Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters

Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 7, 2017)
By Frederick Stroppel
Directed by Joe Brancato
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“See, this is the crux of the matter. We have different aesthetic touchstones. I am drawn to characters like Apollo, Persephone, Oedipus Rex. You prefer Jiminy Cricket – Bambi – Goofy. My Pluto lives in Hades, yours lives in a doghouse. You are living in some silly parallel universe, of which I want no part.” – Igor

If the theme of Frederick Stroppel’s “Small World” is that “it’s a small world after all” where “different aesthetic touchstones” can coexist in perfect harmony like “the one moon and the one golden sun,” then the play fails. Despite the commendable efforts of Stephen D’Ambrose as Igor Stravinsky and Mark Shanahan as Walt Disney, Mr. Stroppel’s play lacks the necessary character development and focus to convince the audience of any consistent thematic strand.

In a series of imagined conversations about Disney’s “Fantasia” and whether Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is the proper score for the movie-in-progress, the actors reiterate and defend their theories of musicology, animation, moral responsibility, artistic integrity, commercial success (or failure), and World War II era politics. These debates soon grow tiresome and reach no significant resolution.

The conversation in the second act about the retelling of “Faust” is perhaps the highlight of the play: Stravinsky’s and Disney’s disparate thoughts on how to reimagine the classic are engaging and thought-provoking. One wishes for more of this level of discourse. The argument over whether Micky Mouse is “effeminate” seems dauntingly inappropriate. Even the “heavenly” conversation between the two artists at the end of the play lacks the needed spark of conviction and is somewhat pretentious.

Mr. Brancato’s direction is serviceable but lacks subtlety. James J. Fenton’s scenic design places the actors center stage too often and Christina Watanabe’s lighting often lacks obvious purpose. The play ends with both characters celebrating “Magic” – something missing in “Small World.”

Listening to “The Rite of Spring” with the right glass of wine, followed by viewing “Fantasia” would have been far more satisfying than a playwright’s deconstruction of both. If only Mr. D’Ambrose and Mr. Shanahan had been given material that would have given them the opportunity to exercise their collective formidable crafts.