P.S. Jones and The Frozen City
nytheatre.com review by Joan Kane
December 8, 2012
What a delightful experience I had on Saturday when I saw Robert Askins’ P.S. Jones and the Frozen City. I have always been a big fan of the graphic novel and to see how director Jose Zayas expertly transported a graphic novel from the page to the stage was a real treat. Inspired by outsider artist Henry Darger’s 720 page book In The Realms of the Unreal, Askins takes the audience on an exciting, mesmerizing, epic, action packed adventure with puppets and bigger-than-life story telling.
P.S. Jones is a mild mannered youth who shovels pig manure on a hog farm and dreams of moving to the Frozen City. His brother, a vapid, pretty-boy stud with great abs has been recruited by the denizens of the Frozen City. In a fantasy set in a post-post apocalyptic universe Jones bids his mother a farewell, dons the cape of a super hero and embarks on a hero’s journey passing through the great Burning Wasteland. He meets the Gunslinger Ghost who acts as his advisor and Jones obtains enormous physical powers from a magical element (no spoilers here) to help him combat a troupe of cannibals and the Great Glass Spider. Disappointed by the corruption he encounters, he is faced with a decision: Should he destroy the Frozen City?
Jones seems to represent the youth of today. Askins’ play is a call to action for the post college, drowned-in-student-loans generation. The idea is that for one generation to rise and make their mark and create their way they must destroy what became before. Jones is akin to the youth of the 1960’s who, faced with the threat of death in the Vietnam War, rose up to try to create a more peaceful, equal society. One can argue that as the 60’s generation aged they became similar to their elders. When we examine the vast changes in civil rights and female equality we know that this is not what happened. They were able to affect change for the better in their society. Robert Askins’ is throwing down the gauntlet and asking the youth of today to fight the evil that lurks behind the great financial scandals that infest the early twenty first century.
This beautifully unified production includes an excellent team of designers. Jason Simms’ folding wall, comic book set reminded me of the turning of large pages from a graphic novel textured with a jagged, zigzag shaped floor of painted dots as if from newsprint illustrations. We were also transported to the world of the super hero by the many flowing video projections designed by David Tennent and Alex Koch. Large POW!, WHAM!, BAM! in thought bubbles projected on the walls during fight sequences support the comic book universe. Projections of the names of locations makes it easy for the audience to know where they are from one scene to the next. The elegant and versatile costumes designed by Carla Bellisio nicely differentiated the various iconic characters that inhabited the comic book realm.
I loved the puppets, designed by Eric Wright and The Puppet Kitchen, which are used as a major element. The puppeteers Chloe Moser, Katey Parker and Eric Wright expertly performed and brought to life these wacky, sinister characters. I was so enthralled that I forgot that I was not watching human actors. This to me is the highest form of storytelling when the audience can put aside disbelief and go along for the ride.
Director Jose Zayas is able to get consistent, detailed performances from his seven member cast. Bobby Moreno, Jenny Seastone Stern, and Diana Oh create various characters and are able to seamlessly flow from one character to the next. Sofia Jean Gomez as the Great Glass Spider is queenly in the menacing actions of her part human character. Steven Rishard portrays the Gunslinger with a confident, sexy swagger. Preston Martin as Benjamin creates the evil power hungry brother with a subtle, believable ease. Joe Paulik as the title character commands the stage as he transforms from a timid, young boy to a confident fighter of evil and corruption. I found myself cheering him on.
Produced by terraNOVA Collective at the New Ohio Theatre, P.S. Jones and the Frozen City should have an extended run so New York audiences can continue to experience this poignant, relevant production by these talented, expert artists.