Buckle My Shoe, or Terror Firma
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
August 12, 2007
Comfortably shaded at a picnic table in Herbert Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant [just one of many locations throughout the city where Buckle My Shoe will play this summer], I browsed the program as I waited for Theater for the New City's 31st annual outdoor show to begin. 33 cast members were to perform. I then looked at the modular stage that was not much bigger than a NYC parking spot and assumed the company had no intention of fitting all 33 up there at once.
I was wrong. This raucous operetta is all about the masses: the politically apathetic mass of U.S. citizenry and the mass of victims who are suffering under current U.S. policies. Which policies? Well, just think of one and no doubt writer and director Crystal Field touches on it. The show is given two titles. I'd recommend a third: Mass Hysteria.
Buckle My Shoe (the primary title) begins with a writer who's become disillusioned by his fellow multitudes. To him they seem more obsessed with iPhones and Blackberries than with the healthcare crisis, the war in Iraq, etc. Consequently, he loses his writerly mojo. He ends up lost in NYC and meets two pie-eyed mystics who instruct him to read Mark Twain under the Brooklyn Bridge. While reading there he falls asleep and his odyssey of enlightenment begins. The stage becomes crowded with characters he meets on his journey (including the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and victims of the Patriot Act). They beg him to write about their plight and to know the power of the written word. From the subway to Huck Finn's raft, the constantly moving backdrops (the fine work of Walter Gurbo and Mary Blanchard, with assistance from Adriano Moraes) are cleverly used to enhance the dream-like quality of the story.
The surreal plotting is beguiling in its comic mania. Unfortunately, Field directs the show with an altered tried-and-true maxim: for her more is more (16 people are listed under Workshop Consultants). At first it works, but then the ceaseless slapstick, the barrage of polemics, the actors screaming dialogue and lyrics, and the aerobic blocking all become one crowded amorphous exercise in performance. But the cast's exuberance and passionate commitment to the work is inspiring.
More melody was certainly needed in the musical composition. I could decipher only two distinct melodies in the entire piece. One is a sweet lullaby sung by the moon (a memorable costume of many that deserves applause). The other is the high-spirited closing number when the amorphous mass harmonizes and forms into something of a quality outdoor production. Is it worth waiting for? I think if you have kids and the park is nearby then of course. And if the show sparks your child's interest in theatre or politics or both then what more could you ask from a free event?