Solving downtown dilemmas

House of Trash

By Trav S.D.
Directed by Frank Cwiklik
Danse Macabre Theatrics ( Trade Theater Group (
The Red Room/85 East 4th St, 3rd fl. (206-1515)
Non-union production (closes Aug. 3)
Review by Frank Episale

Trav S.D.'s House of Trash is a satirical exploration of "the last socially acceptable prejudice": uneducated, disempowered, economically disadvantaged Caucasian Americans, otherwise known as "white trash." The text attempts to simultaneously exploit and subvert this stereotype and occasionally reaches for some larger issues as well. With influences ranging from vaudeville to Every Which Way But Loose to Terence's The Self-Tormentor, S.D.'s play is surprisingly multi-faceted, a farce with sober undercurrents and a political agenda.

For the most part, Frank Cwiklik's highly crafted production lived up to the potential of the text. The staging is elegant, the actors compelling, and the style consistent. Josh Mertz effectively presided over the production in his spot-on portrayal of full-time garbage man and part time preacher Bob Maggot. Moira Stone also did fine work as Babe, an educated and beautiful woman who has allowed herself to become trapped by her marriage to Ray (Joe Popp), an uncouth and violent truck driver whose road companion and prized best friend is a gorilla. Jonatha Bates was both sexy and absurd as Angel, a goth and scapegoat who seduces Bob's strapping young nephew Pubert (Adam Swiderski). Onstage musicians Brian Bair, Jamie Boyaca, Greg Solomon, Pete Herman, and Bernie Li contributed to and sustained the high energy level throughout.

As with previous Danse Macabre productions, it was clear that this was Cwiklik's show. He can take credit for its many successes, but he must also take responsibility for its several failings. His fondness for stark, single-source lighting made it difficult for actors to stay visible in several scenes. The elaborate sound design, coupled with The Red Room's loud ventilation system, frequently overpowered actors, particularly the clearly talented but vocally inconsistent Dan Maccarone (Tobias Maggot). While the cast nailed most of the jokes, the timing of some of the vaudeville-derived banter was a bit off and failed to generate the laughs it probably could have.

For the most part, though, Cwiklik's tightly controlled staging paid off. On a limited budget, he was able to deliver spectacles ranging from an onstage gorilla to simulated sex and full frontal nudity to a stabbing death. He also maintained the delicate balance between disturbing and hilarious, rendering a brutal domestic abuse scene as a wrestling match, and later guiding Mertz as he switched gears into a political rant, asking how a republic can be nobler than its dysfunctional citizens.

It's easy to make excuses for downtown theatre, to dismiss rough edges as the result of limited resources, short rehearsal periods, and an unmanageable talent pool. One of DM Theatrics' great contributions to Off-Off Broadway is to refuse to accept such limitations, to invite stricter criticism by repeatedly demonstrating their ability to craft disciplined, ambitious, vital theatre south of 14th St. There was never a feeling that Cwiklik and his cast were putting on a "showcase" or that the performance was really just an audition for larger-scale work. This was viable, even essential theatre that demonstrated precisely why the downtown scene is as important to NY performing arts as ever.

Also featured were Michele Schlossberg and Roger Nasser.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Sets: N/A
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

Return to Volume Nine, Number six Index

Return to Volume Nine Index

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2002 Frank Episale