Written by John Kuntz
Directed by Skylar Fox
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“I want us to start over. I don’t want to fight any more. I don’t want to be angry, all the time. I just want us to be happy, just you and me. No one else.” – Patsy to Trevor, Part 3 “And a garden [for our two dogs] to play in.” – Trevor to Patsy, Part 3
There are very few who would argue with Patsy (Anna Nemetz) that seeking redemption and release from the world’s pain – specifically America’s apparent long-term dysfunctional state – would be a very good thing. And few would take umbrage at Trevor’s (Simon Henriques) suggestion that a retreat to Voltaire’s “tending one’s own garden” might be one source of surcease from the center not holding in the land of the brave.
Foxy Henriques and Circuit Theatre have decided to resurrect their 2014 production of John Kuntz’s “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat,” currently running at Ice Factory 2016 at the New Ohio Theatre, to address the nation’s perennial brokenness. In a series of “Saturday Night Live” skits loosely structured around several through stories (the muskrat experiment, Trevor (Simon Henriques) and Patsy (Anna Nemetz) and others) playwright John Kuntz utilizes an extended metaphor counterpointing the escapades of eight muskrats with the history of the United States.
The skits include conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Pat Nixon (Justin Phillips) and Betty Ford (Molly Jones), Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille, the “Pilgrims” and the Original Americans and “appearances” from Queen Elizabeth II (Sam Bell-Gurwitz), Little Debbie, Mary Todd Lincoln, President Gerald Ford (Jared Bellot), and Jane Pierce – to name but a few.
All of this chicanery is – or is not – meant to expose the questionable underbelly of the history of America and perhaps – or not – challenge the audience to rethink history in a new way. The audience is also challenged to explore “Big Brother” in different ways. Who is watching whom? And where does the string of “watchers” begin or end?
Of the many “skits,” two stand out – one because of its cleverness and the other because of its relevance. The retelling of the Iroquois creation myth is marvelous. Teharonhiawako, creator of the Earth, depends on the diving skills of the muskrat to retrieve the matter needed to complete creation. The ensemble cast does well here and handily engage the audience in the muskiness of mythos. And when Trevor (Simon Henriques) and Patsy (Madeline Boles) pressure Keith (Jared Bellot) to rehearse “The History of Black People in America,” the audience falls into attentive and blessed silence for the first and only time throughout the otherwise laugh-track-filled time.
The rest – most from the precarious American 1970s – work too hard for laughs. If the Circuit Theatre is hoping to re-connect audiences with the foibles of America in the hopes of redemption or at least catharsis, then silliness needs to be balanced with thoughtful exposition. Even if the Company has no agenda at all – and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – there needs to be some purpose in asking the audience to sit through almost three hours of flying feathers, gales of glitter, Little Debbie treats (why weren’t those sold at the concession stand?), and a frenzy of farce.
That said, if the revival of “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat” fosters a discussion about the serious racial divide in the United States and the serious deterioration of individual rights, the endeavor is worth the effort. Only two of Ice Factory 2016 shows are open to press for review. See the schedule below for the remaining shows in performance through August 13.