An imaginative, frenetic combination of film noir, puppetry, political intrigue and sci-fi
By Joel Benjamin
In the distant future, New York City becomes Nyorg (pronounced nigh-yorg) and is ruled by an uneasy melding of shamanism and technology, at least according to The Flatiron Hex currently at HERE, the arts center in the south Village. Co-written by James Godwin and Tom Burnett and performed with astonishing verve by Godwin, The Flatiron Hex is inadvertently—and strangely—timely, describing as it does a city on the verge of total inundation and ruin, coming just after two violent hurricanes hit the southern United States.
Told by Godwin in the guise of the Hex’s main character/narrator Wylie Walker is a combination of genres–film noir, graphic novel, sci-fi, puppet, adventure and political intrigue—the plot is convoluted and purposely difficult to follow as one twist follows another and intrigues pile up. Nyorg, it seems, at least in the fervid imaginations of Godwin and Burnett, is populated by a slew of corrupt characters who stab each other in the back to get ahead.
After an ominous stormy opening—sound design by Mr. Burnett—Wylie is sent to reboot a master frame computer named SAM, a scary construction of bones reminiscent of a dinosaur. Unfortunately, Wylie finds that he is short one reboot key. He must find this key to avert disaster and a rogue virus that can cause strange traffic patterns, infatuation with body fluids, mass hallucinations, memory loss and surrealist celebrity chefs who practice their art. These last mentioned chefs stop the show with their bizarre behavior which includes the deadly use of a knife.
What happened to that key and what Wylie must go through to find it propels the plot which does, indeed, wind up in catacombs beneath the Flatiron Building. On his way, Wylie must confront the wily and totally dishonest conjoined twin mayor, Joan & Jonas Viscus and seek rather unreliable help from their opponent, The Tongue who will do anything to become mayor. Circuitous barely describes the storyline which can only be hinted at here.
The complexity of this production is mindboggling, if drolly rough at the edges. With the help of an expert staff, including lighting designer Jay Ryan, Godwin uses puppets of every kind, overhead projectors for shadow puppets, a TV screen on which a floating head delivers morbid messages and news updates, a witty soundtrack and projections that swirl. He plays every character—and there are many—some of whom are portrayed in several modes such as his mother, The Tongue and Wylie who is embodied both by Godwin himself and an uncannily accurate marionette. Godwin, who designed the intricate and varied puppets and the ever-changing set, takes the breath away with his energy and skillfull command of each and every aspect of the production.
The program notes include a very witty insert entitled “Nyorg: Storm Safety Guide,” a step-by-step evacuation plan that includes making a rare sacrifice, pronouncing the “Proper Incantation” and, finally, “Ask Omak!” Side two of the insert is an oddball map of what appears to be Manhattan divided into sections like Harley Flats, Old Chester, Big Stiks and, of course, Flatiron. The L train, which comes in for much ridicule during Hex—as does Vermont!—is prominently displayed on the map.
The Flatiron Hex (through September 30, 2017)
145 Sixth Avenue, at Dominick Street
New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit www.here.org
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission