Written by Obie Award winner Erin Courtney and directed by Meghan Finn with a steady hand, The Adhesive Theater Company’s production of The Service Road at the Voorhees Theater in Brooklyn is brimming with design talent. The story features the character of Lia (Kalle Macrides) who leads tours through parts of Prospect Park. She answers to Frank a park ranger (Cory Einbinder) who we come to understand gave her the job to help her after a terrible incident involving the death of a child that she was looking after caused her to lose her focus on life. When a violent storm hits the area, Lia and Frank scurry to assess the damage and to find a lost toddler that Lia has spotted wandering through the wreckage. Lia seems to create havoc wherever she goes, and it is not clear if her negative energy and anguished conscience actually causes the many fiascos that happen around her, including a tragic altercation with the park’s carousel manager.
This interestingly kooky piece has a lot of fun things to look at. The design elements are outstanding, if not always practical. The set by Michael Riccio is dark and playfully macabre with a large screen that fills the upstage wall and twisted tree trunks and branches framing it. Finn fills the screen with various projections during the piece to indicate everything from weather shifts to animal and insect activity, with some very nice results. The stage is raked (tilted toward the audience) so steeply, that the actors and puppets need to move cautiously on the incline. This is odd since the audience seating is also sharply raked in this theater, leaving no necessity to help sightlines by also raking the deck of the stage so dramatically. A metaphor for instability perhaps, but the designer wasn’t being mindful of the performer’s knees or back health.
There is a wonderful carousel unit that is made from a beach umbrella with twinkling lights and dangling ponies. In addition to the set, there are some large interesting puppets and props. The toddler is an eerie body on rollers with a large globe for a head that contains a projected face. A large wolf like dog is a life size wooden marionette (performed by Claire Moodey) and there are three large eggs sitting on a tree branch above, that occasionally come to life with projected faces, to taunt and ridicule Lia. Both the Big Headed Toddler and the Tree Children, (performed by Caroline Tamas), have electronically altered voices that sound like munchkins on helium, adding to the bizarre nightmarish effect.
The script itself is not so fulfilling. We are never really given a chance to know Lia, or any of the characters much, leaving us ambivalent about what happens to them. Macrides does what she can in the short 60 minutes, but ultimately the script doesn’t give her enough to go on. Einbinder, who reminds me of a young Rick Moranis, does better by the ranger and the three other characters he portrays, and he manages to give each role a different take in the brief scenes. (The multitalented Einbinder is also credited with Video and Puppet Design.) The audience is just peering in on a slice of life day with some very cool visuals.
When a piece is not a radio drama, but has actual staged scenes, Foley artistry can be a slippery slope. Moodey and Mark Bruckner (also Sound Designer, Composer and Musician) do a fine job on stage left adding to the ambiance and it’s fun to watch them create effects. However, choosing to let us see the Foley artistry onstage for the entire show creates a spilt focus at times, competing with the attention to the actors, especially during the intimate scenes. Lighting by Sue Brandt adds nicely to the effects and Costume Design by Tilly Grimes is one of the more grounded and realistic parts of the piece, creating a nice balance to the clever chaos.