Created and Directed by Joseph Silovsky
Off Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 12.13.14
HERE, 145 6th Avenue
by Sarah Weber on 12.7.14
Joseph Silovsky in Send for the Million Men. Photo by Cory Weaver.
BOTTOM LINE: Impressive multi-media theatre that micro-analyzes the trials of Sacco and Vanzetti in ways you never thought of.
When I first read that this show uses, “animatronics, robotics, puppetry, and handmade projectors,” I thought this could either be incredible or could combust under the weight of too many tricks at once. Is Joseph Silovsky truly a mad scientist? Or is he simply mad? Upon entering the theatre I took in every detail; the stage was mostly bare except for piles of suitcases and a stand in the middle of the stage that holds a circular scrim -- was this scrim meant to look like a magnifying glass? And the suitcases, are they just set pieces? Or do they contain the potpourri of inventions Silovsky promises? After 90 minutes of fascinating entertainment, I definitely owe Silovsky an apology for ever doubting his creation(s).
Send for the Million Men is a multimedia examination of the Sacco and Vanzetti case that spanned the 1920s. Silovsky and his fellow designer/performers Victor Morales and Catherine McRae blend performance and technology to retell the story of two men, their controversial trials, and why this piece of history remains relevant today. In 1920 Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were convicted of murder. On April 15, 1920, robbers murdered two men in Braintree, MA, who were transporting a company’s payrolls. After an investigation, the police arrested Sacco and Vanzetti -- neither had a criminal record, but they were known as radical anarchists and were Italian. (During this period of history, many Americans were prejudiced against Italian immigrants, never mind anyone who opposed the sanctity of capitalism.) After years of trials and investigations, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed in 1927.
When re-examining the piles of evidence and transcripts, critics argue that Sacco and Vanzetti were not given a fair trial; the final sentence was founded more in prejudice than in facts. In their performance, Silovsky, Morales, and McRae find clever ways to not only illustrate every shred of information about the trials and the mens’ personal lives, but examine each detail under a critical magnifying glass. In fact, the show opens with Silovsky presenting evidence and artifacts behind that round scrim in a way that makes the audience feel like we are seeing these items under a microscope.
The creations themselves are simply remarkable. The use of live robots to personify Sacco and Vanzetti are both comedic and awe inspiring. It is the additional use of projections, Laura Mroczkowski’s lighting design, and McRae’s soundscape that make Send for the Million Men a remarkable experiment to watch. When explaining how the police eventually captured Sacco and Vanzetti, Silovsky and Morales recreate the town of Bridgewater, MA, by projecting detailed images of homes, a factory, the factory’s smoke, and vehicles onto suitcases and other objects. It is spectacular to watch how such attention to design can retell history so beautifully.
I also must give a round of applause to Silovsky, Morales, and McRae’s heartfelt performances. Their energy is so contagious you cannot help wanting to join them. And Silovsky’s earnestness in telling this story is an inspiration all on its own. My only gripe is I sometimes had a difficult time telling the difference between intentional “mistakes” on stage and actual ones. It seems this show is meant to be clumsy and glitchy, much like the trials and the judicial system’s mishandling of evidence. Although intentional clumsiness can make for interesting and fun storytelling, it can also make a production seem messy or under-prepared if timed incorrectly.
Overall, Send for the Million Men is an interesting piece of experimental theatre. It is especially remarkable when you consider the kind of technology being used in such an intimate venue. If an off off Broadway production can utilize complex design saturated with complicated technology, on what I imagine was a limited budget, and use these elements creatively, what’s Broadway’s excuse?
(Send for the Million Men plays at the HERE, 145 6th Avenue, through December 13, 2014. Remaining performances are December 10th through December 13th at 8:30PM. Tickets are $20 and are available at here.org or by calling 212-352-3101)