Baby Redboots’ Revenge
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 29, 2012
Baby Redboots' Revenge was one of the BIG hits of the very first New York International Fringe Festival back in 1997; I missed it then and again when it came back for an extended run a few years later. Ask anybody who did see it, though, and they'll tell you how amazing it was.
So we all should be very grateful to the folks at soloNOVA Arts Festival for bringing Baby Redboots' Revenge back to NYC in 2012, for a long-overdue revival. All that I'd heard about the show turns out to be true and, if anything, understated: this one-man play, written by the late Philip-Dimitri Galas and starring the extraordinarily gifted Sean Sullivan, is one of those rare theatrical experiences where we take a voyage into the heart, mind, and soul of a character at once larger than life and exactly life-size; a voyage filled with wit, emotion, and danger that keeps us on the edge of our seats for 65 breathless minutes.
If there's any justice or logic operating in the New York theatre world today, Sullivan and Company will be offered a Broadway run before soloNOVA ends. (In fact, producers should commence a bidding war just to get this show in one of their theatres. I can wish, anyway.)
So let me cut to the chase. Baby Redboots' Revenge is a monologue in eight parts in which we meet Baby Four Strings, a one-time child star in vaudeville and elsewhere who now, decades, later, is reduced to earning his living in a third-rate polka band. In a solo performance that turns indulgent autobiographical theatre on its ear, we watch him battle his demons. I mean that pretty literally: the show is essentially a nervous breakdown (exorcism?) in the shape of a one-man show. The fact that we realize, on some level, that Baby Four Strings is going to do this exact same show tomorrow and the next night puts the existential button on the piece: as the character mentions at one point in his diatribe, he is in Performance Hell.
To tell you precisely what happens in the course of this remarkable show would only be reductive, I think, not to mention that it would risk giving away too much about a work of art that is almost entirely comprised of non-sequiturs, jolting surprises, and unexpected twists, tugs, and connections. Galas' language fuses stunning stage poetry with an astonishing array of pop cultural allusions and archetypes; he died in 1986, but shows here that he was anticipating the hyperlinked, mashed-up world that is quickly becoming a theatrical norm. Sullivan, as the bitter child star anti-hero of the play, delivers a tour de force, singing, clowning, dancing, miming, playing the bass fiddle, and assuming any number of characters by seemingly becoming possessed by them—in addition to Baby Four Strings, we meet his longtime girlfriend Millie, various bandmates and audience members, a Gypsy fortune-teller, possibly everyone in a circus, and the elusive and incredible title character herself.
The play is directed tautly and intelligently by Anne Meighan, who also provides the stark, minimalist design. It fits beautifully in the New Ohio Theater space, which is host to this year's soloNova festival. It needs to be seen by many more people than the short run here can accommodate, however. Honest: if you value those once-in-a-season explosions of insight, talent, and raw energy that characterize theater at its most exciting, don't miss your chance to catch Baby Redboots' Revenge.