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    Outside the Law

    As you link it

    Shakespeare, gangster legends and American politics are fused dizzily together in "Outside the Law."


    "Outside the Law" is a politically charged pastiche of Shakespeare's "As You Like It," the story of Depression-era outlaw Pretty Boy Floyd, and a multitude of references to popular culture and current events. Tom Wolfe, Oprah Winfrey, J. Edgar Hoover, Oliver North and George Bush move in and out of the story with varying degrees of impact on the plot, and succeed (also to varying degrees) in helping the production resonate with current politics. The text is drawn from Shakespeare, original material by the company, and a sprinkling of Brecht, Woody Guthrie and no doubt a host of others I didn't catch.

    Company: Irondale Productions.
    Written by: Jim Niesen with the Irondale Ensemble Project.
    Directed by: Jim Niesen.
    Cast: Danny Bacher, Josh Bacher, Erin Biernard, Terry Greiss, Michael-David Gordon, Jack Lush, Barbara Mackenzie-Wood, Celli Pitt, Damen Scranton, Laura Wickens.
    Choreography by: Clare Byrne.
    Set design by: Ken Rothchild.
    Costumes by: T. Michael Hall.
    Lighting design by: Randy Glickman.

    Related links: Official site
    TADA Theater
    15 W 28th Street, 2nd floor
    May 11-29, 2004

    Structurally, the play begins in two separate worlds. While Rosalind (Laura Wickens) and Orlando (Jack Lush) are fleeing oppression in one reality, Charles Arthur Floyd (Michael David Gordon) and his wife Ruby (Celli Pitt) are fleeing oppression in another. They both find refuge, though, in an "Into the Woods"-style forest where all worlds seem to collide, and the storylines begin to interact. This brings the stark contrast between Rosalind/Orlando's lighthearted dalliances and Pretty Boy Floyd's revolutionary crime spree into sharp relief. The oppressive power structures of the two worlds overlap, as it becomes clear that Lord Baden Powell and J. Edgar Hoover are not only played by the same actor (Terry Greiss) but are in fact one and the same person. Similarly, Orlando's brother Oliver (Damen Scranton) turns out to be Oliver North, right-hand man to Hoover. The actor playing Silvius (Josh Bacher) is doubled as young George Bush, here imagined as the ambitious FBI agent who eventually tracks down and kills Floyd. Tom Wolfe (Danny Bacher), documenting the complex events, is free to move from one storyline to the next making wry comments borrowed from various texts.

    Outside the Law  
    Originally developed in 1989, "Outside the Law" has been revamped to reflect current political situations and to keep the project topical. While this is largely successful, some of the material still seems dated. Most notably, Oliver North doesn't resonate as well as a notorious figure as he undoubtedly did 15 years ago. This is particularly true as his character's dissent with irrationally aggressive military policy reminds one a lot more of Secretary Powell than Colonel North.

    Another problem is that Irondale's aesthetic has a fairly chaotic, splatterpaint kind of effect. They seemingly throw everything they have at the audience and see what sticks. Sometimes the production feels a little bit more like sketch-comedy than it should. The inherent messiness of this approach, though, is mitigated somewhat by a highly skilled and interdependent group of performers. The actors are confident enough in their material and in their agenda to help a friendly audience over any rough patches. It's difficult to single out individual performances from such a strong ensemble cast, but MD Gordon, Terry Greiss, Jack Lush, Celli Pitt and Laura Wickens all deserve special mention for holding together the bumpy bits of this wildly ambitious production.

    Ken Rothchild's fantastically colorful set and T. Michael Hall's eclectic costume design effectively convey the collision of worlds taking place in the play. Randy Glickman does his best with what seems to be a limited lighting grid and is mostly successful. The pace and scope of the production make for some aesthetic compromises, with actors sometimes strangely bulky from wearing costumes beneath their costumes and the inevitable offstage commotion from quick-changes — and possibly confusion — too often audiblefrom the audience.

    Most of the flaws in the production could likely have been ironed out with another week or so of rehearsal, and may very well have been corrected by now. Company members with whom I am in contact have told me that the play has undergone some last minute restructuring which helps clarify some events and strengthen some statements. Regardless, "Outside the Law" is a fun and exciting evening from a unique ensemble. No other company in New York is so successful at blending agitprop populism with classical technique. The result is sometimes puzzling, but more often exhilarating. By the play's closing, when the ghost of Floyd channels Brecht to exhort Rosalind to abandon her place in mainstream domesticity and embrace her potential as a revolutionary leader, the audience is left with no doubt that Irondale is urging us all to stay aware and to get involved.

    MAY 25, 2004

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