Wednesday, August 20, 2014

FringeNYC benefits: "Cortez"

Heather Holmes
in Milkwood Theater's Cortez
(photo: Cortney van Jahnke)
Presented by Milkwood Theater
Written by Judith Goudsmit
Directed by David Riley

I'll be upfront about it: A large part of the reason I chose Milkwood Theater's Cortez out of numerous Fringe fest offerings was a photo (seen above) that showed a woman of color (Heather Holmes) in what would appear to be a significant role as a marine biologist. Of course, I hoped I'd also take interest in the rest of Judith Goudsmit's characters, played by David Riley, who also directs, Cory Lawson and Peter Waluk--three white male actors. Kudos to Milkwood for casting Holmes for a (sort of, really, really sort of) romantic role unspecified by race. But, sorry to say, I ended up not caring, one way or another, about anyone here. 

At the center of this hour-long physical theater piece about scientists Mike (Riley) and Heather (Holmes) and their research expedition to the Sea of Cortez is a deteriorating relationship. Since we do not get to see this couple at its best, we build no investment in their lives, together or apart, and it's irritating, and more than a little confusing, to witness how their personal failure impacts the innocents they're studying--the poor, nearly-extinct tomatians. 

What? You've never heard of tomatians? Think squishy, tomato-red ball with little knobby protrusions all over it. Tomatians are losing their ability to reproduce. (Shhhh! They don't really exist at all. But you'll end up giving more of a damn about them than about....)

All of this floats in the dreamy absurdity of some well-done movement-oriented segments and gestural characterizations (the physical in "physical theater") as well as Matthew Keff's fanciful, ghostly-white projections--a drifting full moon, a boat's revolving steering wheel, slowly-twirling candelabra, marine creatures flashing through the sea's inky darkness. There's charm and diversion in these aspects of Cortez.

The show opens with Riley giving a glitchy, harried presentation for the fictitious Monterey Research Institute, his funding source. He starts off by suggesting a better name for Planet Earth--Planet Water--since our planet has far more of that element. After watching the behavior of humans in Cortez, I'd have to agree. Yes, let's focus on the sea creatures.

Remaining shows:

Thursday, August 21, 2pm
Saturday, August 23, 8pm

Theater at the 14th Street Y
344 East 14th Street (at 1st Avenue), Manhattan

For all things FringeNYC, click below.

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