SundayArts is Now NYC-ARTS
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6/8/09
Jerry-rigged Hilarity
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Machines machines machines machines machines machines machines  is garbage. Literally. The set appears to be largely composed of bits of string and rope, junk from the attic, parts of old tools recombined into bionically repurposed ones, thrift shop furniture, and cardboard sets made futuristic with discarded calculator keypads. In this dismal economy, the show—a production of rainpan 43 and Here Arts Center, where it runs through June 27—reflects parsimonious resourcefulness to the extreme. The pseudonymous heart of the show are Rube Goldbergian inventions that are used (or attempted to be used) to perform mostly banal tasks. Hilarity definitely ensues.

MachinesThe show ( which you can catch a video clip at here) is created and performed by Quinn Bauriedel (Chief Commander), Geoff Sobelle (Phineas), Trey Lyford (Liam), and directed by Aleksandra Wolska; props for the props to Steven Dufala and Billy Blaise Dufala, credited with machines design and set treatment. It’s hard to tell if the three men are xenophobic suburbanites, or simply trapped in a spaceship. The presence of dogs, cats, and fish say this shouldn’t be the case, but the general feel is outer-space like, mostly thanks to the Lost in Space “special effects” and Liam’s disturbingly convincing static radio transmission jabber and whirring sound effects. After rolling out of his bed, buried in the wall, he accompanies even the smallest movement of an object with a whoosh or vroom done with the precision of an idiot savant.

He’s soon joined by the charismatic Phineas, who wears a kilt to match his plummy brogue, and Chief, the fall guy for many futile tasks. Phineas’ stream of  consciousness banter, much of which seems ad libbed, veers from minor observation to brilliant St. Crispin’s speech. Sobelle seems to lack fear, leaping recklessly over the dingy furniture, or getting entangled with regularity. He’s the life of the party who also threatens to become the drunk who chugs a bottle of hot sauce for the hell of it. Bauriedel seems to be channelling Jimmy Stewart’s drawl; his major strength is keeping a straight face when getting a mouthful of shaving cream or facing having to eat the dirty scraps of a fried egg. (When you go, take heed if you sit in the front row.)

Said egg is the focus of breakfast, the making of which becomes a major production. Coffee drips down a funnel into a pot whose weight (is supposed to) deflate a balloon enough to release a needle-nosed goose to crack the egg, which slides into a waiting heated pan. Wait – maybe it’s supposed to tip the toaster sideways and begin the toasting process. Many similar elaborate enchainments take place to effect a few bites of battered food. In any case, nothing quite works as planned, but the mere idea of such complexity being borne of a chain of simple tasks delights.

What is missing is a coherent story line. The guys wind up trying to determine who the enemy is — one of them? One of the hundreds of objects in their employ? Something outside? The conclusion is suitably bizarre, if unsatisfying. After so much impressive physical theater, I wished for a better reason for it all, rather than what ultimately felt like a magic show that succeeded less than half the time. Still, belly laughs are hard to come by, and those are manufactured in spades.

Photo of Trey Lyford, Geoff Sobelle in Machines machines machines machines machines machines machines by Jacques-Jean Tiziou.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.