Review: Kevin!!! at The People’s Improv Theatre
Thomas Burns Scully
- OnStage Associate New York Critic
Regulars readers will be familiar with Recent Cutbacks. They produce one hour stage versions of popular movies using minimal sets, props, actors and foley artistry. Past offerings Hold On To Your Butts and Fly You Fools were delirious theatrical thrill rides based on Jurassic Park and Fellowship of the Ring, respectively. This year’s opus Kevin!!! is a retelling of Home Alone, relying heavily on puppetry, and clever live filming camera tricks.
Director Kristen McCarthy Parker, and featured performers Nick Abeel and Kyle Schaefer return, but whereas in the past they filled the bulk of the creative team, Kevin’s on stage crew totals eight people. This includes Abeel and Schaefer, two new puppeteer/performers Sonia Mena and Natalie Rich, and a choir of four formed of Sarah Godwin, Evan Maltby, Richard Sears, Michelle Vo. For those worried about this, yes, the added crew changes the feel of the show. Kevin feels drastically different to it’s predecessors in many ways. However, it also feels like a next logical evolution of the format that Recent Cutbacks is developing, and the laughs are still as good as they have ever been.
Ambition and execution are the watch words here. Recent Cutbacks have always striven to recreate the movies they parody shot-for-shot, and with Kevin!! they take that to the next level. Filming miniature sets and small puppets on a live feed projected above the stage they recreate the opening of the movie. It’s scarcely possible to believe that the images on the screen are being created in front of you, and yet the evidence is plain to see. Macaulay Culkin is brought to life initially as a rod puppet in the miniature scenes, then as a hand puppet controlled by Nick Abeel as the plot develops. The characterization is spot on, and Abeel is able to endow his Kevin puppet with more life than you could reasonably expect. The choir joyfully provide the score and much of the foley. Natalie Rich plays Kevin’s mother, and nails the 90s mother archetype. There’s a lot to like here.
RC are able to reiterate much of the movie to appreciative laughter, with a few added self-depreciating jibes at their own expense. A few of the cuts to the script mean some context is lost, but the heart and soul of Home Alone is intact. Kevin’s only real flaw is a problem with focus. Their live-filmed miniature sets are brilliantly intricate, and a dream to watch, but when the action later cuts between them and the live main stage area, the shifts in audience focus become jarring. When characters move from being one puppet to being another puppet or an actor, the integrity of the world is compromised somewhat. There is also the side issue that stems from parodying a comedy. Parodying a drama, like Jurassic Park or LOTR, you are able to laugh at how seriously the film takes itself. A comedy, by it’s nature, doesn’t take itself seriously, so Kevin! undermines itself slightly there. That’s not to say that any of this compromises the experience. The action is still brilliantly crafted, and RC find enough 90s tropes and goofiness to comment on that you will laugh yourself silly, but every rose will have its barbs.
Kevin!!! is, overall, an excellent addition to Recent Cutbacks’ canon of work. Fast, funny, and fiendishly clever in its staging. It stumbles over one or two issues, but these can be forgiven for how impressive the show is in its design. Treat yourself to seeing it, ya filthy animals.
Kevin!!! runs at The PIT until January 7th, playing various days and times. For full show schedule and ticketing links, please see thepit-nyc.com/kevin or recentcutbacks.com
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays a mean lead guitar. He has been referred to as the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
Follow him on Facebook (as Thomas Burns Scully), and on Twitter (@ThomasDBS)
Photo:(L to R): Kyle Schaefer & Nick Abeel Credit: Hunter Canning