Theatergoers looking for a sophisticated, new production that gives a big fat push to the proverbial envelope will find considerable satisfaction in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, the UK import from the hot new English company called 1927, that just opened at PS 122 (and is being presented in conjunction with the Under the Radar Festival). Apparently, it matters not that the envelope in question is empty. What does matter — at least to certain theatergoers as well as those organizations that have already garnered the show with scads of awards — is that the staging is different from anything else they’ve ever seen.
Even with its lack of content, the hour-long piece does manage to offer some wit, in the form of dark visual jokes that are accomplished through a combination of animation, live action, and music. Intermittently, you will laugh, be bored, perplexed, and sometimes even intellectually stimulated.
The show consists of a series of Edward Gorey-like vignettes that delight in exploring the nasty side of life. We discover nine different ways to kill a cat, watch two evil little girls torture their grandmother, and most ambitiously — and impressively — witness a global war fought by gingerbread men. It’s not as if any of these little stories is fraught with any more meaning than you’d find in a Saturday Night Live sketch, but the methods by which they are told seems to be mesmerizing some audiences.
A pretty young woman (Lillian Henley) dressed in period black clothes plays an upright piano and occasionally sings in an ethereal voice. The rest of the cast, Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton — the former is also the show’s writer and director, the latter its costume designer — interact with crude animation (by Paul Barritt) that plays on a screen behind them. Avant-garde without the intellectual pomposity, these scenes are easily accessible, and generally just enough fun to engage the audience — and to even make them feel as if they’re in on something cool. Well, at least those audiences who had no idea that Gene Kelly danced with animated characters on film more than 50 years ago.