West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 12 | August 22 - 28, 2007

Jonathan Slaff

A scene from Theater for the New City’s 31st summer street theater, “Buckle My Shoe, or Terror Firma,” playing citywide through September 16.

Down the East River with Huck, Jim and Crystal

By Jerry Tallmer

Some 60 or 70 terrorists, several of them in their mothers’ arms with pacifiers slipping in and out of mouths, rallied on East 10th Street, just off First Avenue, the afternoon of August 4, a sunsoaked Saturday, to watch Crystal Field & Co., otherwise known as Theater for the New City, romp through “Buckle My Shoe, or Terror Firma,” a free-wheeling assault on any and all power-hungry assailants of life, liberty, democracy, equality, constitutional rights, universal health insurance, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus did TNC open its 31st season of free summertime street theater touring the five boroughs.

The general seating is milk crates, though maybe half the crowd just stands and watches and, when so moved, cheers. (Somebody this year snuck this privileged onlooker a chair.)

Ms. Field launched her first New York City street show during one war (Vietnam, 1976) — she had done other such stuff, earlier, in Philadelphia — and now we’re in the fourth year of another and maybe worse mess.

Toward the start of “Buckle My Shoe,” when the whole nutty town (on a tiny mobile stage) is pushing and shoving to be first in line to get at the new I-phones (“I want one,” “I want two,” “I want three!”), the reminder comes straight from the shoulder: “And we’re sleeping through a war.”

Also sleeping, but not for that reason, under the Brooklyn Bridge, is a large nameless would-be writer (played and sung by the large and leather-lunged Michael David Gordon) whose problem is he has nothing to write about.

He dreams a complicated dream of taxicabs and Times Square and jam-packed subways (of course) and immigration chases and suspected bearded terrorists being clapped in jail, plus a “wetback” mariachi trio likewise clapped in jail; and then suddenly, in the dream, here are Huckleberry Finn and runaway slave Jim (see? I’m p.c.) on their raft — floating down the East River, not the Mississippi — and here a split second later is none other than Mark Twain himself (TNC strong man Mark Mercante), white hair, white beard, white suit and all, giving a Southern-accented twist to “arrright arready.”

His advice to the blocked writer (and to us): Write. Just write. “Never keep your mouth shut when there’s a good reason to open it.”

In less than an hour all this and much more happens, joyfully, sometimes angrily, especially in a hospital sequence where everything turns out to be not covered by insurance. And though a pig-faced president gets indicted for murder, I wonder if Ms. Field — oh, hell, Crystal — has made a separate peace with Mayor Bloomberg. Unless I missed it, he’s not mentioned in this one.

We do get Crystal as a Cassandra-type Mother Nature, and we do get two angelic 7-year-oldish angels, Allegra Vacin and (Crystal’s granddaughter) Briana Bartenieff. Also the usual terrific musical accompaniment by Joseph Vernon Banks and a five-piece band. Also a wealth of terrible puns. Also Hillary what’s-her-name saying that what’s needed in Iraq is to “[b]ring in more troops, but not too many more troops.”

You can have that chair back now, Jonathan. Thanks.

BUCKLE MY SHOE, or TERROR FIRMA. Written and directed by Crystal Field. A Theater for the New City production touring the five boroughs. Free admission. Next performances, all at 2 p.m.: Saturday, August 25: Prospect Park Concert Grove, Brooklyn. Sunday, August 26: Travers Park, 34th Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets, Jackson Heights, Queens. Saturday, September 8: Wise Towers and West 90th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, Manhattan. Sunday, September 9: Washington Square Park, Manhattan. Saturday, September 15: Sobel Court and Bowen Street, Staten Island. Sunday, September 16: St. Mark’s Church, East 10th Street at Second Avenue, Manhattan.

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