BWW Review: Think Big with THE BIG BROADCAST ON EAST 53rd at the TBG Theatre
As with many of my reviews, I'd like to start with something that happened outside of the theater, particularly after the performance this past Saturday. Someone behind me, with an excited incredulity that told how much she enjoyed her evening, said very bluntly "How do people think of these things?"
In a world (especially that of the stage) that years for the truly unique in the midst of recycled ideas turned new, I can only imagine how proud a moment it would have been for the playwright to hear the pressing manner in which that woman expressed her interest in the workings of his mind. Of course she was referring to The Big Broadcast on East 53rd, a marvelous bout of everything "big" a person loves to see in a show: it is chock full of humor, wit, absurdity (and thus major intrigue), color, flavor and every other noun that not only makes it the grand show it is, but also gives me a particularly hard time to properly convey just exactly how very much I enjoyed being there to see it.
In association with Playalinda Productions, playwright Dick Brukenfeld and Director Charles Maryan come together to present the World Premiere of The Big Broadcast on East 53rd, now in performances at the TBG Theatre (actually off of 36th Street), What I can only describe as one whirlwind of a show that manages to keep both one's physical and mental momentum moving, Broadcast is performed on a small stage on which actors with big talent, big presences and big personalities romp around as though it were a playground where the imagination runs rampant. Indeed in this show it actually does tenfold, yet not only that of the playwright's but of the actors as well - Brunkenfeld's shrewd mind combined with how unbelievably comfortable and good each actor is in concocting, creating, reacting and all else they do to mold a world that is false but true all at the same time.
Broadcast brings to life (you'll get that pun in a moment) a plot that in my full belief would not only easily entertain anyone who enjoys an actual piece of theater, but also one who enjoys watching an absurd world that hardly requires anything to figure out but plenty to think about - a rarity but also frightening at how close it comes to what the reality is and can become.
In an interview with Manhattan Digest by Ryan Leeds, Brukenfeld, who was once a theater critic for the Village Voice, stated that if he were still responsible for giving his opinion, he "would be kinder." Well, there's no need to fudge the truth about this play - it's ingenious to the point where I wholeheartedly agree with that person who, after the show, felt the need to express with a reverent smile her wonder that something like this now makes its way to New York.
Broadcast presents a great concept that transposes itself extremely well to the stage, and honestly makes me ponder more how best to explain its clever intricacies more so the need to judge the show. The actors already do a stellar job of handing the play and its ideas over to the audience with their completely convincing guises and comically omniscient selves, but it becomes our decision whether to go along with this "fake news" extravaganza and how absurd things can truly get.
So, what is The Big Broadcast on East 53rd actually about? Ray Talley, a forty-one (not forty-two) year old man who dreams of moving back to Florida to pursue his career as a broadcast journalist, is now given the chance to relocate from East 53rd Street in New York and do just that. His wife Penny, for whom he originally gave up the pursuit, is against the idea entirely and stages her husband's death by having it announced in the New York Times' obituary section. While Ray stands in the room and watches this happen, all the while conversing with his wife and convincing her he has never been in better shape, Penny's best friend Ruth, Ray's brother Mungo and his boss Fred Packard all enter the room to make their presence known during this difficult time and help to plan nothing but the finest for Ray's funeral. As they discuss sometimes with, sometimes in front of him what he should wear, when the service is to take place and how his soon to be appointed judge of a brother found some wonderful bagpipe players to accompany the service, it is decided that a trip to the New York Times will remedy the so called "confusion" of whether Ray Talley is officially dead as everyone claims... even though he is clearly not.
I am undeniably a huge fan of anything that produces a new vision of an absurd world, and Broadcast does just this while also making it oddly entertaining, all the while keeping to the goal of making both Ray and the audience slightly uncomfortable by how real this "absurd" word feels; even so, it is unquestionably funny with that slight twinge of uneasiness. It pushes the boundaries of figuring out what the truth is, how it can be fabricated with simple words and believed in instead of proven...all for the sake of providing Ray an alternate reality that would ultimately end with him staying in New York. It is both funny and intriguing to watch Ray play along with what is happening, trying to convince people that he's never felt better in his life (while clutching a sprained knee, adding a touch of the dramatic when the audience believes he is actually starting to deteriorate), and then watching the severity on his face when the circumstances take on too much of a reality than he cares to go along with.
This is so fascinating because the absurd is usually something based on the contingencies and realities of the world as we know it, stretching it farther to make us feel a bit more disconnected from what we know to be true; no one said, though, that these circumstances can't be true, which makes this play so much fun. Are we truly alive if people say we are dead? How far can belief extend when it is collective and thus not apparently able to be contradicted?
What a beautiful play this is, and not in the aesthetic or romantic ways in which we see beauty - more so in the way that people see great things and nod their heads in appreciation.
John Patrick Hayden as Ray, Kate Loprest as Penny, Alexis Bronkovic as Ruth, Bill Tatum as Fred, Chris Thorn as Mungo, Joanna Rhinehart as the quirky New York Times obituary writer Khaki and Lillian Andrea de Leon (who voices the undertaker) all do a magnificent job of bringing the childish simplicity (going along with the statement "adulterate now!") mixed with the intricacies of an absurd untruth together. Truly, the energy on that stage was infectious and not only that, these actors approached the concept of the plot like seasoned pros (as they actually are), proving that no feat is too grand to tackle and make great. I think that I speak for the audience when I say these actors brought characters to life that all have their glitches or oddities, but make them lovable members of this dysfunctional family that forms with each new audience that comes to see the show. They make everyone smile with their efforts, and that is what makes live theater great.
Kudos to Atkin Pace as Set Designer, Charles Gross as Music Supervisor, Jamie Roderick as Lighting Designer, Maria Ozmen as Costumer, Kate Mulhauser on props and set design, Lytza R. Colon as Set Builder, Mark Marcante as Master Carpenter and Brianna Poh and Olivia Mancini as Stage Managers as well for bringing this small stage to great heights.
The Big Broadcast on East 53rd began performances at the TBG Theatre (located at 312 West 36th Street, third floor) on February 3rd, with an opening on February 9th and running through February 25th. Tickets are $18 ($15 for students and seniors) and may be purchased by visiting www.smarttix.com or by calling (212) 868.4444. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursday thru Saturday @ 8pm, with Saturday matinees (2/4 and 2/25) @ 3pm and Sunday matinees @ 3pm. For more information on the show, please visit www.thebigbroadcasttheplay.com.
Enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg