In DeCADEnce, the Rising Sun Performance Company looks back at the 20th century and concludes that it was, all things considered, pretty damn lousy. A reasonable conclusion, considering that the bloodiest 100 years in human history brought us the Great Depression, Nazism, AIDS, and disco, among other atrocities. Author P. William Pinto touches on the century's various lowlights in 10 playlets — one per decade — that attempt to encapsulate the spirit of the times but too often stray into truism and cliché.
Among the soul-shattering revelations: minstrelsy dealt in hurtful racial stereotypes, and the 1960s was a time of idealism and political engagement. Similarly, "TV Play" uses the much-maligned '50s sitcom format to score obvious points about the nuclear family. (You'll never believe it, but it seems that suburban life was not always as squeaky clean as Father Knows Best would imply.)
The more intriguing sketches veer from the expected path by choosing small-scale, offbeat anecdotes to illustrate larger issues. "Coney Play" portrays the appalling 1903 public execution of a so-called rogue elephant at Coney Island, and "Metro Play" tackles Nazism by dramatizing filmmaker Fritz Lang's decision to flee Germany. "Balloon Play" is the most oblique of the lot, taking on the Roswell UFO myth as scientists and aliens observe each other with mutual incomprehension. A cute idea, though what it reveals about the 1940s is anybody's guess. "Disco Play" goes on too long, but it offers a few good laughs, and the cast seems to have fun shaking its collective groove thang.
Said cast comprises eight thespians of varying ability, though the women seem more comfortable and better rehearsed than their male colleagues. Under the direction of Akia Squitieri, the production builds steam as it goes along but then squanders whatever good will it might have inspired with a heavy-handed, would-be ironic final image that recalls the infamous "daisy" commercial of the 1964 Johnson-Goldwater election.
Presented by Horse Trade and Rising Sun Performance Company
at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC.
July 11-Aug. 25. Wed., 8 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 p.m. (No performance Aug. 4.)
(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.