Barococo

“You cannot starve the people and not expect to pay.”

By Andrew Andrews

Sarah Olmsted Thomas, Gwen Grastorf, Alex Vernon, Mark Jaster and Sabrina Selma Mandell in Happenstance Theater's BAROCOCO at 59E59. Original photos by Richard Termine.

Although it’s been five years since our review of Made in Chinaour last (and only) review at 59E59 Theaters, the venue was one of our pre-pandemic favorites for catching unique (and often avant garde) off- and off-off-Broadway productions.

The self-proclaimed “visionary tornadoes” of Happenstance Theater are a case in point: their satire of Baroque & Rococo aristocrats replaces plot with a circus of implied acrobatics and feats of intellectual prowess, such as “The Game of Flattery,” clever riddles, and a series of ridiculously-wrong guesses to very obvious charades.

For a little over an hour, the company of six elaborately-costumed performers play hopscotch, solitaire, music and hide-and-seek (on an all-but-barren stage), always full of innuendo, puns, double entendre and pent-up-sexuality that nearly bursts the seams of their finery.

Wearing costumes designed by Sabrina Selma Mandell and constructed by Nancy Mendez. the troupe (including Caleb Jaster, not pictured) is directed by Mark Jaster and Mandell with period movement consultant Caroline Copeland.

In the world of experimental theatre, Barococo is as refined as the characters that the troupe impersonates.

While not everyone will appreciate the concept, the production manages to provide an engaging level of tension despite its silliness, and although it’s not absurdly funny, it is funny in its absurdity.

Perhaps due to 59E59’s positive reputation and loyal following, our performance was very well-attended for a Tuesday, indicating the patrons’ confidence that even a nontraditional show here will provide a certain level of satisfaction.

Despite my place along the aisle, I found the seats in Theater B surprisingly cramped considering how new the venue is, but the discomfort was far from unbearable, perhaps due to the short run time of the performance.

The $40 ticket price seems a little high for what you get, but the cast is thoroughly professional, and the effort that’s gone into the costumes and makeup alone might very well justify the outlay.

Barococo is enjoyable but not exciting, perhaps due to the sophisticated, inhibited behavior it lampoons. And as one guest in my vicinity commented aloud afterwards, “sometimes it’s nice to see something that’s a little different.”

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Andrew Andrews attended Barococo at 59E59 Theaters Theater B in Manhattan on Tuesday, February 15, 2022 @ 7:15pm to write this review.