nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
January 14, 2010
Aristotle said, "The gods too are fond of a joke." Especially when the joke is on us. The best description of Clay McLeod Chapman's joke on us here is a dark diatribe of doom with a sparkling veneer of corporate branding and silly fast food birthday party mascots. His latest work, teaser cow, is extraordinary, and his partnership with producing company One Year Lease has certainly created the provocative theatre that is their mission.
Chapman uses the Greek story of the Minotaur as a backdrop for exposing the truth about corporate greed, dietary apathy, and food production practices. The story is set in modern times with modern characters sporting ancient Greek names. Minos, the king of Crete, receives a gift bull from Poseidon that he can't bring himself to sacrifice so he pulls a switch-a-roo. To punish him Poseidon causes Minos's wife, Pasiphae, to fall in love with the bull. She calls on Daedalus to design her a teaser cow (a fake cow used to trick bulls into copulating so their sperm can be harvested) that she can hide inside so she can get busy with the bull. The product of their mating is the Minotaur.
Chapman's Minotaur is only a child and you mostly feel sorry for him because of the way he is treated like a freak and the way his image is being used to sell hamburgers. And therein lies the point of all this—sell more hamburgers! We have been convinced, usually at a very early age, that fast food is a good meal for us. Corporations don't care about our health the slightest bit and as a result we have obesity and diabetes in epidemic portions in this country. The greedy, sociopathic practices of large corporations are becoming more and more mainstream topics for voices such as Chapman's and they need your attention.
Chapman's writing is brilliant. He successfully merges the Minotaur story with much of the content of Eric Schlosser's book Fast Food Nation and he does so in a unique, almost jarring manner. The story is disjointed in more ways than one. The play is told in short sketches that are sometimes aimed at corporate greed or food production nightmares and sometimes are bits that move the story of the characters in the play. The style of presentation is also rather digressive. At one point you may hear one of Chapman's dark and powerful monologues and the next it could be a song sung by the entire cast. There are scenes that are commercials, scenes that are ensemble-driven, scenes that are silly next to scenes that are disturbing. It can be a bit confusing but I never felt lost. Chapman is not subtle with his message and the cast and director are not subtle with their portrayal of it.
Ianthe Demos directs this production with clarity. The complexity of the script is made palatable by her straightforward use of the stage and theatre itself as a forum for political ideas. The cast is outstanding. I was especially moved by the performances of Sarah-Jane Casey as Pasiphae and Jim Kane as the Royal "We." The show is also rather tech-heavy and the crew there does some great work. Kay Lee's costumes are dead-on and I really liked James Hunting's set. The lights (Mike Riggs) and sound (Nathan Leigh) are also noteworthy.
There are few writers that grip me like Chapman. His aesthetic is pointed and dismal but he knows how to package it correctly. Similar to corporations he tricks you into thinking this is all normal, only unlike a corporation he always shows you that it's not. Full disclosure! One Year Lease's production of teaser cow should be the first play you make sure don't miss in 2010.