Exiled dissident Edward Snowden shivers in a cramped cabin in Siberia. William Kidd is hung for piracy charges that he didn’t commit. A young Bobby Culliford is both a victim of bullying and bully himself. What do these scenarios have in common? Pretty much nothing and Nolan Kennedy’s original play Bully Me Down does little to convince us otherwise. While the enthusiasm of Letter of Marque Theater Company’s gung-ho ensemble is admirable at the very least, their performance chops are overwhelmed by Bully Me Down’s baffling quagmire of a script.
It would be one thing if Bully Me Down’s chief flaw were the discordance of its three outrageous plotlines, but there’s something even more disturbing about the tone and content of this script. While it’s somewhat socially acceptable to crack jokes about a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, and even more appropriate to lampoon a several-hundred year-old seaman like William Kidd, the theme of bullying seems to be in an entirely different (and more serious) realm. The bullied teenager Bobby (played by Scarlet Rivera) delivers a school speech about “bullycide,” which is the unfortunate neologism for bully-related suicide. Instead of driving home any real message about this real-world problem, Bobby’s subplot smacks of a bad after-school special, dreadfully eclipsing the actual gravity of the actual issue of bullying. It’s worse than off-color, it's insensitive; and this play would be better off without it.
Despite it's dramaturgical sufferings, Bully Me Down does have certain points of charm. Worth the trip to Brooklyn itself is a puppet version of Barbara Walters from the bust up, designed and constructed by Serra Hirsch. Especially agile at Barbara-handling is Welland H. Scripps, who manages to coyly flash the puppet’s red-lacquered fingernails as she conducts her interviews with various characters throughout the play. All of the performer’s accents, especially Scripps’ and Kennedy’s, are delightfully overdone and consistent. Also of note is the company’s original and re-imagined musical score: the tune of the song, “Bully Me Down,” is sure to stick in your head, and the musical fun continues during a wacky dumbshow during intermission. Best of all, the performances are free and take place in various bars around Brooklyn, so you can have a beer with locals and enjoy the community vibe.
Overall, Letter of Marque Theater Company’s Bully Me Down suffers from some pretty serious dramaturgical tangles, as well as some unfortunate staging decisions (like word association during improv scene transitions). The script could use renovation, and the cast another week of rehearsals. That being said, you could do worse on a weeknight than hang out in a bar watching some weird (and free) community theater. So if you’re in for a silly and irreverent time: grab a beer, turn off your inner critic, and give Bully Me Down a try.
Bully Me Down runs through May 21 at various bars around Brooklyn. Performances are Sunday through Wednesday at 8 p.m., except for Sunday, May 18, when the performance starts at 3 p.m. Tickets are free. To reserve, call Letter of Marque Theater Company at 718-246-2211. For specific venue locations, visit http://www.lomtheater.org/bmd-performance-schedule.html.