Rooftops: The Plot Chickens
Innovative theatre company Wreckio Ensemble have gone to great lengths to ensure that their production of Karly Maurer's new play Rooftops is as Green as they can make it- they've eliminated a paper program (rather, all the information is presented in an used-paper art installation on the walls outside the theater space, and is available digitally on their website), they're using LED lights to cut down on power, and the electric power used is generated through hand-cranked equipment and a bicycle generator. The food and flowers used onstage are donated. Their postcards were printed on recycled paper, and in only half the quantities of their past productions. All of this is certainly noble, but would mean little without a good play to back it up.
Fortunately, Rooftops is a very good play. Set in a dystopic future where debtors are forced into sexual slavery, it's intriguing, funny, and chilling, and features some wonderful performances.
In the world of the play, society is divided between the Bottoms (people who go about their everyday lives) and the Tops (people who have missed payments on their debts). Tops are kidnapped and forced onto rooftops from which there is no escape, given glorified chicken coops to sleep in, and the women are expected to breed with the overseer and produce as many babies as possible. They are drugged, fed gruel, and on special occasions, given fried chicken. A television onstage is mostly useless aside from periodic news reports about a terrorist organization and advertisements with a hypnotic jingle for Crispy Fried Chicken.
Into this world comes Crane (Mika Porro), a young woman who insists a mistake has been made. She meets Pixie (Randi Berry), the top breeder of the rooftop, Neesey (Lauren Turner Kiel), a childish 16-year-old, and an old friend Mangle (Anna Lamadrid), who's gone a little crazy. The community of fear is enforced by Jackett (Dechelle Damien), a butch female guard, on behalf of Mr. Fleet (Benjamin Spradley), the effete cock-of-the-walk overseer, whose job it is to impregnate the women, and who himself answers to the offstage presence of someone named QB (Meret Oppenheim). Crane then becomes the contact for Ahmad Bibomb (Al Miro), the terrorist being spoken of on the news, who may or may not be working to free the women. There's more to the story, though I don't want to give away any more of the surprises.
The script is not simple- Pixie talks in a barely-intelligible patois, the newscasters (Katie Braden and Mike Bradley) deliver their information in short clipped newsbites, and one could easily get lost in the depth and twists of the narrative. But the play rewards attention paid- it's full of fascinating and well-observed characters, and after a while seems not to be quite so far-fetched an idea (though just how far QB's influence extends is confusing, and a subplot about a deformed baby seems to have more behind it that isn't explored fully). The ending is disappointingly pessimistic, though even that makes a sad kind of sense.
The commitment and power of the performances also helps to lend legitimacy and grace to the play. Porro's performance as Crane is simply stunning; every moment is considered and nuanced. Berry is powerful and heartbreaking as Pixie, going from a hard and draconian character into a concerned mother. Damien handles a difficult role with impressive aplomb. Spradley is a disturbing hoot as the handsome and effete Mr. Fleet, swanning around in a kimono and hoping for some kind of love. Oppenheim doesn't quite nail the sense of Devil-Wears-Prada authority that QB needs, but is still an amusingly tetchy presence. Miro does a good job with a strangely underwritten character, though his accent comes and goes. Keil and Lamadrid give sharply delineated performances, and provide much of the cultural subtext.
Music by Tara Grieco of UNiONEYE is a great complement to the show and is performed live by Grieco, Jessica Kelly, and Beth MacGregor (the latter two also double onstage as guards). Michael McClain's sprawling set design is impressive, with many hidden features that become apparent. Rachel Attridge's costumes are great and well-suited to the characters. Pamela Kupper's lighting design works well with the show, especially with making use of the LEDs.
This is an extraordinary piece of work; go check it out.
By Karly Maurer
Milagro Theater at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center.
107 Suffolk Street, NYC
Rooftops plays Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3 pm through Saturday, March 28th.
Tickets are $20 and are now available online at www.wreckio.com or by calling 917-626-1369. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater's box office ½ hour prior to the performance.
Photo Credit: Erica Parise
- Mika Porro and Al Miro
- Benjamin Spradley, Mika Porro, and Dechelle Damien
- Dechelle Damien, Randi Berry, Anna Lamadrid, and Lauren Turner Kiel