by Mike Poblete · August 13, 2015
Rachel Moulton, Michael Kingsbaker | Hunter Canning
Group sex with an anthropomorphic squirrel, zombies posing as burka-clad Muslims and a cabin literally made of shit are among the many topics covered in the nine short plays that make up Troy Deutsch’s In A Tilted Place. Loosely tied together by the theme of the overwhelming grandiosity of New York City, each short introduces a vivid and quirky character, like the drunk living on a bench on the Highline, who has their world turned upside down by an equally peculiar character or event, in the drunk’s case a mermaid who crawls out of the Hudson River to lovingly greet him, resulting in his pouring whiskey on her to drink it off.
My favorite piece featured the least amount of zaniness: a troubled boyfriend brings his absentee workaholic girlfriend to Rockefeller Center to tell her something important about his health, only to have her frustrated by his lazy, nauseatingly tourist meetup point and run off too soon to her next meeting. She had, of course, missed the significance: Rockefeller Center was where they had their first date and took in the famous Christmas tree, a tree that was no longer there, just like their love.
All of the shorts are fun: equal parts gothic and cartoonishly humorous, Deutch’s script comes fast and hard, taking unexpected turns that keeps audiences guessing. However, the individual pieces feel disjointed from one another: even the New York through line is oddly absent for certain sequences; and many of the plots seem to exist solely for one gag, with themes stated bluntly and often sophomorically, as with the case of the roommate who builds a fort made of her own feces, perplexed by the confusion and discomfort with which it is received. And in one section, where a female sex offender brings an unsuspecting youth on a doomed cave expedition, the dialog’s use of words like “mammy” and “boy” without irony or consequence borders uncomfortably close to racist.
Kate Noll’s set design is ominous and captivating: a circular partition downstage frames sharply diagonal walls and an abrupt turn, creating an off kilter tone, suggesting audience members themselves should tilt to watch the performance. The sound design and music of Matt Otto, the lighting design of Scot Gianelli and co-direction of Ashley Brooke Monroe and Courtney Ulrich all create a haunting and compelling atmosphere that elevates the surreal storytelling, culminating in a mythical finale that I will not give away, but earns Bandon Hardy his puppetry design credit.
With clever, shocking and entertaining concepts, supported by truly talented directors and designers, there is a lot going on with In A Tilted Place to keep audiences engaged, as was evident from the consistent uproarious laughter and enthusiastic applause of half the attendees the night I went. But the other half seemed to share my sentiment: weak connecting themes, a lack of subtlety and occasionally uncomfortable humor prevent the script from meeting its aspirations.