Wednesday, July 20, 2011

REVIEW: Bubble & Squeak


Before I sat down to write this review, I got quite heartening news that Bubble & Squeak had advanced to the final round of Samuel French's Off-Off Broadway Festival. Fantastic. Well deserved.

I don't know what to say about this thing beyond what it actually is. Evan Twohy's play is a short story about Declan (Willy Appelman) and Dolores (Arielle Siegel), whose honeymoon goes horribly astray when they realize that the cabbages that Dolores has stuffed in her pants are illegal and may lead to the death penalty. So they hide in a church made of hay.

Scratch that. Describing what this play is about makes it sound ridiculous and stupid. Actually, wait, no, that's exactly what this is. I hope high schoolers never get their hands on this script, because it's exactly the sort of wildly absurd madness that I'm sure they would love, and would absolutely butcher.

So was this a ham-handed string of stupid cabbage jokes and determined racism against the Polish?


Because you honestly couldn't mean every moment of a play as hard as Willy Appelman and Arielle Siegel meant this play. They had the good sense to let the audience worry about the cabbages and the hay church (prop design by Meagan Kensil, by the way, which may be the first time I've given a shout-out to a props master), and focus their energies on each other, and on the simple tragedy that befalls two naive, gullible, beautiful people who just wanted to go on the perfect honeymoon.

So that's one lesson you learn from the insane absurdity working in this play: honesty buys a lot of hilarity.

There are traps in this play. A million traps. Director Tom Costello navigates them beautifully. For instance, it is pretty much revealed to us from the get-go that Dolores has cabbages in her pants, from the first moment that Declan mentions that having cabbages is illegal. But it's halfway through the opening scene before we first see her rise with the cabbages in her pants. And it's only halfway through the play as a whole before we catch a glimpse of the actual cabbages themselves, and even more time before the cabbages are revealed, or before Declan and Dolores actually have to eat these pants-cabbages.

I can't believe I got to write those sentences.

So from the actors, dealing with absurdity means focusing -- with an almost reckless abandon -- on the characters honestly negotiating their relationship. From the directors, it means slowly staging up the jokes, so that no matter how ridiculous you think the last moment was, you realize that it's nothing compared to the next moment.

The first lights-up, for instance, is Declan and Dolores sitting behind a desk fronted with a massive blood-red flag with the aggressive Polish Eagle on it, looking nervous. By the end of the first scene, that massive blood-red Polish flag is probably the most innocuous thing about the play.

Oh, and it contributes to the really full-throated anti-Polish racism of the play. In a loving, hysterical way. As a Pole, I found it quite great (but then again, Poles tried to wipe out my whole family and the village they came from).

I won't talk much about the other play I saw that evening because I was not impressed. I just have three things to say to them:
  • Don't kill every person a character ever loved and assume that the character will "develop."
  • Angry people don't flip chairs. Fucking insanely losing-all-control people flip chairs. If you are not fucking insanely losing control, you are not flipping a chair.
  • People rarely talk about their life in metaphors, and if they do, they don't deliberately coordinate it across a number of characters.
Seriously, I haven't had this much fun watching someone eat a cabbage since, well, I was last eating at Lomzyniankia. The phrase "mad-cap hilarity" comes to mind.