Thursday, June 11, 2009

Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines Machines


By Quinn Bauriedel, Geoff Sobelle, and Trey Lyford. Directed by Aleksandra Wolska. Here Arts Center. (CLOSED)

Only Andy Propst, writing for Theatermania, wasn't charmed by Quinn Bauriedel, Geoff Sobelle, and Trey Lyford (the three actors and writers of the piece) and their machines. Propst believes the political messages in the second half of the play would have been more relevant during the Bush administration and eventually grows tired of the antics. The rest of the critics enjoy watching the actors struggle with the intricate machines designed by Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala.
Edit: Another very negative is in from William Coyle (off off online), bringing the grade down to a B-.

Show Business Weekly A+
(Bryan Clark) Beyond the screwball machinery — the cereal-pouring chute, the eggbeater toothbrushes, the snare drum roll triggered by a power drill — the true strength of the performance is the astonishing engagement of the three actors. They improvise easily when the machines are stubborn, and they decide on the spot whether a gag is worth fighting for. A foldout mirror fails to fold out, so the bit is tossed. But fried egg goes into the audience, and the moment is milked for all it is worth. The trio is so profoundly connected to their environment, it is hard to believe that they did not devise and build every bit of it themselves. (The ingenious design of the machines is by The Dufala Brothers; scene design, Hiroshi Iwasaki.)

Theatermania A
(Adam R. Perlman) machines machines machines machines machines machines machines is the show so nice they named it twice. Okay, seven times -- but, this time, the attention-grabbing moniker isn't overcompensating for bland, gimmicky material. This giddy, deliriously funny enterprise from the exciting company rainpan 43 -- now at HERE --is not only good enough to redeem its title, but possibly the idea of experimental theater. Here is a work that is proudly, playfully trying out new things and inviting you to bear witness and share in the mutual delight of discovery... Similarly terrific is the immersive design work, which is so of a piece that it's hard to find the seams between sound (James Sugg), "music machines" (Sean Mattio), machine design (Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala), scenic design (Hiroshi Iwasaki), lighting design (James Clotfelter), and house lighting design (Marlon Hurt). Aleksandra Wolska is billed with direction and Charlotte Ford with further direction -- I'm not sure in this context what either job entailed -- but all of the partictipting artists have combined their talents to create the thrill of watching people do unnatural things completely naturally.

The New York Times A
(Charles Isherwood) Without the apparatus of elaborately useless machines that surround them, this oddball trio would have no reason for being. If they did not turn the making of breakfast into a martial campaign to match the best of General Patton, they might be prey to those existential bugaboos that haunt the likes of Gogo and Didi in “Waiting for Godot.” For the show itself, directed by Aleksandra Wolska, is on the macro as well as micro level something of a Rube Goldberg machine. A tremendous amount of theatrical ingenuity and energy is expended to little expressly dramatic purpose. The plot wouldn’t fill a half-page in a comic book... Mostly these cutups just goof around, with the actors giving intricately nuanced comic performances that are perfectly in tune with the pinballing madness supplied by the cast of a thousand mechanical supporting players. Mr. Sobelle’s garbled mutterings in cornball British dialects from several centuries are often hilarious. Mr. Bauriedel’s fearless, cluelessly self-confident leader — like William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, only without the towering intellect — is likewise a piquant bit of parody. And the verisimilitude of Mr. Lyford’s impersonation of a police radio (a voice-altering box hanging around his neck comes in handy) and the whizzing robotic sounds he uses to accompany his every movement are funny and fascinating in their precision.

The Village Voice A
(Alexis Soloski) It is marvelous to watch the devices in action, and equally marvelous to watch the men improvise when the devices fail. (Lyford and Sobelle previously demonstrated their gift for physical comedy in All Wear Bowlers; Bauriedel is no slouch, either.) The play's content doesn't bear too much contemplation: machines seems intended as a satire of the Bush years, a time when the population worried over external enemies and ignored domestic misconduct. But that's beside the point. Much better to goggle at the hard hat, blowdryer, and plastic lobster dangling from the ceiling and wonder how they might soon be deployed. As Bauriedel's character insists, "This is not a time for thinking—this is a time for doing!" Then he activates another disastrous apparatus.

The New Yorker A-
(Unsigned) When they work, the effect is exhilarating—watch an egg get fried in ten demented steps—and when they don’t, the guys improvise like pros. Although the piece carries undertones of wartime paranoia, any real meaning is washed away by the sheer delight of watching the actors interact with their ingenious set, which is packed full of visual surprises, right up to the giddily apocalyptic finale.

New York Post B+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) The latter angle, which takes over the second half of the 75-minute show, is where "Machines" hits a snag. The military's absurdity and paranoia make a worthy target, but Bauriedel, Lyford and Sobelle don't come up with enough contraptions to sustain the momentum. As the characters ran around trying to identify a potential intruder, I just kept waiting for them to resume pouring cereal with a supermarket grabber. At least the show gets back on track with a wonderfully nutty finale. Clearly the authors had no clue how to wrap things up, but trout and polar bears somehow feel completely appropriate.

Time Out New York B+
(Helen Shaw) Machines isn’t flawless—some dramaturgical springs have gone flat, and the nattering dialogue hopscotches between hysterical and aimless. But the three lunatics at its center function as perfect perpetual engines. Where another actor would quail in the face of a story line sputtering or a piece of toast going AWOL off the stage, these boys charge recklessly ahead. They’ll do anything to get the job done. They’re machines.

Backstage D-
(Andy Propst) It quickly becomes apparent that for all of its lunatic humor, Machines… also comments wryly on any government's efforts to remain militarily prepared for possible attacks. Unfortunately, once we realize this, the guys' behavior—the propensity of the kilt-wearing Phineas (Sobelle) to spin ludicrous fairy tales in a heightened British accent and the robotic affectations that Liam (Lyford) continually vocalizes (assisted by sound designers James Sugg and Sean Mattio)—wears increasingly thin. And by the time the play, staged with unfocused intensity by Aleksandra Wolska and Charlotte Ford, explodes in a conclusion worthy of Monty Python, patience has worn out. Perhaps if Machines… had debuted during the Bush administration, its zaniness might have been a more enjoyable and satisfying theatrical tonic.

off off online F
(William Coyle) machines… is a hybrid of a poor man’s Blue Man Group and one long, bad, Monty Python skit that tries way too hard to please. Liam (Trey Lyford) wears a mechanized mask that makes all of his verbal communications sound like radio dispatches. Like Michael Winslow in Police Academy, he is dubiously gifted with the ability to make all kinds of annoying mechanical noises with his mouth. Phineas (Geoff Sobelle) sports a kilt and World War I pilot’s goggles. The third (Quinn Bauriedel), who we learn is the “Chief Commander,” sounds like a cross between George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Stewart at his dopiest... The real stars of this production are machine designers Steven and Billy Blaise Dufala, Technical Director Derek Cook and Marlon Hurt, the Master Electrician. Creating a stage-world of working contraptions and low-tech gadgets is not easy, and their creativity is often staggering. Yet, the performers, left to their…fail to do anything with this world other than weave a trite story around it. machines… would be quite fascinating in a college talent show, and it would probably win. But, I expect more from productions at HERE.

Show Business Weekly A+ 14; Theatermania A 13; The New York Times A 13; The Village Voice A 13; The New Yorker A- 12; New York Post B+ 11; TONY B+ 11; Backstage D- 3; off off online F 1; TOTAL: 91/9 = 10.11 (B)

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