During the 1970s, Theater for the New City played a crucial role in Off-Off-Broadway’s emergence, revolutionizing New York City theater. Today, an East Village staple, the theater’s dedicated artists and audiences are more family than ensemble. Housed within an expansive honeycomb of gritty theaters and scene shops, each summer they take a show on the road. That traveling event is called “Street Theater” and their production this year is No Brainer or the Solution to Parasites, written and directed by Crystal Field, the company’s executive director. It’s a sharp, playful, political satire running through September 15. And it’s totally free.
Social Worker (that’s the character’s name), played with bravado by Michael-David Gordon, is confined to a system of crippling bureaucracy, withholding social services from those in need. When, during a standard government home visit, he assists in an emergency childbirth, Social Worker questions his vocation while gazing into the newborn’s eyes.
The play then transports us to Hades, where a wicked cauldron simmers and pops, boiling with history’s most horrific events. War, genocide, slavery, every black mark on humanity bubbles in the pot. A familiar-looking business mogul appears. Sporting a long red tie, a head full of wispy blond hair and relatively small hands, he bears a resemblance to the former host of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”
TV Host, performed as an impressive and entertaining caricature by Alexander Bartenieff, leaps inside the cauldron, splashing Hell’s demented parasites out and into the world. TV Host wants to become president so TV Host becomes president. TV Host desires to be king so TV Host becomes king. The whispers of parasites guide his conquest every step of the way.
Field’s script is full of insight and of course it’s about Trump. But more broadly it’s a warning against an archetype. The archetype of a vessel for evil. An archetype of a very powerful and ambitious person acting as a conduit for humanity’s evil ideas. Field cautions us against any capricious man stunted in independent thought, easily persuaded by advisors and dogmatically commanding everything suggested to him.
Of course, her sharp criticism is also aimed at us. Gordon’s Social Worker means well, but by adhering to arbitrary rules of bureaucracy he harms others again and again.
No Brainer’s visually infectious silliness is like visiting a funhouse art salon. Lytza Colon’s playfully inventive props pop like textures and colors ripped from the canvas of a Phillip Guston painting. Gordon’s Social Worker mistakes a garbage bag for what is in fact a fuzzy cartoonish ball of bright pink-tailed rats. A scooter rode on stage isn’t one you’d buy from a store. It’s made from thick metal pipe, a board, a single wheel and a triangular stand. Simple pieces and yet every work is a bold spark enhancing the play’s homemade feel, perfectly accenting the vivid and playful hand-painted backdrop from a talented Walter Gurbo.
His large scenic murals are intentionally two-dimensional and yet you are captive to a unique perspective of place and atmosphere. Gurbo transports us to a city-sanctioned, affordable household, to the depths of Hades, to an isolated blue office that is immediately reminiscent of Van Gogh’s bedroom.
A great deal of this production is also committed to protecting immigrants living in our city. Near the play’s conclusion, a search warrant is displayed as actors describe what is required of authorities before they may enter your home.
There’s no Broadway budget here. No naturalistic, kitchen sink drama. But for Theater for the New City’s work, it would be totally unnecessary. If theater has anything above all other art forms, it’s community. Without community, theater does not exist. Crystal Field and Theater for the New City is a pointed force in our art world, hellbent on provoking change within society. And I can’t think of a better reason to go to the theater.
No Brainer Or The Solution To Parasites
Book, Lyrics & Direction by Crystal Fields
Theater For the New City