Putin on Ice (that isn’t the real title of this show)

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.

1 thought on “Putin on Ice (that isn’t the real title of this show)

  1. My two friends and I are theatergoers. We meet about once a month to see a play but this was our first experience at the Single Carrot. Many of the plays we have seen in the last year have been disappointing. Some fail to meet our expectations, due to the subject matter and/or acting and some fail on all accounts. Some are so bad, we have walked out. We may not always agree on whether we like a play or do we come to the same conclusions regarding character and plot analysis. With this being said, Putin on Ice delivered all that we desired and then some. We unanimously gave the play three thumbs up; it brought us so much pleasure that we are still discussing it. Lola Pierson must be a genius and is deserving of a Tony.

    This is my synopsis of Putin On Ice but you are free to stop reading at any time.

    First of all, the play is difficult to explain; it must be experienced- but I will do my best- Putin on Ice is an Avant-garde farcical montage that delivers a steady stream of propaganda and conspiracy theories, which encompass the many facets of Putin. Hidden absurd meanings regarding Putin are represented in everything from art and literature, ancient history, pop culture and even Zsa Zsa Gabor. The play brought to mind Elvis appearing on a potato chip, and Jesus appearing on toast. Putin was found everywhere and in everything. I would presume that this type of omnipresent god-like persona is most experienced by North Koreans, which brings me to the next point.

    The play is not really about Putin- – Any larger than life figure could slide into Putin’s role or, should I say, his many roles. The play could have very well been tweaked to represent any cult of personality- Trump, Kim Jong Un, Caesar, Hitler, Stalin, Elvis, Jesus, etc.

    The Gregorian chant music that prefaces the play sets the stage for a sacred and ethereal opus to honor the ICE god. Hooded extras, who foreshadow the secrets that are about to unfold, guide you to your seat or, if you prefer, you may enter a mysterious chamber. Neither my friends or I entered, so I am unable to comment on the Chamber of Secrets. Those who did, were given the opportunity to participate in a game show, in which the host asked the contestants absurd questions about Putin. If you ever have watched the James Corden show, in which Reggie asks the guests ridiculous questions that have no definitive answers, you will understand how the game show operates. There were no correct answers, yet there was a winner.

    The many personas of Putin are portrayed by a host of talented performers, who take us back to the Elizabethan age, as they act out scenes from “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hamlet,” and then we are off to pre-revolutionary Russia, to a scene from Chekov’s “Three Sisters,” all of which Putin plays a part. There is a segment of tap dancing and singing to “Putin on the Ritz,” which Putin also has his finger in. Since Putin is omnipresent and is all things, he can transform into anyone and anything and that includes animated characters like Bug Bunny and Dobby in Harry Potter. He even turns up in art masterpieces.

    The cast keeps you on your toes both figuratively and literally. There is never a dull moment as you are asked to stand several times throughout the play. The cast engages the audience, by getting volunteers to participate in the performance. It is impossible to catch your breath because there is so much sensory overload that one cannot take in everything. I felt like I need a remote to pause the performance. However, the overload was done intentionally, to reflect the barrage of lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories that pervade the culture from every crevice of social media, twitter, TV and from the very mouth of our most benevolent, worshipful Orangutan. Like I said , it is not really about Putin.

    Before the play, my friends and I had dinner. Our conversation always centers around politics, most specifically Trump, who has taken over the media and our lives, just as Putin does in the play. We are as obsessed in wanting to take down Trump, as the conspiracy theorists are in wanting to take-down the Sandy Hook parents. I facetiously asked my friends what ever happened to ISIS and the bombings in Syria. I have heard nothing about either in the last 4 or 5 months. I guess those topics have lost public interest and no longer sell news. We are being diverted from what are the real important issues, as Trump takes over every nook and cranny of our existence- the drama of the narcissistic toddler never loses public interest or stops selling news. He, like Putin, is everywhere and in all things, most significantly, sucking out my life. I have never experienced anything like Trump and no one could understand, unless they too experience him. I’m thinking that he may be a Manchurian Candidate but instead, Russian, programmed to cause chaos and division, in order for Putin to take down America. Whatever the case may be, it’s a good idea for a conspiracy theory and a play.


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