Kipp Lyle, Gabriella Lake, Fulton Hodges, Sylenia Lewis, Ava Jenkins, Keldrick Crowderand Sheryl Williams in The Task.
BOTTOM LINE: A risky interpretation of a European avant-garde political play with music.
The newest play presented at The Castillo Theatre is a very contemporary look at an avant-garde play by controversial and acclaimed German playwright, Heiner Müller. It’s a story about life, love, loss, betrayal and race relations told by an all African American cast. The play features original songs by Fred Newman as well as standards by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Jacques Brel. It deals with some very tough issues in an extremely intelligent way and definitely pushes the audience to challenge the ideas and conventions of traditional theatre.
The Task tells the story of three revolutionaries from France: a wealthy white slave owner, a poor white peasant, and a former slave, who arrive in Jamaica to lead a slave rebellion in 1799. When an order from Paris cancels their task, the promise of liberation is abruptly broken and each of the revolutionaries must chose how to proceed next.
The play opens in a Jamaican speakeasy of sorts with the extremely sexy and sultry vocal stylings of Ava Jenkins. Her rendition of "Come Rain or Come Shine" is arguably worth the price of admission on its own. She puts a spell on the audience and draws them into the turbulent world of the play with extreme subtly and skill. This powerhouse set is followed by a slammin’ hip hop number with a pretty sick beat accompanied by Sylenia Lewis’s hot vocals and John Rankin’s smooth rap.
The show starts out extremely strong, falters a little in the middle, but all in all keeps the audience very intrigued. Along the way there is a puppet/dumb show with Robespierre and Danton, a kick ass French bistro song sung again by the gifted Ava Jenkins, and an utterly fearless portrayal of an almost post-apocalyptic dominatrix by Sylenia Lewis.
This play is definitely not for the faint of heart. It deals with some extremely heavy issues and brings up some interesting political arguments. Some lines that stand out include: “Slavery is a law of nature as old as mankind. Why should it end before?” and “The rebellion is a whore. A blood sucking vagina.” That’s right. This play goes there.
All in all, it a very solid effort by The Castillo. It’s a very interesting idea to tell a story about the rebellion of Jamaican slaves by an all black cast. Will everyone love The Task? Absolutely not. But those that will like it will probably like it very much. Will you understand everything that you are seeing? Maybe not, but I think that is all right. Muller created the kind of theatre that was slightly alienating and more about the emotion it invokes in the audience member than the story itself. And in that regard, The Task is extremely successful. The audience is defiantly taken on an emotional ride with this one. If you are looking for something truly different, then The Task might be what you are looking for. It’s a rare chance to see the work of one of Europe’s most influential avant-garde playwrights in a fresh new way. It's definitely not for the theatre novice or the whole family.
(The Task runs through February 21st at The Castillo Theatre, 543 W 42nd between 10th and 11th Ave. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $35 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. For more info call 212.941.1234 or visit www.castillo.org.)