Review by Sonia Roberts
New Haven-based Split Knuckle Theatre delivers with an energetic and extremely funny interprepation of the much-discussed (at least in neuroscience), real-life case of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker remembered for surviving a horrific accident of an iron rod driving through his head, damaging most of his brain’s frontal lobe and thus affecting his behavior and personality for the remaining twelve years of his life.
The ensemble of Jason Bohon, John Egan, Andrew Lynch, and Greg Webster introduce themselves as the Midtown Manhattan Entirely Factual Historical Re-Enactment Society of Medicine, and take us through the accident itself along with the aftermath – Gage’s stint in P.T. Barnum’s freakshow, where he meets quite the posse of characters as exploited for their freakiness as himself – a robot, a fortune-teller, a three-legged man, and a bearded lady, Annie, who falls madly in love with him (or not – the Re-Enactment Society’s members diagree on whether or not this piece of information is significant, let alone accurate). Complete with musical numbers and fight sequences, the group eventually lands on the moon to conquer the evil Barnum, and much silliness ensues.
The performers take on the nutty assortment of characters with enthusiasm and skillful shapeshifting, Bohon in particular standing out as the crooning Annie vying for Gage’s heart and the committed Father Witherspoon, insisting on the love story being a focal point of their re-enactment. The few moments of audience interaction are successful, and there could be more of them. Though the songs are catchy, they exist mostly for comedic purposes and not to showcase musical prowess and, once again, Bohon shines the most in Lynch’s compositions. Director Vincent Cardinal makes good use of DROM’s tiny stage and keeps the pace flowing through all of the costume and prop changes that transition the ensemble from character to character, using only a clothing rack with a curtain as his set, the curtain doubling as a projection screen for “slides”.
Most likely due to the Fringe’s technical limitations, not all the projections were clearly visible, which was slightly frustrating but didn’t distract from the storytelling. Curiously, Split Knuckle Theatre is known as a physical theatre troupe but the physicality of Phineas Gage seemed stunted by its set – forcing the actors to constantly hide behind it for costume changes and surprise entrances – and dance numbers with dated choreography. The talent and nimbleness of the ensemble could easily rise above these setbacks by taking more risks and relying less on scenic, costume, and prop elements to transform into the next character.
The Curious Case of Phineas Gage is an impressive and engaging must-see at this year’s Fringe, with the potential to grow and continue touring for quite some time.
Photos by Jessie Dobrzynski
The Curious Case of Phineas Gage
Split Knuckle Theatre
FringeNYC at DROM