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Feathers, Politics and Jazz Hands: A Review of Bailout: The Musical

Judith Mahoney Pasternak Dec 19, 2009

Bailout: The Musical
Written by Wreckio Ensemble
Music and Lyrics by Will Larche

Bailout: The Musical, says its collective author the Wreckio Ensemble, puts “the fun back in government funding.”  They’re not wrong (even if the fun is a little slow getting started).

In a barely distant future, economic collapse has ravaged Off-Off-Broadway, and the only hope for experimental theater lies in the possibility of government bailout money. An accidental—and wildly mismatched—six-person troupe sets its sights on bailout funding, only to discover that the money comes with a catch: The feds intend to fund only musicals—cheerful, apolitical musicals at that.

But Violet the burlesque dancer (Anna Lamadrid), Gert the actor-writer (Lauren turner Kiel), Archie the actor on the edge of a nervous breakdown (Benjamin Spradley), Cecelia the conceptual artist (Dechselle Damien), Otto the mime (Billy Pelt) and Sept Ember (Randi Berry), the hopeful from Wisconsin, think it’s possible to fool the funders. “We can make something profound and political and just cover it up with singing and dancing,” says Violet. Sept Ember adds, “[W]e need to incorporate the three essential elements that make a successful musical: singing, sequins and jazz hands.” So they set out to do just that.

That’s where the fun comes in, although creating a profound but fundable work turns out to be no easy task. The first version of their collaboratively created work is certainly profound enough, with a lot of expressionistic dancing (and only a very brief moment of jazz hands), a long, tragic monologue for Archie in German, and a web of string that the performers weave and then cut. (The last-named element is apparently intended to signify support for abortion rights.) At the climax, Sept Ember stands over Violet’s supine, feather-clad body, intoning, “I’d like to see your brains and your blood on a chopping block. I’d like to see your whole sex swimming in a sea of blood like my little bird.”

It’s art, they agree—but is it fundable? Alas, Violet the pessimist is sure that the funding agency will see through their ploy to the bleak artistic and political vision at the heart of their work, and it’s back to the drawing board, with increasingly silly results. Little by little, the grim political elements are snipped out and replaced by heart, apple pie and the American flag—plus explicit declarations that women belong in kitchens, and Black and white should never mix. Finally, the entire troupe is parading in front of a huge flag singing, “America! America! America!”

Blackout. We never do find out if they get their funding.

Bailout: The Musical will be at Under St. Mark’s, 94 St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan from  Dec. 9-20. To purchase tickets go to horsetrade.info or call Smarttix at (212) 868-4444.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth White.

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