Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: ICH, KÜRBISGEIST (The Chocolate Factory)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on October 29, 2012

in Theater-New York

NOT SURE WHAT IT IS BUT I LIKE IT

Staged in the basement of The Chocolate Factory, with exposed pipes, beams and support columns, the drawbacks of Sibyl Kempson’s wonderfully inventive new show Ich, Kürbisgeist are, ironically, also its charms. Or is it vice versa? The invented language the characters speak – English with Scandinavian and Germanic-sounding elements thrown in – while adding texture and uniqueness to the Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of Ich, Kurbisgeist at The Chocolate Factory in New Yorkmedieval-fairytale universe of Ms. Kempson’s invention, also makes the story difficult to follow and its subsurface metaphors, to the extent that there are any, hard to decipher or even spot (I understood about half of what was being said).

Much of the show, directed with imagination and vigor by Paul Lazar and co-directed and choreographed by Annie-B Parson, has the feel, intentionally it seems, of being something your actor friends put together over a long weekend, using what odd bits they could find in the garage – a manual meat grinder, an old toy disco set, a toddler’s faux fur coat, a plastic banjo, steel wool – for props and costumes. This makes for a very immediate, intimate and enjoyable experience. It also makes suspending one’s disbelief – and consequently having a visceral reaction to the drama depicted – nearly impossible. But the self-consciousness seems to be part of the point, as the show appears to be creating a mythological world that is at once ancient and post-consumer apocalyptic.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of Ich, Kurbisgeist at The Chocolate Factory in New YorkExactly what the story of  Ich, Kürbisgeist is I’m not sure. To the extent I could follow it, it goes something like this: In a quasi-medieval northern European village a group of people, perhaps an extended family (Paul Lazar, Tymberly Canale, Molly Hickok, Kourtney Rutherford, Eric Dyer), exchange tales as they work. At some point, they gorge themselves on pumpkins in a gluttonous wasteful orgy of consumption. As a result they are set upon by malevolent forces, perhaps a vengeful pumpkin spirit. They perform a purification ritual. Then the performers watch as we, the audience, perform a similar ritual, by reading a prayer in unison written on “scrolls,” which each of us find in our chairs when we first sit down. Here’s a sample: “Sacred force, angry force, I am naked. Bless my kuerbs!/ I’m sorry, what was the question?/ Reduce it/ Reduce it/ Gimme some chips.”

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of Ich, Kurbisgeist at The Chocolate Factory in New YorkThe actors are all game, their performances truthful and entertaining; they aren’t simply play-acting, despite the many intentionally contrived elements in the show. Music (Karinne Keithley and Ben Williams) and video (Ms. Keithley, Josh Higgason, Jeff Larson) add extra dimensions to the experience, as does the very effective use of the performance space (set by Joanne Howard, lights by Joe Levasseur, sound by Jamie McElhinney, and costumes by Suzanne Bocanegra): the show begins on a stage in front of us, then moves to a “pumpkin patch” behind us, to an alcove in a corner, and to the western wall (the seats are rotating office chairs, so that one can spin around and follow the action). As delightfully as Ich, Kurbisgeist is staged, however, it doesn’t leave much of a residue and I wonder if a different approach, making the text more understandable, the direction less self-aware, might have made for a more poignant show. Still, Ms. Kempson’s creation manages to be a very curious bit of off-beat entertainment, something entirely different for a hipster Halloween.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema review of Ich, Kurbisgeist at The Chocolate Factory in New York

photos by Paula Court

Ich, Kürbisgeist
Big Dance Theater at The Chocolate Factory in Long Island City, Queens
scheduled to end on November 10, 2012
for tickets, call (718) 482-7069 or visit http://www.chocolatefactorytheater.org/home.html

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