Volume 78 / Number 13, August 27 - September 2, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Jonathan Slaff

Angels are sent down to warn the earthlings that their planet is at a turning point in “It’s the Economy, Stupid! or The Turning Point,” now touring NY City streets, parks and playgrounds. Above, L-R:  David Zen Mansley, Primy RIvera, Mark Marcante, Briana Bartenieff, Gabriela Nunic, Michael David Gordon.

Economic woes alight on makeshift stages

It’s the Economy Stupid!, or The Turning Point
Book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field
Musical score composed by David Tice
Theater for the New City’s Street Theater
Locations vary
Through September 16

By JERRY TALLMER

Crystal Field, the prime mover of Theater for the New City, has been doing summertime street theater in these parts since God knows when – 1976, actually – and now God has come down from above (or wherever) to take part Himself in her bubbling, bouncing 2008 edition.

He does it under various guises, now as an irritated, overworked absentee voice, now as an old Jew in a prayer scarf, now as a drunken Times Square bum, and so on. The stupidities of mankind -- particularly the American anti-environmental stupidities -- have exhausted Him. “I’ve taken a time out,” He announces. “A what?” cry the angels.

Tony Kushner gave us only one angel hovering over America. Crystal Field gives us a stageful. Male, female, all in white. What is needed, they decide, is for someone – some angelic messenger – to go down and warn errant mankind of its errancy. Like, before the whole planet drowns in oil. But who shall be the messenger?

Well, why not Gabriel, or Gabby Gabe, who never stops talking except to blow his trumpet, and, like Jacobowsky in S.N. Behrman and Franz Werfels’s “Jacobowsky and the Colonel,” always sees two sides to every question?

At this point, in the Crystalization I attended last Saturday in Tompkins Square Park, all the teeny-tiny kids in the audience are leaning forward transfixed on their milk-crate seats, as are their mommies and occasional daddies. Here in Tompkins Square Park! -- where 20 years ago some of the very same stupidities of mankind flared into ugly cop-vs.-squatter riots -- a new generation of kids is being usefully stage-struck from the get-go. Thirty feet back, in what might be called the balcony, rows of older onlookers, seated or standing. take in the show from under the shade of Tompkins trees.

And all for free.  As always, this production will tour the streets, parks, and playgrounds of the five boroughs between its August 2 start on East 10th Street at First Avenue (around the corner from TNC itself) and the September 14  wrap at St. Mark’s Church. 10th Street at Second Avenue.

Here in Tompkins Square Park, the audience can clearly see the TNC truck backed up behind the 15-foot stage and hand-made backdrop, with the stretch between stage and truck serving as (open air) dressing room. 

Crystal being Crystal, the play we’re watching, “It’s the Economy, Stupid, or The Turning Point,” written by her, directed by her, is full of good guys and bad guys, the chief bad guy being an Electric Man (or Satan?) who spouts hate, bigotry (“Let’s talk immigration!”), gas-guzzling enthusiasm (“more snow mobiles!”), and other ruinous screeds. There is also a masked sub-villain named George something.

The good guys? Well, Gabriel, when, clapped behind bars (a sort of bedspring) by hardnosed cops, he finally settles down, and one nice Police Athletic League basketball-coaching cop, and one schoolteacher, and a harmonic quintet of practical-minded neighborhood mothers. Gabriel is energetically rendered by Michael-David Gordon; the evil ElectricMan even more energetically by Primy Rivera.

Our beloved city, traffic, taxis, a falling crane, a rape, street crowds, a hooker (of course), and all, comes in for its share of deviltry, including a limping old lady who, Brecht-Weill-like, to a phrase of music to suit by David Tice, mugs the mugger who mugged her.

And oh yes, God (TNC strongman Mark Marcante) gets back into the act too. Perhaps it is He who sends all the avaricious big-oil corporate types tumbling and drowning in their own oil.

Other leading roles are played by John Buckley, Oliver Thrun, Richard Mays, Christine Vega, and Alexander Bartenieff (Crystal’s son). A  spanking six-piece band is headed by Mark York at the piano.

And oh yes (reprise) -- one other prime force who enters, late in the drama, garbed a la Allen Ginsberg in the American flag, to offer some concrete, close at hand assistance and advice: “I come with help from the Met Council on Housing; I come from the Rent Guidelines Board meeting in which hundreds of people yelled and whistled and shut down the board for a few minutes; … I come from a peace march in Flatbush; I come from an alternative radio station in the East Village; I come from a union meeting at the TWU between Local 100 and Iraqi oil workers … ”

This, of course, is none other than Ms. Crystal Field herself, as strong a heart as this city has had these past thirtysomething years, this time as a character called The Spirit of Change, complete with a final-curtain (there is no curtain) sendoff that includes the lines: “Like the hottest kisses in a lover’s dream  / The hope for change is sweeping the land  / It’s in demand – and ain’t it grand …”

Hmmmm. Change. I wonder where she got that word, that idea. That wish.

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID, or THE TURNING POINT. A Theater for the New City street show written and directed by Crystal Field. 65 minutes. Admission free.  

Saturday, September 6, 2 p.m., Wise Towers, West 90th Street between Columbus & Amsterdam Avenues, Manhattan.

Sunday,  September 7,  2 p.m., Washington Square Park, Manhattan.

Saturday, September 13, 2 p.m., Sobel Court & Bowen Street, Staten Island.

Sunday,  September 14, 2 p.m., St.  Mark’s Church, 10th Street at Second Avenue, Manhattan.

For further information, (212) 254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net 

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