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Ye Elizabeths: Living Vicariously Because … (2012 Planet Connections Festivity)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on June 9, 2012

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Ever been in a dead end job and it seemed like you were going nowhere?  Everyday the same routine?  Well the title characters of the play Ye Elizabeths have been doing just that for the last several years – and they couldn’t be happier.  They work as reenactors for the Old Salem Township Living History Museum, and are very content  (at least in a superficial way) with the set routines and repetitive but amusing dialogue they have as historical figures.  They also find comfort in the predictable ways their friendship plays out.  But what happens when the perfect job (dead-end or not) goes away?  Who will they be then? 

As the lights dim and then the spot lights come up again, we are launched suddenly into the world of Ye Elizabeths with a fun musical number outlining the premise of the story.  The two heroines (both named Elizabeth) introduce themselves and their world with expert piano accompaniment by Evan Gregory.

We’re reenacting history
From the 17th century
Through our characters we live vicariously
Because we don’t have lives of our own …

They have adventures (like the time when blood from the chicken slaughterers got in their eye and didn’t go away for a month), and gossip about the newbies.  They endure the curse of Wilawamat, and drool over (or disparage) the popular “Pilgrim Plantation” (a reality show about reenactors of the Pilgrim era which we get to see snippets of via a multimedia component of the show expertly and entertainingly done by Jeremy Mather). They also have numerous competitive verbal jousting matches about who is more desperate in one way or another.  Oh and there’s running. “Running’s our favorite”.

Mockucomedramady should be a term made especially for this show.  It quite successfully walks the fine line between slapstick and broad humor, highlighting the special tension between the two Elizabeths played by  Erin Leigh Schmoyer and Alicia Barnatchez.   One such moment is captured perfectly in the song Break-up which they perform in the climactic scene of the show.  With belting power ballad performed by Alicia  interlaced with the beating drum of Erin eviscerating her with rapid staccato in between her notes, we all hold our breath waiting to see how long the spell of their banishment from each other will take to weave. This is a really fun piece showcasing the talent of all three performers – Schmoyer,  Barnatchez and Gregory.

There are at least 3 strong threads weaving through this play.  There is the musical, which in and of itself is very catchy.  Then there is the mockumentary aspect which follows the same vein as Christopher Guest films.  The final and most thoughtful thread is the actual theme: What does it mean to have “a life”?  If you are feeling trapped, maybe you are.  It’s good to be good at what you do and be comfortable, but sometimes you just need to try something else if you’re going to get anywhere.

Alicia Barnatchez and Erin Leigh Schmoyer (Photo by Mike Gregoreksm)

One of the duo is dubbed “Elizasmith” for her aptitude for historical re-enactment of copper smithing and other tinkering, and the other is called “Elizabox” since she is an oxen interpreter who stands upon  a wood box  for the tourists who come through the stations each day.  She relays what the oxen are trying to communicate (“They don’t speak English”).

Elizasmith (Schmoyer) was born into the job being a “duo” with her mom since she was a baby.  In a way, Elizasmith is the more bitter of the two, but also sharper in many ways usually winning the verbal jousting matches the Elizabeths have with each other.  However, she is definitely much less worldly.

Elizabox (Barnatchez) is passionate for her work, and just wants to be the best at it what she is doing.  She wants to stay happy and stable with her friend who seems even more lost than she is.

One humorous meta-comic joke that recurs is simply the style of acting.  Even though the characters are in love with the idea of living in the times of the Pilgrims, in many ways they would fit more in the times of Vaudeville, what with their slapstick antics. It is almost a neo-Vaudvillian style taking the best of slapstick and inserting other more modern improv techniques.  Director Leah Bonvissuto’s hand is well played as she seamlessly moves from one form of story telling or multimedia expression to another while never missing a beat.

In terms of multi-media, the film clips range in style from that of reality show to classic silent movie which illustrates the duo transitioning from the world of Old Salem Township to the more alien outside world of imaginary motel rooms.  The two co-musical directors, Sarah Gregory and Evan  Gregory incorporate a diverse score – one that includes everything from the classic show tune to a smoky jazz song sung by the piano player during a scene change to a power ballad or two.

Erin Leigh Schmoyer and Alicia Barnatchez (Photo by Mike Gregorek)

Though there were a few rough edges in the production Barnatchez and Schmoyer do a great job showcasing the fun of this show, and Evan and Sarah Gregory have written some charming and amusing songs.

The ending might have been a little too pat, but for Ye Elisabeths it actually worked.  It drove home the message that maybe we can’t expect a perfect happily-ever-after for ourselves like we see in Ye Elizabeths, but we can sure try.

If you’re feeling down, this show is just the thing to perk you up.  It’s definitely funny and energizing, and it’s a little like hiding spinach in brownies: you get something good for you in what you though was just something basic and sweet.


Ye Elizabeths
Benefiting: Girls, Inc.
Produced by Easter Punny Productions
Written & Performed by Alicia Barnatchez and Erin Leigh Schmoyer
Directed by Leah Bonvissuto

$18 General Admission
$9.00 for Film/Music Participants
FREE for Theatre Festivity Participants

Saturday 6/2/12 – 5:00pm = Performance #1
Thursday 6/7/12 – 7:00pm = Performance #2
Friday 6/15/12 – 8:30pm = Performance #3
Saturday 6/16/12 – 3:00pm = Performance #4
Tuesday 6/19/12 – 8pm = Performance #5

50 minutes

At Bleecker Street Theatre (Upstairs)
45 Bleecker Street, New York, NY 10012
Conveniently located near:
Bleecker St (4 & 6)
Broadway – Lafayette St (B, D, F, M)
Prince St (N, R)
click here to purchase tickets

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