Those who are even remotely familiar with the Off and Off-Off-Theatre scene in New York have, by this point, either heard of or seen work by the New York Neo-Futurists. The company, whose work has awarded them the New York Innovative Theatre Foundation‘s Caffe Cino Fellowship and the respect of critics and audiences alike, is known for pushing the envelope, to say the least. Thinking outside the box while creating said box is really what they do, and their latest piece (which is one of their longest, at a full hour compared to the dynamic two minute plays they are most known for) performed at The Living Theatre and incredibly well-directed by Rob Neill, is a tour of fear in a manner that most of us would never think of; but one can only be glad that they did and chose to share it with us.
Anyone who knows me (or some of my writing) knows that I absolutely adore “scary” things – books, movies . . . and theatre. So of course anything having to do with “fear” in a theatrical setting is something that I would want to see. However, what I found when I went to see (un)afraid is that the piece is more about what individuals find frightening; things that make you uncomfortable and threatened, and those fears are things that most of us share in one way or another – be it claustrophobia, a ghost story, fear of the planet losing its resources, the fear of the concept of death (performed with such raw depth by Ricardo Gamboa)…or the fear of a woman who is running out of time to have a child. The last, which was performed by Jill Beckman and Cara Francis in monologues while the latter balanced the former on her shoulders (which blew me away alone) struck a chord with me, and reminded me that we attach the word fear to many things.
So, although I wasn’t necessarily going to see something that Goes Bump In The Night, or vignettes of the macabre nature, I was being shown personal experiences of the actors in the piece who brought up things that might be anyone’s nightmare. This was brought about with humor, live music, video and audio pieces; hats off to the technical director Lauren Parrish and all of the designers who made this minimal set become so many things for this playground of performance art.
There are spooky and macabre aspects, don’t get me wrong. The performance I saw started out with Daniel McCoy sticking a sewing needle and thread through his fingertips to form a spider’s web as the concept of fear is explained…and the actors used a ouija board to attempt to contact various people who have contributed to “frightening” artistic work throughout time. The choice for the show I saw was Tod Browning, director of Classics like the 1931 Dracula staring Bela Lugosi and Freaks (1932) – and apparently every show is going to be different.
What is another plus of the show is the manner in which people are drawn in to become a part of it. This is a very interactive show, so expect to participate unless you sit way in the back! One moment that stuck out for me was when I had a mask placed over my face and was led into a dance with an actor . . . and then was told in a sweet whisper “dance with each other” as I was paired with another audience member. Soon most of the audience was dancing, and what was at first fun and amusing became very creepy as the music and lighting added to the fact that I had no idea who I was dancing with. I suddenly was treated to another face of fear – well, more of being uncomfortable – but I didn’t mind it. It was enlightening. Even my friend I brought, who made it clear before the show that he did NOT want to participate (and who was, ironically, the first person pulled out of the audience) enjoyed himself because the actors were so engaging.
Calling upon a vast spectrum ranging from politics to tales of lost love; images of our favorite horror films or simply the dark with nothing but a flashlight – (un)afraid manages to make an impact on the audience on a myriad of levels. I walked out of the theatre feeling as if I’d just experienced something important -having learned something about the world . . . and myself. To me, that is the mark of stimulating and dynamic performance art and theatre – indeed, one would say it is the mark of a Neo-Futurist.
~~~(un)afraid Written & Performed by Jill Beckman, Cara Francis, Ricardo Gamboa and Daniel McCoy Directed by Rob Neill - THE LIVING THEATER 21 Clinton Street, New York, NY Subway: F, J, M, Z to Essex Street – Delancey station - Thursdays at 7:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm & 10:00 pm Additional Performances: Monday, October 25th at 7:30 pm Wednesday October 27th at 7:30 pm Wednesday, November 3rd at 7:30 pm Tickets are $18.00 ($12 Student rush with valid I.D.) Click here to purchase tickets or call 212-352-3101. Tickets may also be purchased at the theatre’s box office half hour before curtain. Running Time: 60 minutes. No Intermission. For more information about (un)afraid, visit www.nyneofuturists.org