NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm
America-In-Play’s ambition in creating the new hybrid comedy A Time Traveler’s Trip to Niagara is to be admired, much like the lovely onstage dime store museum that audiences can visit prior to the show. The play is a reimagining of William Dunlap’s nearly two-hundred-year-old A Trip to Niagara, in which an Englishwoman takes her brother on a comical journey to Niagara Falls to show him the beauty of America. The updated version features a parallel plot in which the characters’ descendants take a bus tour to Niagara Falls that mirrors the original journey in many ways. The narrative, like the gender identity of many of the characters, is loose; Dunlap appears as a character attempting to move the action forward while marveling at modern technology, perhaps a nod to Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. As a commentary on exploring new territory and acknowledging the beauty and horror of nature, it has promise. As it stands, however, the play is over-conceptualized with all of the elements tenuously held together.
All of the actors switch back and forth between multiple roles, sometimes carrying on conversations by themselves. The character shifts make for the show’s weakest moments as the subtle costume changes are inconsistent and many of the characters blend together. The play gives some of the actors opportunities to play around with gender, sexuality, and race, but the drag acts are often played for easy laughs and the reliance on prophetic/magical transsexual and black men stereotypes is disappointing. Extensive projection and sound effects are employed throughout to give a sense of the various pit stops along the way. Due to some technical difficulties, these are mostly distracting, particularly when the sound effects drown out the dialogue
The actors do their best with the material. Crystal Arnette is particularly effective as Amelia/Amanda, the protagonists who take their brothers on these identical American journeys. Her solid accent work makes her character shifts clean and her expressive face beams throughout even as each character experiences self-doubt midway through the show.
The creative team, guided by director Lynn M. Thomson, has the right intentions but the production might have been scaled back a bit. With five playwrights, the play is often unfocused, trying to pack too much into its running time. Its source material, a disposable comedy from the 1800s, is also not a great starting point. Thomson and the America-In-Play company are clearly an adventurous group and it would be nice to see them do something with more clarity in vision and less technical flourish.
A Time Traveler’s Trip to Niagara is playing at Hudson Guild Theatre (441 W. 26th St.) from May 3-18. Tickets are available at http://www.triptoniagara.brownpapertickets.com.