In settling in to The Truth, I was reminded of the show within the show of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its PR buzz of being of “very tragical mirth.” How else could you package a tale of four dictators fighting to carve up a fifth territory and leaving ravaged poisoned land, corruption, violence and other mayhem but done with such silly bravado and hilarity?
A professor’s lecture on current history provides the premise of the mime-cum-vaudeville -schtick styled show. Mikey Hays in a cast-off commedia del’arte mask stumbles into the classroom-as-stage, waves in late comers (his malingering students,) shakes his finger warningly at those of us who might not give his lecture the proper seriousness it deserves, and proceeds to inculcate the audience with suitable academic bombast.
He directs our attention with his long pointer to a map with the four territories of Flowerton, Gorgonzolia, Moleville, and Benmark, all surrounding the landlocked up-country of Kudnanibonbar. That this professor needs to exit frequently can be forgiven, not only because of his alleged bowel troubles (TMI) but because he and his four other colleagues have quick-costume changes to act out the stories of the rulers and hordes of the competing empire aspirers to take over the Kudnanibonbar unclaimed territory in question.
That’s when A Muse Zoo’s “zoo” begins. I was initially worried that the piece would be polemic and leaden, like some do-good stuff that performs in schools with a heavy-handed message. But with costume and prop bits “to go,” the ensemble of five lead us deftly through four terrifying scenarios of the would-be rulers of the new world. While Hays and Michael Diaz excel more in incorporating traditional mime technique, each one of these “peeps” show take turns at creating indelible physical characters.
There’s Queen Petunia (Alice Glass) who seems to be eternally high from sniffing flowers and rules Flowerton. She flits and floats around the stage so we’re not sure if she represents an eternal flower child or a drug lord seeking to use the untrammeled countryside to grow more flowers to feed herself and her drug-addicted society. She’s intoxicating.
Michael Diaz gives us Jean Pierre, the Prince of Gorgonzolia, more interested in cheese, really, than ruling, so that doesn’t stop him from expanding his marketing opportunities and mission of making the world eat cheese. (Hence, he needs more land for more goats.) Some of the funniest moments of the evening come with his deft mime of wrapping and unwrapping a wedge of cheese in the proper way and the twitches of is passionate nose of a true cheese connoisseur. Well, and then there are his mother Kenzie Bizon and father (Hays again, I do believe.) What they do with tongues and other body-parts to show that the Gorgonzolians are a people of passion and romance. Vive la —!
Sarah Brizek steps into the role of Molbius, chief thug and fat fascist warlord of an underground society, as if she were born to be type-cast in Hollywood mafia movies as the “male heavy.” For this “set,” as the characters of Moleville, the company dons goggles and enacts a community forced underground. Tragically, because of the poisoned dirt which they are all forced to ingest, the situation is killing the most vulnerable in the population, including Molbius’ own child. With fluttering hands and building hysteria, Hays plays the wife who confronts him about his familial neglect while Bizon almost steals the show with the final gasps of a dying mole-baby.
Bizon gets her own star turn of a scene as “Jeff,” a crown prince of the decidedly inbred royal family of Benmark. Sometimes, she just stares in space with her mouth in a permanent suckle. At other times, she struts a little and mumbles some street-talk in an almost incoherent fashion to secure “prince of the people” creds.
Another highlight of this section of the evening are the spot-on satire of bombastic classical acting with good-steals from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, especially the “What ho, Hamlet?… let thine eye look like a friend on Benmark” consternation of his mother and father, no his uncle, now his father. (These company members hail from the land of the much-acclaimed Oregon Shakespeare Company, which, I’m supposing, may have a cultural lock on their community and has done a good job weaning these community-minded thespians.) With more nuzzling of close relatives than should be allowed, there is indeed something rotten in the state of Benmark.
Then of course there’s a war, but the way these guys have laid it all out, it’s just the “ordure of business.”
A Muse Zoo company has caravanned all the way across country from Oregon on tour with this DC stop to perform at Capital Fringe Festival. It’s nice to watch a show developed as and by ensemble of such high caliber.
If you like the work of a company like Happenstance (also here at the Fringe,) you should really check out A Muse Zoo. They will assure you that similarities to actual persons or events are purely coincidental, and the work certainly makes no attempt at skewering any leader or countries, alive or dead. It’s all a frothy tale with cheese, non? Therefore, as Theseus’ exhortation in Dream puts it, there’s no better way “to wile away this long age …between our after-supper and bedtime.”
The Truth . Written, Directed, and Performed by Michael Diaz, Kenzie Bizon, Sarah Brizek, Alice Glass, and Mikey Hays. Produced by A Muse Zoo. Reviewed by Susan Galbraith