This is a chaotic, kitschy non-linear romp.
You will come into a small theater populated by retro plastic chairs and a few café tables bearing gratis pickles and cole slaw. Beer and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase by cast members, one of them a young woman who appears to have walked right out of Hairspray.
Once the audience is settled, watered and fed, we are introduced to Deidrich Knickerbocker, the Dutch historian, brainchild of Washington Irving and narrator of Rip Van Winkle. Knickerbocker is living in the basement of a decayed Borscht Belt nightclub and appears to have driven himself to the brink of madness writing a massive tome about the history of the Dutch in New York. Michael Levinton is manic, funny and incoherent as he attempts, by sifting through oceans of boxes, papers and maps to preview his opus. He is bewigged and oddly stockinged. I have to say that periodically he seems to be trying a little too hard.
Knickerbocker is accompanied by someone who appears to BE Rip Van Winkle and is quirky, cynical and absolutely riveting as portrayed by Lisa Rafael Clair. A woman who may be Van Winkle’s shrewish wife, Knickerbocker’s wife, or simply an archetypal shrew periodically plagues the two. Whoever she is, she is performed by Morgan Lyndsey Tachco and is completely terrifying!
Now for your comfort as an audience member, you absolutely must not try to attempt to figure out just what exactly is going on. You won’t have any fun if you do. The two main characters are often accompanied by masked gnomes in boxer shorts and retro knit vests that serve as a sort of Greek chorus. They appear above the characters, beside them and as unseen voices. Sneaky little buggers!
Oops! Suddenly the audience is transported to a surreal depiction of an Adirondacks resort with slow motion evocations of dancing lessons, bingo and rowing. The soundtrack is hilariously eclectic and campy. All the while Knickerbocker is trying to make sense of it for us.
After that, all Hell breaks loose. The audience will go back in time and forward in time and who knows where in time. You will be given reminiscences of life in the 20’s, 40’s and 80’s and maybe the present. At a certain point the shrew turns up above the stage as some sort of black winged monster accompanied by the gnomes. Trust me. It’s funny. You’ll just need to go with it.
On the whole, my impression is that this play is about memory in its various forms. It’s about how memory can twist and morph. It’s about memory as history and how that can be interpreted, reported, warped and can be personally warping.
The costumes by Karen Boyer are odd, fun and eye catching. The lighting by Marika Kent is, I suspect, intentionally jarring; sometimes too bright, sometimes too dim. The sound design by Kate Marvin is consistently funny and eclectic. The set by Peiye Wong is appropriately chaotic and cluttered. The choreography contributed by Whitney G-Bowley is evocative and in keeping with the glorious weirdness of the piece.
If you are looking for something really fun and are willing to just go along for a whacky ride. If you’re okay with an entertaining jumble, I recommend this enjoyable production.