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Off-Off-Broadway review: 'The Deepest Play Ever...'

“The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos - ThePost-Post-Apocalyptical Allegory of Mother LaMadre And Her Son GoldenCalf OR: Zombies Will EAT Your Brain! AN EPIC TRAGIDRAMEDY” is currentlyplaying at The New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St. in Manhattan,through March 24.

“The Deepest Play Ever: The Catharsis of Pathos - The
Post-Post-Apocalyptical Allegory of Mother LaMadre And Her Son Golden
Calf OR: Zombies Will EAT Your Brain! AN EPIC TRAGIDRAMEDY” is currently
playing at The New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher St. in Manhattan,
through March 24.

Conceived as the first play of an eight hundred play cycle, the current manifestation of CollaborationTown theatre’s production of Geoffrey Decas O’Donnell’s mashup of classical theater and literary dystopias might be the funniest, most entertaining show in town. It tells the story of a lowly band of misfits led by Mother LaMadre trying to save the world’s remaining books from destruction by the Evil Zombie Empire in the post-post-apocalyptic wasteland of New Europe. Parodying the plot and structure of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” Bertolt Brecht’s landmark 1939 work of epic theater, O’Donnell uses his extensive knowledge of western drama, staging, and performance to craft an homage to the stage and its devotees, though practitioners and students of theater will get more from the script’s copious inside jokes than novices. But as directed by Lee Sunday Evans and choreographer Jordan Seavey, even the unenlightened should enjoy the show’s irreverent wit and maniacal energy.

The audience is guided through the play by Time as Narrator in an engagingly sardonic performance by Phillip Taratula, a cross between Virgil in “The Divine Comedy” and the Emcee in “Cabaret” who insults the bourgeois presumptions of the audience while transforming the “Wooden O” into “a war-ravaged field, a mountaintop, a moor” and other wondrous settings before our very eyes. Nick Choksi and John Halbach as the puppeteers and voices of Golden Calf and Mephistopheles, respectively, show impeccable comic timing, endowing their slight, skeletal puppets with dashing heroism and mordant terror. The playwright himself does exceptional double duty as the exuberantly self-involved Dalvador Sali, a failed artist who sells his soul to Mephistopheles to become the greatest artist in the world as the leader of the Evil Empire. Not surprisingly, O’Donnell gives himself some of the show’s best lines, including his reason for becoming dictator: “There will be no one to call my art an empty farrago! No one to deem it cloying or pedantic!” Other standout performances include Boo Killebrew as the endearingly halfwit KitKat, Mother LaMadre’s mentally deficient daughter, whose deranged hooker makeup, patchwork dress, and genuinely sweet gibberish ballad corrals the audience’s attention whenever she appears. Emily Walton’s panache and delightfully absurd French accent in the role of Yvette LaGuerre, “a former army camp hobby horse,” lends surprising emotional credence to the hopelessly romantic ex-prostitute. Her tryst with the librarian Swiss Cheese, which results in the birth of their son Petite Camembert, is just one of many whimsical subplots developed on this magical journey through a bleak, zombie-infested landscape.

“The Deepest Play Ever” reminds us that many of history’s most successful dictators first paid their dues as failed artists; while artists may be evil and selfish, the play’s scholars Mother LaMadre and Swiss Cheese risk their lives and those they hold most dear to salvage art and build a world built upon love, not hate. Though LaMadre is willing to sacrifice both of her children to this end, so maybe there isn’t much of a difference between the cutthroat tactics of artists and scholars after all. Actually, even their goals are similar: Sali wants to use his Rosencrantzandgildensternmachine to deconstruct the world and resurrect it according to his artistic vision, like a zombie phoenix from the fires of the post-post-post-apocalypse. LaMadre wants to rebuild the dying world upon the art and knowledge of the past. O’Donnell both satirizes art as the ability and desire to recreate the world (through other works of art) and the competing visions whose similar means employ art to wholly divergent ends. Having mastered the form and techniques of epic theater, he echoes and pokes fun at Brecht’s own message, which is that you have to fight for art and peace if that’s what you want, especially if that’s what the other side says they want as well.