For the 43rd summer in a row, Theater for the New City is touring a free original outdoor musical in streets, playgrounds and parks throughout all five boroughs (See schedule below.) As in previous years, TNC’s hour-long street theater features a tuneful eclectic score, an entertaining mix of dance, song, social consciousness, silliness and satire, and a huge energetic cast who actually look like New York in its full range of delicious flavors.
But “No Brainer,” which is subtitled “Or The Solution to Parasites,” offers such a noticeable contrast to last year’s “Shame or the Doomsday Machine” – less playful, more pointed and political – that after the show I sought out Crystal Field, the play’s author, lyricist and director, and co-founder in 1971 of Theater for the New City.
“We’re living in a much more difficult time,” she explained. “I can’t afford to be cute anymore.” At the same time, she added, “it is a family show, so there’s a limit on what we can do.”
And so, as in last year, “No Brainer” begins with a rousing dance number. There are some half dozen new songs in the show composed by Joseph Vernon Banks and accompanied by a stellar jazz-inflected six-piece band. Twenty-eight performers (only five of whom are members of Actors Equity) portray a dizzying array of characters in scenes acted in front of charming hand-painted backdrops. There are some silly jokes. There a couple of scenes of outlandish sci fi fantasy, in which a bewigged, clown-like Trump impersonator (Mr. T, portrayed by the terrifically pugnacious T. Scott Lilly) stupidly drinks a steamy stew full of parasites who represent all the evil in history. (This initially seems like a relatively charitable explanation of Trump’s behavior.)
But there is a harsher edge to much of the humor now. (Even in the silly jokes: “What do you get when you mix a penis with a potato? A dictator”). We Mr. T appoint completely unqualified cabinet members; order a baby taken from an immigrant’s arms; plan for a war, and say things like “Women! They’re all fake! They’re losers – they’re a disaster – they have no rights over their bodies.” At one point, egged on by the parasites who want to make him king, he orders his minions to chop off the heads of his aides, and, after help from a Saudi Arabian prince with a hacksaw, tosses the heads around the stage like beachballs.
And the first half of “No Brainer” focuses on social worker Joe Blank (portrayed by Michael David Gordon, who’s been with TNC 34 years), showing him overwhelmed by the real-life problems of his clients – homelessness, joblessness, poor health care, rat infestation (we see a cast member dressed as a baby wrestling with one costumed as rat)
Laced throughout the musical are whole songs and scenes, or individual lines or lyrics, about the importance of the Census, the danger of climate change, the threats to our neighbors. A direct address to the audience near the end sounds like legal advice to immigrants:
“I want you all to know,” says a cast member, “that if ICE comes to your door, they can’t get in without a warrant.”
“And this is what a warrant looks like,” says another cast member, holding up a piece of paper.
“And it has to be signed by a Judge.”
An actress portraying Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez declares: We’re gonna fight for immigrant Rights and we’re gonna fight to abolish poverty.” And then she smiles. “But we’re also gonna dance for it too!”
And the cast dances exuberantly, and then sings a new, rousing song called “Hold on”
Hold on to each other
For that’s the only way we will survive
Hold on and we’ll make history come alive
The cast lifted up the audience members, literally. They walked amid the plastic milk crates where we were sitting, and got (some of) us to dance.
“No Brainer, Or The Solution to Parasites” will be on stage for FREE at the following outdoor locations , through September 15, 2019.
Sunday, August 11 – 2 PM – Manhattan – Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk
Friday, August 16 – 6:30 PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at West 10th Street
Saturday, August 17 – 2 PM – Brooklyn – Maria Hernandez Park at Knickerbocker Ave &, Starr St, Brooklyn \
Sunday, August 18 – 2 PM – Manhattan – Jackie Robinson Park, West 147th Street & Bradhurst Avenue
Saturday, August 24 – 2 PM – Brooklyn – Sunset Park at 6th Ave. and 44th Street
Sunday, August 25 – 2 PM – Queens – Travers Park, 34th Avenue Between 77th and 78th Street
Saturday, September 7 – 2 PM – Manhattan – Washington Square Park
Sunday, September 8 – 2 PM – Manhattan – Sol Bloom Park, W. 91st Street betw Columbus & CPW
Saturday, Sept. 14 – 2 PM – Staten Island – Corporal Thompson Park, B’way & Wayne St., West New Brighton
Sunday, September 15 – 2 PM – Manhattan – Manhattan – Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St. & Avenue