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Der Ring Gott Farblonjet

Der Ring Gott Farblonjet

Review of Der Ring Gott Farblonjet
by Charles Ludlam (2001) - Tim Cusack, Director
by Martin Denton, NYTheatre.com

The first thing that happens in Der Ring Gott Farblonjet--assuming you are able to locate the correct entrance to Nada Show World (there are three of them: you want the one farthest north on Eighth Avenue)--is that an energetic, well-dressed, and very serious young woman named Rachel Schulman will start to bark out instructions to you. Politely, but firmly. Pay attention to this stalwart lady: she's your guide into a theatrical experience unlike anything you've ever witnessed. Then pay your money and journey into the tacky, occasionally ramshackle, frequently disorganized miasma that is Nada Show World and tumble into Tim Cusack's remarkable, ultra-hip, ultra-ambitious revival of Charles Ludlam's very own Ring Cycle.

This is interactive theatre taken to a new level: the audience troops around the various playing spaces within Show World, encountering new locales and scenes at every turn. Some of the areas are air conditioned, some are not; some have ample seating, some do not; some afford close contact with the performers, some require you to strain your neck and ears to follow what's going on.

And yet it works: in a show about sensibilities and perceptions, atmosphere and style are everything: there probably is no better venue for Der Ring Gott Farblonjet, in spite of--and indeed because of--all the inconvenience of this one. Cusack's challenge--no mean one--is to try to recreate the experience of ridiculous theatre for a Y2K audience. When Ludlam first staged this subversive text some twenty-odd years ago, gender-bending, partial nudity, kitschy pop culture references, and hip irony were novel; now they're practically passť. How then to capture the sensation (a carefully chosen word) of the ridiculous for a contemporary audience?

Cusack's solution is a full-frontal assault of convention-flouting theatrics, some inventive, some just cheap. Abundance and ambition are the hallmarks of this production: the mere act of coordinating the eight- or ten-ring circus that is this Ring would defeat Cameron Mackintosh's most trusted underlings. The Rhine maidens are scantily clad trans- (or de-) gendered go-go dancers a la The Donkey Show; chief god Two-Ton is a larger-than-life ringer for the Phantom of the Opera; his wife Fricka is a sequined, wigged RuPaul-esque drag queen giant(ess). Scenes unfold on top of billiard tables and behind what obviously was once a cocktail lounge bar; special effects range from a tacky fireplace video (for the circle of fire surrounding the sleeping Brunhilde) to a Fisher Price toy rocking horse.

Does it work? On one level it does, absolutely: the anarchic spirit of Ludlam and his contemporaries is very much channeled here: though he starts to run out of ideas near the end of the piece, Cusack surprises us with happy regularity. On the other hand, lots of stuff in Der Ring falls flat, mostly because its capacity to startle ore even amuse us has been lost with the passage of time. Robbed of its merrily subversive political subtext, how resonant can Der Ring really be?

Cusack takes several supporting roles in the festivities, acquitting himself nicely in each one. Ian Hill, as Two-Ton, is also effective, as are Peter Brown as a buttoned-up Alverruck the Dwarf, Xavier Smith as an improbable Sieglinda, and Matthew Pritchard as ethereally gay versions of Loge (god of fire) and a magic bird. Other cast members are game, and, if their characterizations are less polished, they're always in the right costume and the right room at the right time. With this show, that's no mean feat.

 
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