Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not That Kind of Slug

"The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island" at the Vineyard Theatre, February 16, 2008

(photo by Carol Rosegg)

I really admire the Vineyard Theatre - one of New York's thriving off-Broadway theatres like Playwrights Horizons and Second Stages. This organization consistently pursues and presents interesting and thoughtful theatre.

Their current production, "The Slugbearers of Kayrol Island (or, the Friends of Dr. Rushower) is more on the "interesting" track. I wish it were more compelling as well, but sadly that's not the case. It's certainly a visual treat to see the illustrations projected onto the fixed and moving panels that line the stage.

The story is pretty much comic book/fairy tale fare. Orphaned daughter Gingin (Jody Flader) lives with well-meaning but ineffectual step-father Dr. Rushower (Peter Friedman) who wants to see her married off and happy. He has devised a strategy of spilling food from his rooftop terrace onto men walking by, then inviting them up to his penthouse to take care of cleaning the clothes, and introduce them to Gingin. She has also been getting phone calls from Samson (Matt Pearson) who dials random numbers on his cell phone just to have someone to talk to. Gingin is more concerned with finding a cause to believe in, rather than find a relationship.

The title comes to play when Immanuel Lubang (Bobby Steggert) gets the Rushower treatment and learns about the labor issue on Kayrol Island. Underpaid workers are kept in seemingly poor conditions as they unload lead slugs that are part of small appliances to give them a sense of weight and quality - a result of improved technology that has removed heavier electronic components from manufacturing. The workers are housed in dormitories and fed a poor diet that includes Kayrol cola, a carbonated drink of unknown ingredients but the color of mud.

Immanuel and Gingin appear to bond and go to Kayrol to bring culture (in the form of public readings of small appliance instruction manuals) to the slugbearers, who show no interest. By the way, guess who lives on Kayrol Island - - Samson! He and Gingin finally "connect" and she stays with him after drinking the Kayrol cola (cool-aid?).

I struggled with the whole point of the show. If it's social commentary about the treatment of third world workers, the picture painted is that they don't really know what they're missing and don't care.

The performances among the cast were consistent and respectable, but the material leaves something to be desired. The talents of both Mr. Steggert and Mr. Friedman felt particularly wasted here. Mark Mulcahy's score is reminiscent at times of the recitatives from "Rent" without the sparkle. Mr. Katchor's book and lyrics told a story, but never felt compelling. I was more interested in how his drawings were projected and how the transitions would be made than I was in the story. I felt like I needed to be much more familiar with Mr. Katchor's work before entering the theatre.

Director Bob McGrath keeps things moving at a pleasant pace and elicits performances as good as anyone might from this somewhat thin material. It looks like he and Mr. Katchor got so caught up in the mixed media concept that the storytelling suffered.

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