Have you ever been completely confused by an experience, but somehow enjoyed it anyways? That’s exactly how I feel as I leave the quirky, high-energy performance of Erin Markey’s A Ride On the Irish Cream.
Before the show even begins, I’m already intrigued. The usher who hands me my program has silver and blue stars glued to her face. I’m not sure why–I’m still not– but I soon realize that her quirky aesthetic matches the rest of the set. As I enter the theater, I see a giant, colorful cutout of a duck looming large against the back wall. Underneath it stands a piano player and two guitarists, tuning their instruments in a mixture of bright overalls, poofy skirts, and polka dotted pants. Then, in comes our protagonist– the red headed Erin Markey, wearing high-waisted jeans, a t-shirt covered in dinosaurs, and a high ponytail. She immediately draws me in with her big smile, bright eyes, and clear confidence. Put quite simply, Markey oozes star power.
Yet, from the first song of the performance, I feel out of the loop. From what I’ve read online, A Ride On the Irish Cream is about a young girl’s relationship with her horse and her boat. I soon figure out that both of these loves are played by the same person– Becca Blackwell. However, at some moments–okay, most moments– I have no idea which one she is. Boats and horses both can’t have conversations in bars, right? Wait, neither can little kids… I’m confused. I feel like I’m in someone’s childhood fever dream, but there’s live music and fun choreography. And dancers wearing pantyhose on their heads.
This show is clearly a personal passion project for Markey. After all, she explores intense memories from her childhood– quitting the tap team, bonding with her horse, pretending to be a monster under her younger brother’s bed. It’s an absurd fever dream that vacillates between childhood memories of horseback riding, trips down the river, and adult relationships. However, no context is given throughout the show about Markey’s age at any given point, or even who she’s talking to. Consequently, although all of the conversations have quick, funny dialogue, I’m constantly confused. At one point, I lean over to the person next to me and say, “Is she talking to her horse, or her boat?” He looks at me and responds confidently: “Her boyfriend.”
Later I realize that the audience seems to be so much more in tune with the performance than I am because they helped to fund it. A Ride On the Irish Cream is the result of Erin Markey’s IndieGogo campaign, which raised over $20,000. The project’s page explains the show’s concept in detail. In essence, A Ride On The Irish Cream explores how childhood experiences can shape adult relationships– like wanting your lover to neigh, for example.
Although I don’t fully understand the plot of A Ride On the Irish Cream in the moment, I still very much enjoy it. Markey’s jazzy singing voice, as well as her accompanying band, work well in harmony. In addition, although everyone’s dance moves throughout the performance are outrageously silly, they’re clearly the product of a lot of training and practice. Finally, Markey’s transitions from the confident sexuality of an adult to the awkwardness of a child are impressively quick.
If you support independent, queer theater, you should definitely check this show out. Becca Blackwell, who plays the boat/horse/multiple lovers, is also starring in They, Themself and Schmerm from February 25th through 28th at the Abrons Arts Center. But if you’re looking to dredge back forgotten memories from your childhood, or see some great tap, then A Ride On The Irish Cream is for you. Just don’t expect anyone to explain the giant duck.