A Simple Art

Kyra Sims, Nessa Norich and Alex Vlahov recount the brutal killing of California priest Eric Freed in A Simple Art, the new true crime documentary play from the New York Neo-Futurists at Roy Arias 777 Theatre. Original photo by Anthony Dean.

By Andrew Andrews

For decades, the Peace Corps claimed to be “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” but in the performing arts, the slogan probably best applies to the Neo-Futurists. Required by their manifesto to always be themselves in the present time and place (in other words, never acting), it’s got to be no small feat to come up with plays that can be delivered again and again without crossing that delicate boundary between fact and fiction.

Of course, they manage to do exactly that, every weekend, with 30 two-minute plays during their long-running series The Infinite Wrench (formerly Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind). But as difficult as it might be to remain fully present for two minutes at a time, stretching things out into a full-length play must be that much closer to impossible. A few months ago we enjoyed their Great American Drama, but like the Wrench, it, too, was based on a series of short (and ever-changing) vignettes rather than a single drawn-out story. When we found out they’d be premiering a full-length true crime documentary play, we were eager to see whether they could really pull it off.

Miraculously, they did. Simply stated (no pun intended), A Simple Art is Neo Alex Vlahov’s real-time recollection of the interviews that he conducted after learning that his former high-school teacher (and Salesian priest) Eric Freed was brutally murdered by drug addict Gary Lee Bullock in Eureka, California. Supported by cast members Kyra Sims and Nessa Norich, Vlahov narrates the events leading up to the murder with a style not unlike that of a prime time television investigative reporter—that is, if the report included choreography, musical numbers and a brief intermission with coffee and toast prepared and served up by the performers themselves. So although this is not your typical play, it’s not annoyingly avant-garde, either. And although the tale of a horrific event, there’s as much comic relief as you’d expect in a modern dramatic masterpiece. Vlahov’s real, personal connection to Father Freed gives you a reason to invest in the story, and the supporting actions, interactions and interjections from Norich and Sims enhance the recollection to perfection. For example: while Vlahov reads the autopsy report, Sims disassembles her French Horn with surgical precision. When asked to share where she was on the New Years Eve of the murder, Norich boastfully insists that she has no memories of the event and can find no documentation for it on social media. And you know it’s all true, because that’s how the Neos play ball.

If you love The Infinite Wrench, you’ll love A Simple Art primarily for its ability to deliver an engaging story while staying true to the Neo-Futurist ethic. If you’ve never seen their weekly show before, you’ll probably still love this show for its ingenious enhancement of an familiar genre with just the right amount of surrealism, calling to mind the resurgent series Twin Peaks. Even if you’re not a fan of experimental theater, we encourage you to give it a shot, because this experiment is a resounding success.

5

Andrew Andrews attended A Simple Art at Roy Ayers Stages 777 Theatre in New York on Tuesday, June 6, 2017 @ 7:00pm to write this review.

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