nytheatre.com review by Lauren Marks
May 18, 2006
There is not much I can say about The Race, at least not much that will give you a feeling of what you are actually in for. That is because there is not much to compare this kind of work to. It could be said that it is a kind of modern dance piece, which is problematic because it feels particularly un-dancey. It is tempting to compare it to non-linear physical theatre, not unlike De La Guarda, but this too is unsatisfying as a definition, mainly because there is a fairly clear narrative arc in the piece. What I can say safely and unequivocally about this production, directed by Amit Lahav and Al Nedjari, is that it is great deal of fun, and that if it is not perfection, then its nearness to it is too small to quibble over.
The Race deals with a first-time father dealing with the range of emotions that he is faced with awaiting the birth of his child. That is the cut-and-dried storyline, but what really distinguishes this play is the tactics it uses to illustrate the father's true life experiences and the corresponding emotional landscape. Words are scarce, but not non-existent. They are used, to great effect, sputtered and sparingly, but are not the most essential means of expression here. The life and essence of the story are mainly conveyed through the performers' extremely engaged physicality, which borders on the acrobatic, and a highly useful (and ever-evolving) set.
The strength of this work is based around a wildly creative and yet emotionally relatable stage reality. The play is littered with moments of recognizable realism, as when the protagonist's father congratulates his son effusively, only to stop dead and ask pointedly, "How are you gonna cope?!" Other sequences are highly dreamlike; like the moment the man reaches into a phone booth only to find his hands not a phone, but on the mother-to-be's abdomen.
The play owes a great debt to talent and enthusiasm of its cast, and an equally adept design team. The set is often as interesting as the performances, and as it shifts, proves incredibly useful in orienting the audience's eye while propelling the story along. The lights are impressive in the surprising amount of aid they give to the emotional landscape of the play. The costumes are highly believable as somewhat corporate wear, yet seamlessly manage being moved in like leotards. To describe the action of the play in detail only would serve to spoil some of the surprises that would await the prospective audience member; suffice to say, the father confronts fears regarding his inadequacy, an onslaught of overly interested (but ultimately unhelpful) family and friends, and the wide assortment of anxieties one has when standing at the precipice to the absolutely unknown.
As a work which was devised by the directors and the actors of the group Gecko, The Race has the feeling of an improvisation gone very, very right. The only issue that might be taken with it is the improvised feel does occasionally interfere with the storyline, and overall meaning, which could be made tighter and clearer. For instance, it is difficult to be sure when the hero's child is actually being born, since there are many "false ends," i.e., hallucinations of the event preceding the actual birth. However, this seems a moot point when compared to unusual amount of fun possible for an audience attending this hour-long show. As part of the Brits Off Broadway festival, it is only in the country for a limited time, and it should not be put off by any audiences looking for an extremely enjoyable night out.