Adam Rapps newest play, Bingo with the Indians, is now at The Flea.
A Downtown fixture, fixated with transients
By Rachel Breitman
Bingo with the Indians is the play that just couldnt seem to make it to the stage.
Even writer and director Adam Rapp was a little surprised to see his work unfold before a Manhattan audience in its world premiere at the Flea Theater last week.
Rapp, 39, started drafting the one-act show in 2001. He knew the graphic violence and explicit sex made the script nearly untouchable, even among his library of works populated by half-naked, foul-mouthed misfits.
I wrote it when I was feeling bitter and disgruntled about the theater, recalled Rapp. At the time, he couldnt have imagined the notoriety he was about to achieve from his 2005 film, Winter Passing or his 2006 Obie-winning (and Pulitzer-prize nominated) play Red Light Winter.
Inspired by a Cornish, New Hampshire bingo game, the play finds a desperate crew of New York actors who turn a Norman Rockwell-esque town on its head as they scheme to rob the local bingo game of the $3,000 to produce a play.
In the verbal gymnastic style typical of a Rapp play, the hostile thespians spout obscenities at one another. In the Fleas tiny 45-seat theater, there is no escape from the cascade of aggressive barbs traded by camouflage-clad director Dee (Jessica Pohly) and narcissist actor Stash (Cooper Daniels) who endlessly one-up each other with put-downs like dyke, faggot, cow, walking venereal wart, flabby titted ho, skanky carnivorous whale.
Into their web of prison rape and scatological fetish jokes, walks Steve, a local teenager whose parents run the towns motel. Though he is enticed by the apparent sophistication of the actors, his curiosity quickly traps him in a semi-coerced sexual encounter with the crews stage manager Wilson (Rob Yang).
I was interested in the idea of putting the lamb in the middle of the room with the lions, mused the playwright.
A once wide-eyed Rapp similarly entered the lions den of Manhattans theater scene. As an eighth grader, he first came to the city from Joliet, Illinois, when his younger brother Anthony was slated to appear on Broadway in The Little Prince and the Aviator. But amidst a garbage truck driver strike, the play never saw the light of day. The family, who were staying in Staten Island, arrived opening night to find the theater doors locked.
While Anthony went on to star in the original cast of Rent, and appeared in movies like Six Degrees of Separation, School Ties, and Dazed and Confused, his literary-minded older brother followed him to Manhattan in 1991 and published his first novel Missing the Piano in 1994. The brothers now live six blocks apart in the East Village and have collaborated on several projects.
Through a Mabou Mines grant, Rapp had the chance to direct one of his own plays at PS 122 in 2004. I had seen my plays misdirected too much, admitted Rapp. It started to feel impossible to see other directors do my work.
Like a trip down memory lane, his production of Bingo with the Indians returns to some familiar territory. As in his play Nocturne, it features a character haunted by his sisters car crash death. Rapp, who is estranged from his own older sister, says it was partially inspired by an ex-girlfriends miscarriage many years ago of a child he imagined would have been a girl.
In the style typical of Rapps anti-heroes, Stash moves aggressively across the stage, karate-chopping with the manic hostility of Davis from Red Light Winter. A lifelong kung-fu fan, Rapp said that his male characters menacing style echoes the frenetic furies of his video game and drug-addicted friends. But unlike many of his smarmy egotists, Stash is given a few moments of rebirth at the end, when a local Native Americans song revives him from near-death to poetic reflection.
And as in Animals and Plants and Red Light Winter, the drama of Bingo unfolds in the depressing claustrophobia of a motel room. Rapp, who is currently working on a piece set in the Hotel Pennsylvania near Times Square, says he is attracted to a motels sense of homelessness. Theres something about strangers, transients, he muses. Characters are walled in. There is the tension of a bed in the center of the room, a single escape through the door, and a bathroom to hide.
While these rooms are usually the site of uncomfortable sex scenes, Bingo with the Indians is Rapps first gay scene. With advice from one of the actors, he walked his cast through a full-frontal simulated exchange. Its a lot about trust between the characters, he admitted, and I offered my own nudity to help the others feel better. I realize what they are putting out there.
Since the seduction of total creative control has been too hard to avoid, Rapps next works will again feature him at the helm, including a film version of his play Blackbird with stage actors Paul Sparks, Danny Hoch, Michael Shannon, Gillian Jacobs and a new play called Hallway.
It might be nice to write a comedy someday, Rapp considered, With doors slamming and people making jokes. But then again, when I wrote it, I thought Bingo with the Indians was a comedy.