A total mess: a review on ‘The New World Symphony: Dvořák in America’ at La MaMa

In writing another blog post (to be posted very soon), I began to write about a show I had seen in March. I realized that there were quite a few things I wanted to say about it, and thought I’d write a separate post to really pour how upset I was by it.

Finding myself with nothing to do one afternoon in March, I decided to buy a ticket to whatever was showing at La MaMa. A rather impromptu buy but hey, when in NYC you gotta see as much theatre as you can. I bought a ticket to see the Czech-American Marionette Theatre‘s show, ‘The New World Symphony: Dvořák in America’. Simply said, I thought it was an absolute mess.

The show’s log-line reads that it, “explores the influence of African-American and Native American music upon the work of the famed 19th century Czech composer Antonín Dvořák and consequently on music development worldwide.  Performed by Czechoslovak American Marionette Theatre with puppets composed of musical instrument parts, live actors, and musicians, and with an original hybrid score of classical, jazz, and rock music”. It was pretty much advertised on La MaMa’s site as being a puppet show, and I was really keen on seeing one.

I felt cheated.

I thought I was going to go see my first ever puppet show. I ended up seeing a show where they almost never used puppets and when they did, they served more as props than anything else. They had displayed some beautiful and hilarious puppets in the foyer, and here were there puppets being used nothing more than for a moment of amusement or variety. I mean it quite seriously when I say that, this isn’t fair for the puppet! If the objective was to show how puppets are secondary and are just objects, then fine. But it seems to me that that really was not the intention.

As a general comment to the whole show, I think they had a lot of ideas and hadn’t figured out the structure of the play. Which is fine, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a lot of ideas put together and no sense of structure. I just think that at some point, they focused too much on being humorous and making the audience laugh to the point where it was just plain silly and they lost the essence of their show. It also became such that certain moments which might have been funny, simply weren’t because they seemed out of place and overdone.

While I don’t think theatre should ever be talked about in a way that comments how a show ought to have been a certain way or done certain things, rather than having a conversation on what it did do, I do think that the Czech-American Marionette Theatre got it all wrong. They seemed to be hoping for the exotic quality of their puppets to sell rather than the story of Antonín Dvořák (or whatever they wanted to convey). They also had an insanely huge warehouse-type space to performed in, which in hindsight was terrible for when it came to showcasing their small marionettes (well they looked small from afar). Perhaps the only choice I found interesting in the entire show, was the decision to have one of the African-American musicians stop playing whenever a racist comment was made in a scene and approach the character who made the comment. In fact, the musician would take a violin and – in slow motion-like movement – strike the character who made the comment, on the head, whereby after which the violin would break into pieces and the character spin dizzily. I liked the sense of intrusion, for the musicians to intrude on the scene because it befit the play, but it was well overused. After the second time, it just became a “really, again?” moment. Another decision which made sense to the play, was how Native Americans would be referred to as. A character would call the ‘Indians’, before later adding the phrase “who would later be known as Native Americans”. I quite enjoyed this, as it in some way made aware that the play was historical yet relevant to our time by making these ‘futuristic’ references.

Aside from these moments though, the actors seemed almost like caricatures. The actors on a stage with no real sense of a well-rounded character in a structure-less play by a theatre company which might have simply been happy to have received such a big space at La MaMa. While I do understand that shows at La MaMa are typically works in progress, this one has a lot of work ahead of it.

For me, the best shows are when I lose track of time; when I am completely absorbed in the world of a performance. But at this show, time couldn’t have moved any slowly. I was waiting for it to end. Usually I stay to here the last routine of the orchestra or band, but I’m sad to say that as soon as the actors bowed, I made a dash to leave. I was utterly confused by the show, and to be frank, so bored. Did I come away learning anything about Dvořák? Aside from the fact that he was a Czech composer who came to ‘America’, nope, not really. This comedy, had far too many errors.



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