The Playgoer: Cabaret Theatre

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Cabaret Theatre

Visiting a new show presented by the "Unofficial New York Yale Cabaret" piqued my interest in the idea of "cabaret theatre" as an area ripe for resurgence here in NYC. A recent piece in Time Out Chicago gave an example of how one company has made the form work there, in a city where theatremakers seem to just have a knack of how to reach out to people. (Or is it that audiences there are more open? From experience, I can say they do seem more ready to have a good time!)

The new Yalie show, "The Terrorist" by Howard Pflanzer was a bit of a mess in the early preview I was invited to. But given the cool informal space downstairs at the West Bank Cafe, that was part of the charm at times. Director David Paul Willenger exploited the close quarters well by having the cartoonish characters play a little "Spy vs Spy" in and around our tables, almost knocking over our drinks with the tails of their tacky trench coats. (All to the beat of Ithai Benjamin's fetching minimalist funk-score, I must add.) I honestly couldn't follow what there is of the logic in Pflanzer's absurdist tale of a somewhat generic crazy bomb maker. And despite the title, the play doesn't feel very current; the anti-hero (the likeably insane George Tynan Crowley) is definitely more old-school anarchist than in-the-news Islamist. The focus instead is more on the merciless targeting of "different" individuals by government spooks... But with all the rambling and scattered arguments, an audience armed with lefty political sympathies and a drink in one's hand could have an amusing 80 minutes.

If that sounds like one adjusts to different standards for cabaret theatre, then that's kind of my point. And that's the good thing about it. Plays not quite "ready" or cohesive enough for formal production can still go over when you strip away some of the proscenium-bound rules of behavior.

So come to the cabarets! Let's have more.

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