THE DICK AND THE ROSE
nytheatre.com review by Charles C Bales
August 16, 2012
In The Dick and the Rose, a billowing parachute with strategically placed cutouts dominates the stage. The cast of nine—including actors, musicians, and puppeteers—pop in and out of the holes, sometimes scurrying beneath the parachute's edges, sometimes appearing from its sides.
Writer/director Robert Biggs, who drives the performance as a sort of circus ringleader named ME, has created a cross-genre production that aims to be a clown show exploring human darkness. Running 55 minutes but feeling much longer, The Dick and the Rose falls short of that goal, ending up more laborious than clownish.
The show is centered on the morbid theme of mothers killing their children. Perhaps the choice of Muppet-like moppets for the kids is meant to engender sympathy for the inevitable slaughter, but it seems at odds with the macabre nature of The Dick and the Rose and its sideshow quality.
At the beginning of the piece, the pajama-clad Sleeper and burlesque-costumed Circus Girl meet and fall in love. As physical embodiments of the male and female, a 15-foot-long phallus and an oven appear on the stage, resulting in the birth of a brood of babies. The ever-growing demands of motherhood prove too much for Circus Girl, who ultimately drowns her children and then commits suicide. Sleeper comes home to find his entire family dead.
At least I think that's what happens. The Dick and the Rose is a bit esoteric, to say the least. A number of characters sing rather stark songs and an assortment of musicians play cello, baritone, spoons, washboard, guitar, banjo, etc., but exactly what's going on is probably most clear to the Outcast Café Theatrix members performing.
Theatrically, there are a few magic moments in The Dick and the Rose. The first appearance of the elongated one-eyed snake of the show's title is amusing and well done. In their scenes, the puppets and puppeteers bring life to an otherwise deadly tale. And the graceful use of the parachute as both set and setting is truly striking.
But many of the actors lose their light when downstage at the Cherry Lane Theatre, yielding darkened and thus unknowable faces. The songs, which attempt the edgy humor and cabaret-quality of the Tiger Lillies of the U.K., are relatively humdrum. And the entire piece has a languid pace that robs it of its mercurial intentions.
The Dick and the Rose is, for all intents and purposes, a circus of fools. But I wanted it to be even more foolish, even more dark than the eye makeup of the supporting players, dubbed the Ministering Angles. As is, the show has a whiff of pretension that makes it more enervating than entertaining.