Back to school, work is not cool…it has been a trying week for us all. That’s why I was so excited to go see Putin on Ice and Single Carrot! It is a September “Best Bets” for BITRSisters, and a mash-up between the always delightful Acme Corporation and always surprising Single Carrot Theater Company. One of my theater lady dates and I got dolled up and hit the town, and we were not disappointed.
“Putin on Ice (that isn’t the real title of this show)” is the title of the show. I know, it is a contradiction, and one of many along the way, so keep paying attention. This play was written by Lola Pierson and performed as a hilarious farce of all the things Putin is and isn’t. They’ve taken an already unbelievable story (seriously, look him up in Wikipedia) and made it even more unbelievable. The play will, “not help you understand him, but help you experience Putin.” And it is a hilarious hop through time and genre to find Putin in the most unlikely places- such as Shakespeare, the Mona Lisa, the Simpsons, and the center of a game show.
As you enter Single Carrot’s lobby, everyone is wearing an executioner’s hood. Creepy, but Halloween is coming so I am digging it. You will notice a small door before you enter the theater, and it is a private room, guarded. One by one, victims are taken in blindfolded to the “Putin room,” then returned with a blindfold to the lobby. I was referring to it as the pleasure room due to the accessories on the table, but we were not lucky enough to be given passage to the chamber of secrets. Alas. Towards the end of the play, three “contestants” who did get into the room were asked to come on down and compete in a game show about their Putin knowledge. So, if you go, try and win big money will ya?
The set design is simple yet effective. Seating is on either side of the room with a red carpet running down the middle. On the carpet are three large wooden tables that serve as a conference table and a runway for some of the characters. Flanked on either side are projections on the wall that run throughout the performance. The two red sashes hanging to either side of the screen are Nazi-esque in quality and, as intended, make the audience slightly uncomfortable. The tables are taken and moved several times throughout the play to create different things, such as Juliet’s balcony (yes Putin was there too). The lighting is harsh and garish at times, to the desired effect of the content. The projections are well timed, including a particular shout out to whoever has to flip the art slides in perfect time with the swinging of a telescoping hand pointer. Kudos.
The play is slightly off-putting at first, and creates the dimension of other worldliness by having a weird monks chanting sort of trance music going as you enter. Upon listening more closely it sounds as if Ghost is covering “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Then Tania Karpekina enters the space with an IPad with Putin’s face on it. She talks to herself mostly, sometimes addressing the audience, but everything she says is in Russian. Some of the inflection and tone intimate what she might be saying, but most of it does not make sense to the common theater goer. Later in the play she will speak in Russian again, but this time with a translator to tell you what she is saying. (maybe)
As the play kicks into “high gear” the audience is reminded that they may leave at any time. A refrain they will repeat to you at least thirty times before the evening is out. I am wondering though, on the night I attended, no one left. Have people left? Can they re-enter? Where did they go? Is the pleasure room still open? Is there a portal to a bar? But these are quandaries for another time. As the disco starts thumping, all the characters, different personas of Putin, come out and march all around the space like a fashion show on steroids. Some even get up and parade down the tables runway. I feel like I just entered a sick club and it is on fire! The actors break and address you for the first time to warn you of the show and utter such cryptic musings as, “we are never wrong, even when we are lying.”
Their MO appears to be to undercover the truth of Putin’s influence. And according the them, he is everywhere. He is all. He has been in classic plays such as Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and Three Sisters. He is also apparent in several classical pieces of artwork. He is so prolific that he has infiltrated the Simpsons and Family Guy, and that means you’ve made it as individual. He is in Home Alone, and Bugs Bunny, and Harry Potter. Damn, he gets around. The evening is interrupted by meditations on Putin, a reading from the audience of Putin truths (aka jokes).
The thing with Acme is that they are so cunning, sometimes so lofty and their own self-deprecating humor, they lose some of the audience. In the Hamlet scene, it was comical, but also substantially allegorical, when Hamlet steps on the hands of each member of the table making them softly hiss and give away their incognito existence (just as Polonius and Claudius are hiding to take in Ophelia’s break up with Hammy). They equate him even to The Wizard of Oz- saying Putin is behind the curtain but you “never know for whom you are performing.” True, of Hamlet, of this play, and of life. Got it.
Then there are the actors. Each plays a part of Putin. I will mention them all briefly but dwell on my favorites. Honestly how they all could do this with a straight face is incredible, I laughed loudly at several intervals. Drag Putin is played by Kaya Vision and he is a delight to watch, from his fierce stamping and dancing in some killer heels to his singing skills for “Putting (Putin) on the Ritz,” he is a show all unto himself. His sashays kill that boardroom runway. Ben Kleymeyer is Putin with the Animals in their fabulous leopard cape and khaki shorts. Their other killer role of the night is as the Archduke Ferdinand. There is Baby Putin, played by Molly Cohen who has mad skills for days, from singing to tap-dancing, she is a class act all the way around. Hockey Putin is Paul Diem, complete with jersey and hockey stick. Did Putin even play hockey? I guess if you are Russian it is expected of you? Judo Putin is Alix Fenhagen in an outfit and matching sneer that look dangerous. Military Putin is Sophie Hinderberger, although I expected a little more of the KGB look and little less old closet raid. Meghan Stanton is Putin with the Bird Separately, which makes the least sense of all of them. I missed the pun on this one Acme, sorry to let you downL But her performance as Zsa Zsa Gabor was a winner. Party Putin is Matthew Shea who sports a killer suit and dictates/narrates a bit of the first part more than others. He might also be the “bossy Putin” but I am just making things up. Religious Putin is Mohammad R. Suaidi who claims the best role of the night when he portrays Romeo in slow motion ascending the balcony to Juliet (an adorned Ben Kleymeyer). Wheh! That’s a lot of Putin!
This was a sneak preview evening, so there were minor flubs. A few lines that got lost in the shuffle, but all in all it was absolutely astounding. My personal favorite is the way the questionnaire was handled. I won’t give the whole thing away but the ladies next to me laughed so hard, one kept grabbing my knee, literally doubling over with laughter. There is a movement director listed, who gets shout outs as well for wonderful crisp transitions and solid ensemble pieces. Thanks Jarod Hanson, your hard work is noted!
One final addendum to my evening, the three ladies sitting beside me were slightly confused. It was their first Single Carrot adventure. It was their first Acme Corporation Adventure. And they were having a great time, but asked a lot of questions. I answered some, some I had to default into the “no one knows” category. BUT they said they had season tickets for Everyman Theater for years and felt they needed to diversify. So, they are going to one local theater show a month instead of their Everyman subscription. Why am I telling you this? Because I love these ladies! Listen, go to Everyman and Center Stage, but don’t forget there is cutting edge provocative theater going on in other places too! They were having the time of their lives and their joy and laughter was contagious. Even if they did invade my personal space a bit, the frivolity of laughter is welcome and unifying.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? You know, we make these “Best Bets” based on our own assumptions and what we know about the show prior to seeing it. Sometimes we bet on the wrong horse, but we bet on Putin, and damn if it didn’t pay out big! This show is sensational, mesmerizing, absolutely comical, and wonderful to watch. Do yourself a favor and get some cocktails or beers at Parts and Labor (attached) and then wander down the hall to Putin on Ice. Take friends. Compete for prizes, and damn it have a good time. Acme and SC have combined forces in the best possible way and the effects are spectacular. Get Russian there immediately! (that was a bad pun- I’m sorry/not sorry). (I)
Running at Single Carrot through October 7th. Running time 80-85 minutes with no intermission. But you can leave whenever you’d like.