Williamsburg Play Re-Imagines History
In Williamsburg playhouse The Brick Theater’s production of “Lord Oxford Brings you the Second American Revolution: Live!”, the American Revolution is retold, not as a dusty history lesson or a patriotic memory, but instead as a reality show.
Don’t get confused. This is no “Survivor,” no “Flavor of Love.” This is no “American Idol.” Because this is not television. This truly is the oldest and most low-tech of art forms. This is a play. So how, you might wonder, does an honest-to-god work of theater translate into one of those trashy reality shows? And how did the most expendable of high school subjects, “history”, wind up in the mix?
Well, upon entering, the audience is asked to do some warm up stretching. The four ad-libbing and outspoken characters Greta, Lucia, Nataliya, and Patty (played by Gyda Arber, Iracel Rivero, Alyssa Simon, and Audrey Crabtree, respectively) cavort around the stage before it even seems like the curtain has gone up; although, on the Brick’s modern and stripped-down stage, there is no curtain.
Each of these four ladies portrays a sort of deliberately hackneyed and outdated ethnic stereotype. Nataliya, an Eastern European dominatrix in the style of Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Natasha, leads you on your preliminary calisthenics. Lucia sings a song in Spanish, Greta wears a German milkmaid’s outfit and Patty escaped the potato famine. But, we learn, Patty’s fingers have been severed by rogue Native Americans, leaving her with only the middle finger pointing up through bloody bandages. The better to flick the audience off with.
The play imagines a world in which Britain still controls the American Colonies, and the citizens still grapple with their melting-pot hangovers in the age of television. What that means in terms of setting is never made plain. Are we in the distant past, distant future, or a tweaked present-day?
Characters tell sob stories about packed steerage sections, potato famine and Indian attacks mostly through song, while they mug at the non-existent “cameras” and mess with the audience. Lord Oxford facilitates the experience, a devious Anglo-Saxon television host in a maroon velvet suit and tasseled mortarboard.
But where the fun of a reality show is mostly in the vicarious thrill of watching “ordinary people” do foolish things from the safe remove of your living room, “Lord Oxford…” constantly reaches out to its audience. Get ready to be forced to answer some “hey how are ya where ya from” type of questions. Get ready for a particularly terrifying cast member to take a nap across your knees. If you don’t like that kind of thing… well, “The Pick-Up Artist II” isn’t going make those kinds of demands.
Overall, “Lord Oxford Brings You the Second American Revolution: Live!” is a timely and funny piece. New York playwright Robert Honeywell draws on juxtapositions of history as old as our nation, and as new as McCain-Palin 2008. The fact that within that bloody scope we get some laughs, some sexiness, and some reflection is a tribute to the power of good writing, original work, and actual live people doing actual live things.
Why don’t you switch off your TV? Go see some theater.