In a nutshell, Joe Tracz’s Songs For a Future Generation, which calls itself a “sci-fi dance party spectacle,” feels a bit like the above iconic 1980s Psychedelic Furs tune expanded into a play. The Lost in Translation meets Back to the Future vibe (plus a dash of film noir); the last-party-for-the-end-of-the-world tone; and the optimistic yet desperately isolated characters all create its moody milieu, the script’s greatest asset. It’s an ambitious piece which mostly hits its mark, and if you are excited to see new work, albeit with a bit of meandering, you will enjoy it. Populated by shape-shifters (lots of fun to see enacted by this multi-talented cast), clones, spies, robots, an unlikely time-traveler, and other odd inhabitants, Tracz’s world is further supported by a fun retro-futuristic set, costumes, make-up, and music, here, channeling the punk-esque early 80s. The nostalgic expedition, led by skilled director Meg Sturiano, is palpable, while the (now familiar) potential doom of an uncertain future looms. It could be argued that it’s all a bit much to meld into a compact, cohesive story. But first, robot DJ, s’il vous plâit, jouez ce disc pour moi…?
Even though it’s billed as a comedy, rather than a musical or dance piece, those two elements form a strong base for Songs. The stylistic choreography by Nicole Beerman, assisted by Charissa Bertels, helps to break up and enliven the pace from some long speeches and scenes, which feel clunky as though the playwright might be trying too hard to explore every possible nuance of plot. Yes, the A- and many B-stories are sometimes intriguing, but overall the exposition feels too long and top-heavy at times, working against its own seemingly whimsical intentions. I think here, a bit less would be much more, trusting the viewers to make their own connections via the set-up and tone with less need for explanation, allowing for a tighter running time as well.
Also worth mentioning is Sturiano's masterful use of the cozy Under St. Marks theater space for the many entrances, exits, and dance breaks of the large cast, including the device of having action take place offstage as necessary. The colorful, plastic-dominated set, designed by Elaine Jones and consultant Tristan Jeffers, while mostly static (clearly out of necessity here) is also one of the most exciting and creative I’ve seen in the space, lit expertly with a variety of multi-color gels by Grant Wilcox. What would a dance club satellite overlooking an exploding star look like? This, of course. Exactly.
The aforementioned new wave dance pop soundtrack, designed by Adam Swiderski, is also well chosen, especially in the key moment whole-company numbers like “Rock Lobster.” And I loved the sound effects, for example the shape-shifting squishy one. My only complaint is that during some scenes, the ongoing music felt like a distraction (although probably a welcomed one from the some of the more talky goings-on). I thought the music worked much better when suggested, as starting/ending bytes, or else the occasional full song, such as Alex Teicheira’s adorable solo as Log, rather than low-volume background throughout a scene. But not to quibble, the songs are so loveable and apt here, it was probably difficult to decide which not to play.
The performances are great and everyone gives his or her all. Always a standout, the talented playwright and Artistic Director of The Management, Joshua Conkel, takes an acting turn (as well as designing the delightful costumes with Nicole Beerman). Conkel plays a key, although largely mute character, complete with a B-52s beehive. He fully works his bizarre costume, executing some hysterical puppet-hands business which reduced me more than once to helpless giggles. (And yes, the impression onstage is definitely (sing-song): one of these things is not like the other...) The three Marika clones (looking nothing alike, of course) are played by Joleen Wilkinson, Ronica V. Reddick, and Tara Giordano with originality and soul; and are pretty insightful, you know, for clones.
Jennifer Harder, a founding member of The Management, portrays shape-shifting bounty hunter Shy with her usual finesse and kick-ass delivery. The nebula-crossed lovers Error and Tess, played by Nick Lewis and Zoey Martinson, are probably the play’s least interesting characters, but Error’s search for his lost love across time and space, dressed in the requisite yellow slicker and goggles of the time traveler, serves to lead us through. And the whole ensemble cast, including Log’s Dude, played by Joe Varca; Thena, played by Cal Shook; and The Kid, played by Matt Barbot (affecting a perfect crime drama hard-boiled accent), keep us engrossed and entertained while we hurtle through the universe into yet another of the play’s many dark corners. It's a new road.