It is a reasonably warm night in Brooklyn as I sit in a church pew in Brooklyn's Standard ToyKraft listening to Cara Francis remind us that theatre, like war, is often bad, and there are very few of each considered universally good. I nod my head and smile, privileged to be present at good theatre done by smart artists. This moment was part of the fascinating, experimental, funny, and touching night of five short pieces done by the New York Neo-Futurists as part of their show Soft Hydraulics.
A few weeks back, I interviewed Cara Francis about the piece (which can be found here). Now that I've had the opportunity to see the pieces by Cara, Joe Basile, Christopher Loar, Dylan Marron, and Daniel McCoy, I can affirm that the NY Neos' foray into puppetry is a very fruitful kind of branching out. Like every other aspect of Neo-Futurism, the ways in which each of these performers interprets the subtitle of the show, "Inventions, Puppets and Stunts for the Age of Manipulation," is creative and exciting.
The NY Neos always have clever ways of making objects and people work for them during their weekly show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and their longer length productions, such as On the Future and The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill: Vol. 1 Early Plays/Lost Plays. In Soft Hydraulics, the creativity of the construction and use of these props is highlighted. Yet there is also attention drawn to the forces manipulate people, from online dating to war.
This is a workshop production, which means that each piece is still deeply involved in creative process. Of course, I think that the dynamic nature of the NY Neos' aesthetic means that there is always some aspect of growth and transformation over a period of time with the same piece.
At the end of the show, the performers invite you to come and have a drink with them and discuss the pieces. Of course, the audience at one of the NY Neos show is always a mix of old veterans and new faces, but statements like this show how much this group of people cares about making their audience feel like part of a community. In fact, some of the audience members in Soft Hydraulics have spent a decent amount of time performing in the pieces -- even I was pulled up on stage for a short period of time. This spirit of togetherness is also obvious in the close work between the performers and the fantastic behind the scene folks, such as Production Stage Manager Marisa Blankier, who has been with the production since the beginning.
The other aspect of this show that shows off the strengths of the New York Neo-Futurists is the mix of laughter and pathos that these pieces evoke. For example, at one particular moment I realized that I was very emotionally involved in the sleep struggles of a life-size green humanoid puppet made out of wood and bubble-wrap. At another, I was laughing uncontrollably at the actions of people who were performing a score to a commentary they could not hear. There are also many moments that are both beautiful and funny, such as a beautiful balletic dance with a rat puppet made entirely of paper.
So if you're looking for a creative, intelligent, and exciting night at the theatre with a group of brilliant theatre artists, look no further than Soft Hydraulics. As I said before, there is a lot of bad theatre, so when you find a group that continually makes theatre that inspires you, go support them! For me, the New York Neo-Futurists always give me something new as an audience member, and Soft Hydraulics is a perfect example of how they keep adding dimensions to their impressive repertoire of performance styles and artistic attributes.