Sanitation, or Off the Grid
Written and Directed by Crystal Field
Music by Joseph Vernon Banks
In an era of runaway government and corporate power, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the news of one outrage or crisis after another. For Crystal Field of Theater for the New City (TNC), all the bad news is good news, or at least rich fodder for her latest play.
Sanitation, or Off the Grid is a musical farce that follows three New York City Sanitation Department workers who try to escape the endless trash of their job by saving up their vacation and sick days to go on a luxury cruise, only to encounter more garbage both literal and figurative. The production tours the five boroughs each weekend until September 15 (see below for more info).
The play is the centerpiece of TNC’s annual Summer Street Theater Tour. Its August 3 debut at an East Village block party was rained out, but the indoor space around the corner at TNC sufficed for the 30-person cast and an audience of more than 200. Laughter bounced off of the black box walls with such zinger lines as “trash doesn’t seem as bad as the garbage in Washington” and pirates representing NSA workers taunting “Fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of an activist.”
The production satirizes almost every major news story from the past year. Topics include Superstorm Sandy, GMO food, the U.S. drone program, the Keystone XL pipeline and NSA snooping. Explaining why she used “Sanitation” in the show’s title, Field told The Indypendent, “I think the worst thing about the current situation is that there is an effort afoot to sanitize our brains, i.e. remove all creative intelligence.”
Field decided to create the main characters as city sanitation workers because she encounters them every day — they have their lunch room in the same building as TNC. “They are very good neighbors, and I am always interested in writing city workers of one kind or another as my heroes,” Field said. “I am hoping the audience will gain knowledge about the hard and sometimes courageous work that the sanitation workers do in and for our city.”
Founded in 1971, TNC is a staple of political theater in the East Village. TNC has nurtured the talents of off-Broadway names such as Sam Shepard, Richard Foreman, and Moises Kaufman. The group aims to make theater accessible to the communities of New York.
The Street Theater Tour, now in its 37th year, is part of TCN’s mission to create a dialogue about social change in New York. Each year the entire cast and crew, along with their 6-piece band, perform around the city, becoming a summer entertainment highlight for many communities.
“Street Theater is important in New York City because it brings the issues that everyone is thinking about to the forefront,” Field said. “It supplants the media suppression of these issues, and it dramatizes the need to confront them.”
Sanitation, or Off the Grid is being staged across the city. Here are the remaining performances, or you can download a PDF of Issue 189's full theater coverage, including citywide August/September theater listings.
Sunday, Aug. 18, 2pm
Central Park Bandshell, 72nd St. Crosswalk
Sunday, Sept. 8, 2pm
Washington Square Park
Saturday, Sept. 14, 7pm
Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St. & Ave. A
Sunday, Sept. 15, 2pm
St. Marks Church, East 10th St. at 2nd Ave.
Saturday, Aug. 24, 2pm
Sunset Park at 44th St. and 6th Ave.
Sunday, Aug. 25, 2pm
Jackson Heights, Travers Park at 34th Ave. between 77th and 78th Sts.
Saturday, Sept. 7, 2pm
Corporal Thompson Park, Broadway and Wayne St., West New Brighton
For more information, see theaterforthenewcity.net.