Life with Pop

With plotlines culled from the animated Popeye cartoon, Sailor Man depicts the curious love triangle between the Sailor Man (Ryan Iverson), the Brute (Scott Peterman), and Olive (Lauren Blumfeld). Yet as conceived by Iverson and Peterman, the scrappy sailor signifies a darker hold on the American psyche than Saturday morning escapism. A live action performance drained of Popeye’s musical score and whimsical sensibility, Sailor Man grapples with the violence at the heart of the sailor’s story. Although publicity materials stress that the project executes would-be cartoon violence through realism and liken the violence and womanizing that form the crux of the story to a Sam Shepard play, under the smooth direction of Peter James Cook, Sailor Man maintains much of the cartoonish style of its source material. Speaking in thirties-esque staccato and dressed in costume designer Arija Weddle’s fat suits and sailor hats, the actors are effectively reminiscent of their cartoon prototypes.

The play differs from the cartoon in its gleefully brutal depiction of the violence at the story’s core. Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum’s extensive fight choreography draws squeals of horror from the audience; fake blood abounds. Fans of Popeye, and anyone who delights in twisted portrayals of childhood icons, will be tickled.

When we first meet the characters, the Sailor Man and the Brute vie for Olive’s hand in marriage – by beating each other senseless. “To the victor go the spoils,” grunts the Brute to Olive, who acquiesces with a bat of her eyelashes. The second segment of the play has the men compete in a formal boxing competition – though their strategies for success defy the rules of organized athletic events.

If the play’s first segment comments on the degradation of courtship rituals and the second on the base aggression behind competitive sports, the third and final segment renders the creators’ intentions most clear: a game to see which man can execute the most amusing “trick” for Olive quickly dissolves into everyone thrashing everyone else. The joke, always, comes when a seemingly cute amusement (a magic trick with a vase of flowers; a coin behind Olive’s ear) ends up a thinly veiled ruse for an expression of violence. The implications are apt.

Sailor Man is part of the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival.

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