By Robert Askins
Directed by Jose Zayas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
What would result from collaboration between William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, the multiple authors or sources behind the Pentateuch, Julie Taymor, the Trinity, John Wayne, Cain and Abel, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, a host of other luminaries, and the genius of Robert Askins and Jose Zayas? None other than the winning offering from the terraNOVA Collective “P.S. Jones and the Frozen City” currently running at the New Ohio Theater. This gem might easily have a future much like another play from years past.
“Urinetown: The Musical” opened in at the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999 with cardboard-box sets. It went on to become a Broadway hit in 2001. Unlike “Urinetown: The Musical” which riffed on its titular bodily fluid, “P.S. Jones and the Frozen City” features the scatological entity of which humankind seems enamored: hence the “S” in young Mr. Jones’s surname. That said this brilliant new offering by the terraNova Collective works so well that it needs not only an extended run in the present but a move in the near future.
Greg Kotis satirizes the legal system, capitalism, social irresponsibility, populism, bureaucracy, corporate mismanagement, and municipal politics in “Urinetown.” Robert Askins satirizes weightier issues in his “P.S. Jones and the Frozen City.” His comic book superhero/antihero adventure satirizes humankind’s attempts to understand life by establishing religions, “saviors,” myths of creation, and the mythos of end times.
After surviving yet another apocalypse, Benjamin is whisked away to the Frozen City to assist The Great Glass Spider reclaim her control over humankind. He is followed by his brother P.S. Jones, the Gunslinger’s ghost, and Lothar the Builder’s missing green hand on a journey of hope, revenge, and redemption. We are reminded during this epic quest that we have lost something in the wasteland, that we need a transfusion of hope, and that there is much to work on to restore humanity’s credibility.
The ensemble cast of “P.S. Jones” navigates through this engaging tale of creation, fall, and redemption with a generous dose of pathos and just the right pinch of humor. It is not easy to riff humankind’s attempts to establish mythic and epic tales of salvation but this cast successfully makes the journey offending when necessary and cherishes tradition when appropriate. Joe Paulik and Preston Martin are perfect as the sparring brothers whose world views collide in charm and chaos. Sofia Jean Gomez, Bobby Moreno, and Steven Rishard portray the triumvirate that goes too far to establish utopic union. And Diana Oh and Jenny Seastone Stern rustle up a bevy of antagonists that challenge P.S. at every turn. There are also diminutive and giant characters who might be confused for puppets but whose enormous spirit pervades every scene in the play. Kudos to Chloe Moser, Katey Parker, and Eric Wright who bring these characters to life with dignity and delight.
Under Jose Zayas’s deft direction and with the help of a creative team that brings fresh meaning to what it means to create and light a set, the cast and puppeteers spin a tale of intrigue and derring-do that honors the art of the comic and graphic novel. This production also reminds us that minimalism can trump computer driven mega-sets and lighting grids. At the end of the day, minimalism (perhaps) wins out in “P.S. Jones and the Frozen City. Before her death, P.S. Jones’s Momma urges him to consider that perhaps the best humanity can do is to try to do better. Obviously, even that advice is given with the realization that somewhere someone might be conjuring up a cauldron of evil. But what choice does Mr. Jones have. What choice do we have? See this remarkable play in its current incarnation or one of its future reincarnations in other places in other times.