another, two unwitting travelling salesmen are lured off the highway by a mysterious woman and her malformed daughter. These stories aren't connected by anything other than their initial 1950's horror movie sensibilities, although neither make good on the promises of the genre.

A third story, which might be entitled "The Pedophile And The Little Girl", features smug voice-over narration and simply does not cohere with the others in tone or in presentation. While the story is the only one to be visually introduced as if it unspooling on the drive-in's screen, before long its characters are depicted at the drive-in. As the show wears on, inconsistencies like this start to seem less like mysteries worth solving and more like the result of rule-breaking for its own sake.

Bos and Thureen are joined by Pamela Payton-Wright and Michael Cyril Creighton in portraying the show's dozen characters, and all four players work in tandem as a cohesive ensemble. Bos and Creighton do especially well modulating the anxiety in their performances as the stranded teens, Thureen is most memorable as the seemingly benign pedophile, and Payton-Wright brings vulnerability to a welcome, but overlong, regret-tinged monologue.


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