Review by Sonia Roberts
What is a “spoken word opera?” The truth: we don’t know. What about a “tuneless libretto”? We truly have no idea. “An incantatory verse play”? Um…
The program for Stolen Chair’s site-specific Potion: A Play in Three Cocktails makes it very clear that we’re about to see an experimentation of form, and we do, but it frames an unexpectedly vivid, playful, and imaginative love story that unfolds around us in the Lower East Side’s intimate PEOPLE Lounge.
Charley’s Potion Lounge is a special bar that customers flock to for individualized cocktails crafted by bartenders Charley (Natalie Hegg) and Jim (Noah Schultz) that bring out everything from their honesty to their sex appeal, and the chance to escape who they are – or to discover their true selves. But it all proves too much for grumpy health inspector Mr. Forth (Jon Froelich) who fails at holding the attention of a pretty girl (Molly O’Neill, whose comic chops shine as she tests out a great variety of elixirs) and just needs to bring everyone else down to his level of misery – which he does, by threatening to shut down the bar for allegedly “spiking” its drinks with hallucinogens and other drugs that they claim to be magic. The only way that Charley can save the bar is by creating a love potion and proving its power on cranky bar owner, Tom (Raife Baker), with whom she is desperately in love. Then a satisfied Mr. Forth can try his luck on the pretty girl, and Charley’s Potion Lounge can remain open. Only problem: the ever-elusive “Love Potion” is impossible to perfect, which we can’t blame Charley for, as the effects of some drinks can be quite distracting – like the two customers making out all over the bar (Liz Eckert and David Skeist, who are almost in our laps as they move, lip-locked, throughout the room).
The rhythmic musicality of Kiran Rikhye’s juicy libretto and Sean Cronin’s impressive multi-instrumental accompaniment proves Stolen Chair’s experiment with “spoken word opera” a tremendous success. The talented ensemble never misses a beat, spitting out deliberately interwoven, often repetitive text that energetically, poetically, and often humorously envelops us as we, too, become customers at Charley’s Potion Lounge, ready and willing to drink the Kool-Aid these kooky characters down from test tubes, beakers, and fishbowls – and we get the chance! We’re treated to three delicious concoctions throughout the course of the play: “Curiosity,” “Pins and Needles,” and finally, a “Love Potion,” all designed by award-winning mixologist Marlo Gamora (Trix in Williamsburg).
Director Jon Stancato makes great use of PEOPLE Lounge’s somewhat strange layout, using depth to his advantage and maximizing the space’s naturally inviting, interactive vibe. Beth Goldenberg’s costume design and Daniel Winters’ lighting design complement Stancato’s sensitive, light touch, letting Rikhye’s text do most of the work. The ensemble’s precision and impeccable timing is impressive, and Potion is truly a unique experience that you won’t want to miss. And who knows, you could leave a changed person. After all, “Things look different through our glasses.”
Stolen Chair presents Potion: A Play in Three Cocktails
Written by KIRAN RIKHYE; Directed by JON STANCATO
Live Music by SEAN CRONIN; With Cocktails by Mixologist MARLO GAMORA
Featuring Raife Baker, Liz Eckert, Jon Froehlich, Natalie Hegg, Molly O’Neill, Noah Schultz, and David Skeist.
At PEOPLE Lounge (163 Allen St.)
Sundays at 7pm, open-ended run
Tickets ($25 with $20 cocktail prix-fixe) available at www.stolenchair.org
90 minutes, no intermission
*Photo: Carrie Leonard