Anthony J. Piccione
- New York City Critic
As soon as I walked into the Medicine Show Theatre on Friday night at 7:30pm, I was greeted by a variety of characters from early 20th century Soviet Russia, all of whom were trying to sell me various goods, and please me and the rest of the audience during an interactive portion. I admit, this was quite a pleasant surprise to be welcomed to, and it left me feeling encouraged about the rest of the evening. Indeed, I normally wouldn’t jump right in by offering a performance overview that early on in the review, without a bit of a lead-in, but I think it’s fitting here, considering that this was basically the pace at which the performance of this company’s latest show – The Bedbug – got started, and it set the energetic pace for the rest of the evening.
Written by Russian writer Vladimir Mayakovsky, the play begins in 1929 in the Soviet Union, just as the country was starting to take a dark turn toward authoritarianism…although the story doesn’t stay in that year for long. After being frozen in a block of ice as a result of a strange incident at his wedding, we find our lead character Ivan Prisypkin unfrozen treated like some sort of animal at the zoo 50 years later. The result is an over the top farce that is unlikely to keep audiences bored, as one might be able to tell, simply from the description.
Having had the chance to read the script of the play, I can say with certainty that this is a fairly decent comedy, on its own. However, what makes this particular production enjoyable is its direction, which is brilliantly done by Ashley Wren Collins. The musical choreography and improvisational elements that were added to the show are a big highlight of this production, which clearly leans heavily on not just the text, but on its physical comedy, and the caliber of the individual actors. The costuming of Janet Mervin was also particularly well-done, and captures the era and culture of the play perfectly.
The show is wonderfully cast, and consists of a musically and comedically gifted ensemble of performers. All of the actors – Alena Acker, Ashley-Asiarae, Michael Bradley, Daniel Robert Burns, Brady Cudmore, Natalia M. Cuevas, Sofie Koloc, Erica Lance and Perri Yaniv – excel at keeping the audience engaged right from the start, and at portraying the intense movement and choreography of the show. That’s without even mentioning my prior praise of the interactive improv elements of the show.
Over the past year or so, I admit that I’ve seen an increasingly large number of Russian – or at least Russian-themed – plays and musicals being written, adapted or revived. Amidst this trend, some are certainly better than others, and particularly in terms of the way it was both staged and performed, this is certainly one of the better ones I’ve seen. The show runs for an entire month, so they’ll be plenty of opportunities to catch it during its run. Be sure to consider doing so!
“The Bedbug” runs at Medicine Show Theatre from April 12th to May 6th. For more information, please visit www.medicineshowtheatre.org.