nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 27, 2006
Ok, so we're in this drinking establishment in a still-edgy neighborhood in Brooklyn, enjoying the tail-end of open mic night. Kevin Orton sings a song or two and reads a poem from Whitman. Stephen Morfesis does some standup. Scott Nogi recites two of his (terrific) slam-style poems. The entertainment seems to be wrapping up. Our hostess turns things over to a woman (who seems to go by "Witchy") who makes an impassioned plea for historic preservation: her neighborhood, Bushwick, is just the latest section of Brooklyn to fall prey to gentrification; we're losing our heritage and our roots and our grounding. She wants us to sign a petition.
And the show seems to be over, except all of a sudden here comes a guy to talk to Witchy (who by now has returned to her seat), and everybody in the room is paying attention to him. He's from Williamsburg and he's a blogging fiend (his online name is Cakemaven) and he's interested in getting somewhere with this girl but she's not; she's interested in channeling the ghosts that, she tells him, are everywhere in New York.
And then one by one, five of those ghosts materialize, and begin to tell their disparate tales to groups of people seated around the room.
There's a Dutch woman from long ago, speaking about an accident at sea that claimed her husband. There's a woman from the Civil War era who reveals her feelings of love for another woman. There's the Russian immigrant caught up in a political demonstration that turned violent. There's a 1920s flapper type, reminiscing about her hotsy-totsy lifestyle. And there's a kid on roller skates whose life was as unpredictable as her death.
Their stories—monologues, written in strikingly different voices by Breuckelen's playwright, Chris Van Strander—are brief but riveting. They don't add up to anything obvious save the unheard legacy of the millions who came before the present inhabitants of Brooklyn. They're well performed by five actresses (listed here in the same order as above: Shannon Burkett, Brooke Peterson, Stacey Jenson, Candy Simmons, and Karie Christina Hunt; Burkett and Hunt are especially memorable).
The ghosts drift out; Cakemaven wanders off; the evening really does end now. Breuckelen, about an hour from start to finish, is an intriguing experiment in performance, storytelling, and audience engagement. It's at the forefront of a very interesting mini-trend whereby theatre is just part of a bigger evening (as opposed to being the "main event" or an end in itself): Breuckelen, at 10pm at Collective: Unconscious, is intended to sit in the middle or near the beginning (depending on the hours you keep) of a longer night of eating, drinking, being with friends. The "play" happens almost entirely offstage, in the same space as the spectators (with different parts of it unspooling simultaneously, at once very distracting and very stimulating).
It's a great notion, but in this incarnation can't be judged entirely a success. The space is one problem: this show really needs to be in the place it says it's in, i.e., a pub or saloon-like space with a real bar where you can really bring drinks to your seats). It also seems to call for a less boxy space: I think it would be more interesting to be tantalized (but not actually able to completely see or hear) the other "ghosts" at the same time that you're interacting with the one before you, and that would require alcoves and nooks and crannies in the playing area that just aren't available at CU. Finally, there's the inherent paradox of having to know in advance what the evening's key surprise is going to be: I would have loved it if Van Strander and his director Matthew Didner had figured out a way to not tell us in advance that the "open mic" thing is just a pretense, but I don't know how they'd get people to pay theatre-type prices without giving it away.
But there's something really nifty and special brewing here, and I hope that Van Strander and Didner and their collaborators keep stirring it up. Meanwhile, if you're up for an unusual and offbeat hour of entertainment in the middle of your Friday or Saturday night, Breuckelen may be just the thing to send your evening off into an unexpected new direction.