Theater for the New City’s 28th annual
street theater extravaganza, "Code Orange: On the M15,"
starts with the amiable, but frustrated, Bus Driver taking his
bus uptown and ends with him and all his passengers urging the
audience to get on the bus, singing the inspirational lyrics,
"We can change. We can move. We can get back in the groove."
Written and directed by Theater for the New City (TNC) Executive Director Crystal Field, with music by Joseph Vernon Banks, the show will tour the five boroughs’ streets, parks and playgrounds in the next two weeks, exhorting New Yorkers to get their act together and get out and vote. More specifically - to vote President Bush out of the White House.
Like Field’s previous summer shows ("State of the Union," "The Patients Are Running the Asylum," "Bio-Tech"), "Code Orange" is an adult fairytale that preaches empowerment for ordinary citizens. The people on this bus are typical New Yorkers. They come on board with their cell phones, their children, their complaints and their gossip. They are also the ensemble that keeps the musical comedy in tune and intriguing.
They sing of the maladies that afflict city life in "Urban Olympics" - under-funded schools, crime, poverty. When a pregnant lady comes on board and the bus driver delivers her baby, they accompany the delivery with a musical arrangement worthy of Bernstein - or at least Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The Bus Driver (the excellent Michael David Gordon) is despondent because he has been unable to secure a "rich route" during daylight hours and is stuck with a nighttime route on a bus that is the refuge of drunks, crooks, and noisy college students, all of whom argue with him and trash his bus.
When, after delivering the baby, the Bus Driver gets into trouble for arriving late at the depot, he is so depressed he resolves to drown himself in the East River. But just as he’s about to end his life, the Bus Driver discovers a bottle from which a genie (Mark Marcante) soon bursts forth.
The genie (complete with turban, vest and pointed shoes) now offers the Bus Driver the proverbial three wishes. He takes the Bus Driver around the world, where they are consistently met with anti-American demonstrations; to the White House, where Bush, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, et. al. - Haideen Anderson’s masks are fantastic! - rob the populace to the hip-hop tune "We Got the Bling Bling"; to the Republican Convention, where delegates dance to the "Politician Tango" ("It won’t be our sons and daughters who get slaughtered"); and to City Hall, where an overburdened mayor is trying to deal with his own demonstrators.
On the trip, the Bus Driver meets an assortment of interesting people. The best of these are the President’s fellow-Texans, the "Dixie Chicklets," who harmonize about how they’ve been kicked off the radio by Clear Channel and warble "Mr. President, are you still a resident of our home state?" Some people may be happy when, at the end of this scene, they take him home.
More vaudeville than Broadway, TNC’s Street Theater makes use of an assemblage of trap doors, live musicians, masks, changing flats and a 9-foot by 12-foot "cranky," a running screen that provides seamless scene changes. The 25 actors who comprise the cast are of varying talents and experience. They range from Equity actors to talented amateurs. But they all share the same enthusiasm and dedication to the principles that have made this country great - freedom, diversity, justice and equality. (Actor-activist Tim Robbins was a member of the company from age 12 to 18.)
These are contentious times. It’s an election year; the country is engaged in a controversial war, and polls seem to indicate the population is split down the middle. Field, like her soul-mate, filmmaker Michael Moore, leaves no doubt as to where her sympathies lie. And like Moore, she may be preaching to the choir.
But whether you’re in the choir, manning the barricades or on the battlefield, "Code Orange" may be one of the most provocative shows you see this year.
Theater for the New City’s "Code Orange: On the M15" will be at Herbert Von King Park on Lafayette Avenue between Marcy and Tompkins avenues in Bedford Stuyvesant on Aug. 15 at 2 pm; on the boardwalk at W. 10th Street in Coney Island on Aug. 20 at 8 pm; and Prospect Park’s concert grove (enter at Lincoln Road off Ocean Avenue in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens) on Aug. 28 at 2 pm. Admission is free. For more information, call (212) 254-1109.