Off Broadway

The Flea’s The Invention of Tragedy Confuses the Cats + Dogs

The Flea’s The Invention of Tragedy Confuses the Cats + Dogs

Hot Damn“. [Laughter] The Narrator, uniquely portrayed with musical dexterity by the compelling Sarah Alice Shull (The Flea’s Not My Monster!) informs us, leads us, instructs us, with a clear force and somewhat monotone musical delivery. This is “the story about the tragedy of the Sandwich Man, with sandwich boards upon which nothing is written“, she tells us guidingly. It’s clear the boards say nothing, which is something, but the press release tells us what the playwright Mac Wellman (The Offending Gesture) is attempting to do. Wellman wants to examine the post-9/11 landscape and America’s general and genial acceptance of all the talking points that propped up the Irag war. Now I must admit that I would never have put that all together on my own, if not for the press release, and although I think a good confusing abstract is not necessarily a bad thing for art and a theatrical presentation, some kind of pathway to engagement is a requirement for a complete success on stage. Just my two cents, but as directed with a detailed precision and curiosity by Meghan Finn (The Tank’s Charleses, Sam’s Tea Shack), the “long and short” of the construct is as bizarre and wacky as the disconnect created. Even with the somewhat entertaining dynamic and the solidly willing and determined synchronized cast members, all from The Bats, the leash of engagement cracks and strains to the (almost) breaking point.

Drita Kabashi. Photo by Hunter Canning.

As I sat and contemplated the convoluted creation ramping up before us with a wild and focused energy, I couldn’t help but think of my dear friend who said, when I took him to see Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” that he thought all of Shakespeare was basically dramatic gibberish. The words and delivery made no sense to him, and the story always seemed to uncomfortably wash over him like a big wave at a pretty but foreign beach. I never really understood that idea, as Shakespeare to me is so full of meaning and poetry, but after watching The Invention of Tragedy, I finally understood his feeling.

The piece, at first, dives head first into the idea of group dynamics, when the whole follows aggressively behind the central talking-head, like a pack of nervous dogs repeating Fox News talking points. They react and demonstrate anger at another just as they are instructed, feeding on a frenzy that others hear as nonsensical noise. That is until the Answerer/Answearer, fantastically portrayed by the eye catching Drita Kabashi (The Tank’s When We Went Electronic) arrives, late but determined to find a place in the lineup. She never really fits in to the space, or the ideas presented don’t seem to sink in under her skin in the same way the others follow suit. The Enforcer/Hare, hilariously played by the elastic determined Susan Ly (Miller Coffman’s Love Is A Bad Neighborhood) is instructed by the voice of narrative god to axe the opposition like some Mean Girls in high school, and through a number of wacky dramatic pauses, 1001 of them, the imaginative wobbly venture dances forward, delving into defiance and rebellion. But “it’s too late“, they have ventured far off “beyond the fear place“, proclaiming their freedom from form is purposeful, meaningful, and very serious, within a solidly silly stance.

Susan Ly, Drita Kabashi and the cast of The Invention of Tragedy. Photo by Hunter Canning.

Errrrr“, they say to the unlawfulness of it all. [pause] There is “something wrong with this“, and I can’t help but agree, all the while being kooky and demented enough to keep us tuned in. The Chorus of creatures, featuring members of (naturally) the Bats: Sophia Aranda, Renee Harrison, Mirra Kardonne, Macy Lanceta, Alice Marcondes, Madelyn Rose Robinson, Ana Semedo, and Zoe Zimin, do their duty very well, repeating with just enough of a pause to catch the meaning, shifting solidly from dog to cat without a hiccup. It says a lot about their inventiveness and determination, to play out this piece with complete loyalty to the cause. It flutters forward, giving us an off-off-broadway preferred alternative to the “Cats” movie preview that made us all make faces like the Narrator does when she smells something bad. “I am free” I believe, to some how get the point of it all, to find it amusing and artfully fun, to laugh with pleasure at the ridiculousness of it all, but not be taken in. In this, I’ll remain outside the pack. “Hot Damn“. “Stop saying that“.

The Cast of The Invention of Tragedy by Mac Wellman. The Flea Theatre. Directed by Meghan Finn. Scenic design by Christopher Swader & James Swader, costumes by Alice Tavener, lighting by Brian Aldous, sound by Sadah Espii Proctor, composing by Michael Cassedy, choreography by Chanon Judson. Photo by Hunter Canning.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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