Two plays by Philip Ridley
Tonight with Donny Stixx, directed by Frances Loy
Dark Vanilla Jungle, directed by Paul Takacs
Produced by The Shop and Ferment Theatre
Off Off Broadway, Solo Plays
Runs through 2.7.16
HERE, 145 6th Ave.
by Keith Paul Medelis on 1.26.16
TONIGHT/JUNGLE. Scenic design by Steven C Kemp and lighting by Dante Olivia Smith.
BOTTOM LINE: Dig deep into the compulsive minds of two obsessed individuals expertly carved out by Philip Ridley and The Shop and Ferment Theatre.
To be clear, these are two different monologues, running 80 minutes in length, and presented in rotating rep at HERE. This wasn’t clear to the companion sitting next to me, holding a ticket to "TONIGHT/JUNGLE.” That said I encourage you to take a look at both of these offerings from the collaboration of two companies, The Shop and Ferment Theatre, as they’re certainly companion pieces from the brilliant and twisted mind belonging to Philip Ridley. A larger name in the UK, Ridley deserves stateside attention. It’s possible you may recall The New Group’s Mercury Fur last season.
Tonight with Donny Stixx and Dark Vanilla Jungle are plays about obsession and attention in the world wide web world. Both characters crave to be noticed through the haze of artificial likes and retweets masquerading themselves as connection. Both start as rather pleasant individuals, here to tell us their story. Ridley and directors Frances Loy and Paul Takacs don’t make it necessarily clear what these people are exactly doing here. Sometimes confessional, sometimes theatrical, and never actually interactive with the audience, these monologues serve the disconnected themes of the plays nicely. While we sit mere inches from some rather intimate moments we are never part of the action. At one point the actors asks, “Would you like to hear the rest of my story?” and at the performance I attended an audience member responded “yes” though the script seems to indicate the answer should be “no.” The performer continues as if she has heard the scripted response.
Tonight with Donny Stixx
Harry Farmer plays “the boy with the tricks” an apparently half-ass young magician. He has an obsession with fame instilled by a curious relationship with his mother, whom he calls Yvonne, and his aunt Jess. It’s a bizarre coming of age sort of tale on what it must be to grow up in a social media world (that I luckily just missed). Farmer repeats a mantra, “please film me!” over and over, collapsing into a puddle. His “talents” have driven him to perform in such illustrious venues as a senior citizens home, far from the prying eyes of YouTube. What goes down here is far less comic than I may be making it seem as we learn in a final explosive scene only Ridley could write and all too relevant to devastating current events.
Farmer and director Frances Loy navigate us through this monologue at break neck speed. We can barely keep up. I wished for a little more breathing room as I lost some key moments in the monotonous pace. Designers Steven C. Kemp and Dante Olivia Smith have given us a wall of vertically strung scoop lights to help us out with some key locations and moments. It’s a simple and beautiful solution to effectively communicate a magic stage show and a whole host of other places, assisted by subtle and appropriate sound design from Toby Jaguar.
Dark Vanilla Jungle
Where Tonight struggles, Dark Vanilla excels. Robyn Kerr is a tremendously captivating performer. We hang on her every word and every dramatic twist in an incredible story of desperate love and desire for family/stability. Once again, desperation ends in some truly terrifying results. Kerr goes there. Her performance is no holds barred and the reason to attend to this series of plays. She has us laughing. Then, when she has us where she wants us, goes in for the kill—then twists the knife a bunch of times. Kudos to director Paul Takacs for expertly finding that balance and tension, relying only on Ridley’s words to carry us.
Again, the designers allow the same space to take shape. A single chair is used. Not even an actual engagement ring is needed to tell the story, adding an added layer of “is this even real?” to the party. We get the sense here that we’re in a padded room—yes that kind. Perhaps we’re meant to be her therapist. What a terrible job we are doing. And while the lighting in Tonight starts to feel a little tedious, here it’s used more cerebrally, capturing an emotional moment rather than a specific location.
This is a solid collection of monologues worth checking out. Catch them both for the thematic connections though don’t miss the rollercoaster that is Dark Vanilla Jungle. Just don’t get too obsessed.
(TONIGHT/JUNGLE plays at HERE, 145 6th Avenue, through February 7, 2016. Tonight with Donny Stixx plays on January 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, February 2, 4, and 6, at 7pm, January 24, 30 and February 7 at 2pm, and January 31 at 5pm. Dark Vanilla Jungle plays on January 21, 24, 26, 28, 30, February 1, 3, 5, and 7 at 7pm, and January 23, 31, and February 6 at 2pm. Tickets are $25, $10 for students. More information can be found online at here.org and by calling 212.354.3101.)
Tonight with Donny Stixx is written by Philip Ridley. It is directed by Frances Loy, performed by Harry Farmer, and stage managed by Elissa Anne Polansky.
Dark Vanilla Jungle is written by Philip Ridley, directed by Paul Takacs, performed by Robyn Kerr, and stage managed by Jhanaë Bonnick. Dialect consultant is Patricia Fletcher.
For both shows, scenic design is by Steven C Kemp. Lighting Design is by Dante Olivia Smith. Sound Design is by Toby Jaguar.