Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE WILDNESS: SKY-PONY’S ROCK FAIRY TALE (Ars Nova)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on February 29, 2016

in Theater-New York

Post image for Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE WILDNESS: SKY-PONY’S ROCK FAIRY TALE (Ars Nova)

PHONY PONY TALE

There exists a type of small theater production in which a lack of resources—material ones and, sometimes, those less tangible—is made up for by the show’s intimacy and inclusivity, and by the performers’ enthusiasm and youth (they are always young). These endeavors are usually self-conscious, often interactive, and have an unfinished, homemade feel—as if the performers invited you into their living room and are putting on the play just for you.

Lauren Worsham, Kyle Jarrow, Lilli Cooper in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

Whether or not such an enterprise is successful often depends on the cast’s ability to charm the audience into riding the same wave of hopeful optimism the show’s creators were riding when they made the thing. This tactic is not as innocent as it might appear. Sitting in a room full of young people (the audiences are usually young as well) who are laughing and clapping and acting delighted with everything being offered to them, it’s difficult to say anything negative without feeling like a cynical old misanthrope. It’s like stomping on a child’s favorite toy as she watches.

Lauren Worsham in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company

Which brings us to Kyle Jarrow’s The Wildness: Sky Pony’s Rock Fairy Tale, which boasts an indie rock score and a glam punk look—see-through skirts, sequined “panties,” feathers. And while the performances of the 17 songs could use a little more oomph, how much one enjoys the musical portion of this program probably depends on how big a fan one is of the Brooklyn band behind it. I would not seek them out. But on the day I attended the house appeared to be filled with Sky Pony’s Park Slope neo-hipster burner millennial followers and they seemed to be having fun, for the most part.

Kyle Jarrow in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

Musical tastes aside, The Wildness’s real malignancies reside in the show’s theater elements. The two storylines, the audience participation, the cast’s monologues, their attempts at improv—none of it works. We are told near the start of the evening that The Wildness was created by Michael, a friend of the band, whose goal was to stage a story he used to tell his younger sister Lilli (Lilli Cooper) about an isolated village whose inhabitants believe they are the only people on earth, and that the forest which surrounds them hides a dragon. Michael’s tale involves a plague, a prophesy, and the Ruler’s (David Blasher) daughter Ada (Ms. Cooper) becoming skeptical and entering the woods to find out for herself if the dragon is real.

Katie Lee Hill, David Blasher, Lilli Cooper in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

A trite allegory concerning the perils of knowledge, the virtues of ignorance, and the significance of faith, this story within a story desperately lacks magic—a key ingredient in fairy tales. Yet the story without is far worse. In between songs, between the playing out of the parable, we are treated to segments of “oversharing,” during which individual Sky Pony members talk AA confession-style about their personal feelings of doubt and uncertainty (two audience volunteers, whom the cast calls “The Brave Ones,” do this as well—a mistake for all involved). Then the band members invariably get around to talking about Michael, the show’s creator and anticipated star, who suddenly disappeared after a rehearsal. His friends aren’t certain, but it dawns on us pretty quickly—they believe Michael committed suicide. And it seems that we are supposed to believe this as well—that a real person named Michael, who really created this show, killed himself.

Lauren Worsham in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

Except that these monologues, intended to sound authentic—to break the fourth wall—are so obviously false that revealing it here can hardly be called a spoiler. Director Sam Buntrock is unable to get his performers to make the prosaic, sentimental texts work, and watching the actors struggle, trying to sound natural when saying lines like “So, these days I feel like the world is so full of doubt…it scares me. I just don’t know if I can be sure of anything or even anyone anymore,” it’s difficult not to feel embarrassed. The failure is catastrophic, as the Michael element is supposed to be the dramatic backbone of the entire show. Without it the whole thing crumbles.

Katie Lee Hill and Lilli Cooper in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

After each “overshare” Katie (Katie Lee Hill) proclaims “You are not alone!” At which point the audience is expected to repeat in unison “You are not alone!” Sometimes, alone is better.

Lilli Cooper, Lauren Worsham, Sharone Sayegh, Katie Lee Hill in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company

Additional cast/band members: Jeffrey Fernandes, Kyle Jarrow, Jamie Mohamdein, Sharone Sayegh, Lauren Worsham, and Kevin Wunderlich.

Lilli Cooper in THE WILDNESS, SKY-PONY'S ROCK FAIRY TALE, presented by Ars Nova in collaboration with The Play Company.

photos by Ben Arons

The Wildness: Sky-Pony’s Rock Fairy Tale
Ars Nova
in collaboration with The Play Company
511 West 54th Street
Mon-Sat at 8; select Fridays at 7 & 10
ends on March 9, 2016
EXTENDED to March 26, 2016
for tickets, call 212.352.3101 or visit Ars Nova

Leave a Comment