The Princes Of Persuasion: Recipes For Romance
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 15, 2010
The Princes of Persuasion: Recipes for Romance is a one-act show probably unlike anything you have seen, at least in New York City. Written and directed by Ithai Benjamin and Rebeca Raney, it is comprised of five singers/quipsters sitting on stools doling out loosely-connected material in a marginally entertaining way. No, this is not a bad night at the Improv, for what makes this unique is that four of the five entertainers are robotic puppets. That in itself is cause for curiosity, especially if you are any sort of puppet enthusiast. I mean, outside of Disney's audio-animatronic side shows, where can you see puppet robotics? The problem here is that the novelty wears quickly as the content wanes.
The setup is certainly interesting. Benjamin himself sits on a stool just left of stage center, holding his acoustic guitar, with which he occasionally accompanies the songs. His role is that of sidekick/interlocutor. To his right, the center stool is occupied by the real leader of the festivities, Destiny Mazursky, who MC's the show and is the most advanced in terms of robotic movement. The other puppet about her size (30inches or so) sits on the downstage right stool and is called Domingo Santa Fanoos. The other two stools are perched upon by more pint-sized puppets, the brassy Linda the Ballerina and the thoughtful Little Bo-tique.
What ensues is some dialogue and songs purportedly about relationships and romance. The puppets move their lower jaws roughly in time with their speaking/singing; they move their limbs, both arms and legs, in various gestures of emphasis. Music comes over the speakers in accompaniment to the songs, making the arrangements more lush, but overpowering Benjamin's guitar. And the puppets interact with each other and with Benjamin. The puppets' personalities are nicely realized through the voice characterizations of Benjamin and Raney—since Benjamin is also onstage, I assume the whole show is pre-recorded. And the robotics, though rudimentary, is interesting—I also assume the movements are computerized, as there is no behind-the-scenes puppeteer credited.
All of this should have been great fun. But once the repertoire of robotic movements is run through, that fascination is lost, so then the material must take over. Alas, I just didn't get it. Raney's lyrics and Benjamin's music just don't seem to gel for a particular audience. Is it toddlers? Is it grade schoolers? Teenagers? Adults? Families? Some of it seemed too low-brow for one group, or high-brow for another, and often it just seemed weird, like maybe the best way to watch would be under the influence of something. For me, not under the influence of anything, it only worked in patches. Like the song "Cranberry Cologne," printed in the program and containing the gem: "I swab it on my neck / I swab it on my throne / It keeps me feeling saucy / And never alone."
I encourage Benjamin and Raney to consider more the audience point of view. I think they aspire to the kind of cross-generational humor of Pee-wee's Playhouse. Right now, it seems to lack focus other than the coolness of puppets that appear almost anthropomorphic. I look forward to the next incarnation.