Good to be Bad

What might it look like for a theater group to stage the worst plays it can imagine? In the case of You're Welcome, currently running at the Brick, it looks terrific. Dubbed "A Cycle of Bad Plays by The Debate Society," a Brooklyn theater group better known for magical literary adaptations than for campy lampoons, You're Welcome resonates with The Debate Society's signature off-kilter enthusiasm as the play cycle moves from theatrical disaster to theatrical disaster. The production opens with a self-described "very laughable sketch," The Bathroom. Ostensibly a farce in the manner of old timey drawing room (bathroom?) comedies, The Bathroom gets conveniently cut short due to a longwinded director's talk by an excellent Michael Cyril Creighton in the guise of a pleased Oliver Butler, who actually directs the show. Theatrical hi-jinx continues in A Thought About Ryan, perhaps the sharpest play of the evening, which is introduced by Paul Thureen as a play which tours "High Schools and Youth Centers all over everywhere near here." A cheeky nod at Debate Society play A Thought About Raya, here the titular Ryan is a teen killed when drinking and driving. You're Welcome's treatment of the genre's predictably awful conventions, including didactic monologues to dead friends, will tickle anyone ever made to sit through such skits, which traditionally make for both bad plays and ineffective teaching tools (so if you weren't made to watch one, and are now an alcoholic, don't worry.)

One of the nicest things about You're Welcome is the good humor with which the company undertakes its mockery. A Thought About Ryan is not so much a biting critique of well-intentioned educational theater groups as an indulgence in the peculiarities (rhyming mantras, pom-poms) that have come to define the genre. Similarly, The Bathroom revels in the absurdities of elaborate theatrical productions even as it satirizes them. Sure, The Debate Society is savvier than to require scene-length set changes ("Broadway 'Style' Scene Change" gets its own scene listing) or to rely on faulty technical equipment (a finicky fog machine figures heavily into the second half of the production), but indulging in such storied conventions is still a lot of fun. Happily, The Debate Society has the prowess to invoke bad theater and, winking and grinning, make it good.

As the evening progresses, the company makes its way through a staged reading (in which "reading" is more operative than "staged"), a series of playlets each centered around (yes) fog, and a contemporary play in which young adults ask themselves important questions (New York or San Francisco? Arts management or publishing?). Although You're Welcome is intentionally indulgent, Butler keeps the pace up as the production hops from play to play, and sometimes back again. Totaling just under seventy-five minutes, the self-professed bad plays cover an enormous amount of territory really well. Or perhaps, skillfully poorly. Sometimes it's good to be bad.

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