by Case Aiken · December 3, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #27: Case Aiken Visits Jimmy's #43 for a Cino Night performance of I Can’t Explain It Better Than That produced by Rising Phoenix Rep Theater is a different animal than more modern art forms like film or television in that it’s a different experience every time an audience sees it. Even long running shows that have had a performance every night for over a decade with people paid explicitly to keep it the same are different each time, because the actors get replaced, deliveries are adjusted, or the audience laughs or cries at different times. Context is everything because theater is a shared experience far more so than a recorded art form. The Cino Nights series, which is now going seven years strong at Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, is an attempt at taking that "flash in the pan" brilliance of performance and doubling down on it. Rather than focusing on big budgets or meticulous planning, the program emphasizes energy and enthusiasm to carry the night. The tagline is “1 week of rehearsal, 1 night of performance”.
The piece that I saw in this series was I Can’t Explain It Better Than That, written by Sarah Shaefer, directed by Evan F. Caccioppoli, and produced by Rising Phoenix Repertory. I wish I could say that everyone should drop what they’re doing and check out I Can’t Explain It Better Than That, but sadly the one and done approach doesn’t allow for that. It’s a real shame because this was a great work with a strong cast that left me wanting more. The three leads, Stephanie (Briana Packen), Gio (Nic Grelli), and Jessica (Sevrin Anne Mason), make for a great love triangle that keeps spinning on its ends. The dynamic between them shifts in new, twisted, and depraved ways until finally it all breaks down into the final creepily executed scene. This is a dark comedy for sure, and I found myself laughing quite a bit. I’d love to find out if the piece was being remounted somewhere down the line.
My take away is if the Cino Nights series has consistently great work like I Can’t Explain It Better Than That, then this is something I want to be a part of. Even if just as an audience member, this is something that I think is too good to miss. The raw energy for the work is on full display here. Kind of like the panic for a 24 hour burn or 48 hour film festival, the Cino Nights series throws away precision for effort. This is theater of determination and grit and you can’t help but step back in awe of the accomplishment. The thought that this has been going on week after week for seven years makes it even more impressive.
Obviously, there are going to be kinds of works that will be tough to do well in this setting. Slow, dialogue heavy, nuanced works will require Herculean amounts of memorization and crafting to fit into the confines of such a structure. Not to say it couldn’t be done, just the feat would be daunting. As it stands, this is the kind of beast meant for fun, fast works that encourage a raucous audience. This is bringing art into the bar and making it work. For some, that is exactly as it should be.