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The Race

This fast-paced marathon of movement and theatricality lives up to its title. logo
Natalie Ayton, Al Nedjari, James Flynn, Amit Lahav,
and Katharine Markee in The Race
(Photo © Simon Alexander)
From the very first moments of The Race, you know you're in for a unique experience. A man (Amit Lahav) enters on a treadmill, strutting to the sounds of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary." As the mobile treadmill moves forward, the man appears happy and playful, greeting friends who appear in small tableaux on different parts of the stage.

The vitality demonstrated in the opening sequence is a harbinger of things to come. Created and performed by the Gecko theater company, this physical theater piece is being presented as part of 59E59 Theater's annual Brits Off Broadway festival. It's directed by company co-artistic directors Lahav and Al Nedjari, both of whom perform in the show alongside James Flynn, Natalie Ayton, and Katharine Markee.

Living up to its title, The Race is a fast-paced marathon of movement and theatricality. Lahav's unnamed protagonist is anticipating the birth of his first child, and the performance takes us through his joy, doubts, fears, and anxieties as he approaches fatherhood. The show's structure is fragmented and non-linear, with many of the scenes featuring dream-like imagery. We see the man answer a phone call, hear a baby crying, then use scissors to cut the cord and cradle the receiver as if it were a child. Another sequence finds him in a spotlight, bumping into a microphone and being forced to give a speech. Yet another has the four other performers utilizing poles fastened to the man's limbs to move him around like a puppet.

All of the furniture is on wheels (Torben Schacht is the "props and set maker"), adding to the frenzied motion within the show. Chairs, tables, and other objects come perilously close to crashing into each other as the actors run, jump, dance, and glide across the stage, but The Race also effectively employs stillness and slow motion sequences that contrast with the hyperkinetic action.

While the show does utilize dialogue, it's often purposefully incomprehensible. The actors mumble many of their lines, though an occasional word or phrase comes through crystal-clear. During a sequence in which the man confronts his father (Nedjari), the only words that can be made out are "I'm your poppa" and "You're embarrassing me."

A near-constant soundscape underscores the stage action, and the performers' movements are perfectly timed and choreographed to it. (No sound designer is credited, but the musical selections were made by the company.) There's a hilarious sequence in which Lahav lip-synchs to Nina Simone's rendition of "I Put a Spell on You." A scene in which the man envisions himself as about to give birth is accompanied by a sequence of wacky sounds that fit the cartoonish movements of the actors, and the entire company is seen running in place as the lyrics of "Sinnerman" (also sung by Simone) cry out, "Where you gonna run to?"

Kristina Hjelm's lighting is another crucial design component, adding to the surreal quality of the production. One scene is lit entirely by the glow of computer laptops, another by a large, luminescent globe. Different colors are projected onto a scrim at the back of the stage, revealed by sliding doors.

This athletic performance is a joy to watch. Run, don't walk, to see The Race.

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