nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
April 18, 2009
The New Acting Company's current production of Monica Flory's Wild Thing is noted in the program as both a remount and a new play, and that's not the only identity crisis found in this production. It's a morality play about the necessity of taking on adult responsibilities, a tribute to rule-bending, and a vehicle for a water conservation message. Style-wise it hovers between children's fantasy play and family dramedy. Though there is sweetness and humor, there is very little wildness in this production.
The story centers on Max, a 40-year-old who prefers playing Guitar Hero with his teenage daughter to addressing her truancy and failing grades, berates his younger daughter because she gets straight A's, and is content to let his wife act as the sole breadwinner and adult in the family. Max is certainly immature, but neglecting to clean the bathroom in favor of spending time on social networking sites is hardly going feral—or even that unusual. Mistaking Max for a child, Wild Things from the Island of Neoteny kidnap him and bring him back to their island to teach them wildness. Believe it or not, they are even less wild than he is. They are neurotic, rule-bound, and live in fear of a mysterious Wise-One. In a somewhat counterintuitive resolution, Max's time spent encouraging a group of anxious Type A creatures to break their own rules, inspires him to return home and start obeying, and enforcing, a few there.
At first my daughter and the other young children in the audience had no idea what was going on (discussions of Facebook, plagiarism, and anxiety medication are not generally concerns of the kindergarten set), though they were engaged by Stephen Michael Rondel's hyper antics as Max and the appearance of two actress nearly as young as the audience members.
As Max's room unfolded to reveal the island of the Wild Things, they got their first hint that this was indeed a show for them. Jack Blacketer's clever set is not only visually interesting, it has lots of playground-equipment-like pieces that the agile cast, child and adult alike, use to great advantage. Costume designer Mark Salinas's blend of day-glo spandex, earth tones, and faux fur somehow work to create truly original Wild Things, and each actor imbues his or her creature with quirky physicality and vocal choices that lend a fun cartoon-like quality, sealing the deal as far as kids in the audience are concerned. However, Wild Thing suffers from too many good ideas. A tightening of focus and timing in the script may be needed before adults in the audience will be as convinced as the children, though the Wild Things' lack of wildness may prove a difficult obstacle to surmount.
One thing that kids and adults will agree upon is that the venue is great. The New Acting Company's facilities at the Children's Aid Society are perfect for a children's show: the bathrooms have stools so the kids can wash their own hands, the snacks at intermission vary from fairly healthy to treat, and the lovely small theater has a steeply raked house, so it's easy for kids to see. Since The New Acting Company takes producing for kids seriously, they don't skimp on lighting, costumes, sound, and set and this creates a real theatergoing experience for little ones. The West Village location is great too, close to pizza, ice cream, the park, and the subway; a perfect end to a day at the theater.