Through Saturday, Dec. 9
Durham Fruit & Produce Co., Durham
If you’re searching for Lake Placid, don’t take I-87 north from New York. Instead, look somewhere between the films of Robert Altman and the golden age of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. (Should you reach Wes Anderson, make a U-turn; you’ve gone a bit too far.) That notional zone is where you’d find the result of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s new theatrical experiment, which takes long-form techniques originally developed for improv comedy and liberates them from their punch-line fixations.
To some degree, this endorsement must be conditional, because this improvised theater work, directed by Jaybird O’Berski, begins anew each night, with the actors portraying different charactersa mix of small-town locals and international athletes visiting for the 1980 Winter Olympicsin the Adirondacks village of the title. The only constants we observed in the first weekend were the late-seventies pop songs company members sang as music director Louis Landry played keyboard.
After the actors tagged in and out of early scenes, establishing exposition, relationships, and conflicts, they built upon that base in a series of shorter and longer sequences. These seemingly disparate sections recalled Altman works such as Short Cuts and Nashville as fragments gradually coalesced into a mosaic.
Sometimes improv and theatrical gimmicks advanced the plot: whenever a two-tone subway chime sounded, a character told the audience what he or she was really thinking. Sometimes they led to true serendipity; a heart-wrenching slow-motion sequence on Friday night showed Emily Levinstone’s notable character, Sam, on the precipice of expressing her attraction to Dana Marks’s free-spirited Carol, the town’s postmaster, before retreating back into denial. Only occasional breaks where weak singers tried to make pop lyrics comment on scenes hampered the work.
Sunday night’s performance was the strongest yet, as nine actors uncovered and then threaded four distinct subplots. Jessica Flemming’s phobic character painfully, gradually let her son (newcomer Antonio Collins) pursue his dreams of Olympic skating, while two East German athletes (Levinstone and Germain Choffart) confronted the effects of state-supplied hormones on their bodies and dreamed of escape. Genuineand therefore, awkwardlove slowly found its way among athletes seeking freedom and battered locals played by Marks and Shelby Hahn. A masterful flurry of switch-ins and -outs in the ending sequences had the actors collaborate as playwrights on the fly, collecting narrative threads, drawing them taut, and weaving a rewarding finale.
We’ll never see that show again, since the company tells a different tale each night. But, given its first weekend, odds are Lake Placid will continue to be worth the trip.