The Great American Drama at A.R.T. New York Theatres
By Eric J. Grimm
The New York Neo-Futurists continue a decades-long tradition of breakneck theatrical experiments with The Great American Drama, a constantly evolving meditation on achieving the American Dream by four of the group’s ensemble. Member Connor Sampson has devised a concept in which an initial show has been assembled from responses to a survey asking potential audience members what they want to see in a show with each performance taking critiques of the previous performance into account. Scripted scenes and musical numbers follow as well as thrilling theater games of chance, which test the performers and keep the show moving at a brisk pace. The show’s often brutal honesty acts as a salve for a bruised artistic community of performers and spectators navigating an uncertain and potentially hostile future ahead.
Ensemble members Sampson, Nicole Hill, Katy-May Hudson, Dan McCoy, and Lijie Y display a variety of talents as they move through a demanding list of audience desires. Sampson and co-director Greg Taubman wisely take on the challenge by using broad comedy as a starting point and daring to be uncomfortable and even pleasantly boring at times, allowing an actively participating audience to take an occasional breather. When the show goes for maximum discomfort, it’s astonishing; the way it fulfills a request for nudity is haunting and has stayed with me days after seeing the show. In being daring, however, it is never crass, and in being honest, it is thankfully never saccharine. Sampson has boldly called the work The Great American Drama, and he and the crew quickly toss out the idea that there is a universally appealing masterwork that ticks off all of an audience’s boxes. For these performers, there is only a genuine response to those requests that shares the heartache and joy of pursuing one’s dream.
The Great American Drama plays at A.R.T. Theatres (502 W. 53rd St.) through February 5. For tickets visit http://www.nyneofuturists.org/great-american-drama.
Photos: Hunter Canning