You Say You Want a Revolution? Find It at Kraine Theater

Revolution in 1 featuring Samantha Keogh, Marchelle Thurman, Lizzie Palmer, Anna Zicer, Laura Aristovulos, and Rebekah LevinTheater in Asylum

Theatre in Asylum’s piece “Revolution in 1” opens with the “Cast of Revolutionaries” turning in place on the tiny stage. Rest assured, this is not just a ham-fisted leftist play, but a smart, oftentimes funny look at historical revolution through a hybrid of drama, performance art, and dance.

The work’s major strength is its restlessness – the six women on stage embody historical views which constantly collide: The democrat is dismissed by the oligarch, who is one-upped by the aristocrat, who is questioned by the plutocrat, and they are all repressed by the dictator. And this cycle continues. The cast is cautious not to let their own politics show strongly, often poking fun at both sides of a conflict; a farce of the first presidential debate regressing into a thumb-wrestling match is a particularly sobering view of absurdity.

In presenting revolutionary figures, the piece sometimes swings away from neutrality, but one can hardly fault the writers for sympathizing with the jailed members of Pussy Riot, or with the pepper-spray victims at UC Davis. Using extensive quotation and minimal props, these reenactments echo the portrayal of events in the media eerily, and, calling upon the collective memory of the audience, tap into the fundamental power of theater; the sterile, distanced view of TV news has no place here.

At other times, the piece presents abstract scenes of power struggle, some stone-faced (four women form a battering ram against others armed with nightsticks), and some less so (a too-goofy dancer is made to sit down at a party). Using no words, just repetition and stylized, exaggerated movement, the piece’s hallucinatory succession of images, all choreographed, reminds us of how we are portrayed – and how we see ourselves.

And it is precisely why one is disappointed that these conceptual scenes aren’t realized better. They feel too lengthy, perhaps because the gestures are tied to four-measure musical patterns with more bombast than substance. Though the actions in time with the music create a martial atmosphere, the scenes drag because they do not have the force of real world events. The tension which we feel watching footage of, say, civil uprising or police brutality is more or less present throughout the piece, but must be more strongly maintained for the piece to shed light on these situations.

“Revolution in 1” will change as the election nears, incorporating current affairs and recent slips of the tongue, so one can hope that the lulls in the play will be chiseled away for a uniform experience. What is clear, even at this stage, is the group’s intelligence and willingness to examine the events of history; one must forgive their aesthetics not being fully formed. At the heart of the piece is a dialogue which asks more questions than it answers, refusing pedagogy in place of inquisitiveness. Though bound to be too heady for some, the piece’s complexity will offer plenty of questions to mull over at the KGB bar downstairs.

“Revolution in 1,″ Oct. 2-23, at Kraine Theater, 85 East Fourth Street (near Second Avenue), $18; $15 seniors and students,