Creator: Mark Mauriello
Director: Shira Milikowsky
Composer & Choreographer: Andrew Barret Cox
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
“To define is to limit.” – Oscar Wilde
It seems a bit odd to write a review of a queer nightclub musical based on Oscar Wilde’s life, when Wilde himself would have scoffed at the notion of caring at all what a sole critic might opine about any particular iteration of art. Nonetheless, the Neon Coven’s revival of their immersive musical experience, OSCAR at the Crown is deserving of careful attention and thought.
The vibe of this show fits perfectly into 3 Dollar Bill, a queer nightclub in Bushwick. With vibes reminiscent of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, OSCAR at the Crown encounters a band of exiles and misfits in an industrial bunker in an unnamed place at an unnamed time in the not terribly distant future. Preshow, the cast builds nightclub vibes throughout the space while the audience wanders and it treated to the nostalgia of late 90s’/early 00’s TV and pop culture flashbacks on the multiple screens scattered throughout the space. Right on point for the show’s target demographic (xennials and older millenials), the ambiance and aesthetic of OSCAR at the Crown elicits palpable pangs of nostalgia from the core of its audience. In this post-apocalyptic world created by Mark Mauriello – who also plays Oscar – it is implied that anyone not fitting the mainstream is in danger of losing their lives.
Using the character of Julie Cooper from the television show The O.C. as a harbinger for the end of days, the cast leads an immersive journey through the post-fallout destitution via a reenactment of Oscar Wilde’s indulgent and scandalous life. The cast is phenomenal – high energy, engaging, and on point every single moment. Coupling Shira Milikowsky’s laser-specific directing with Andrew Barret Cox’s no-holds-barred choreography to his own music, this experience is a stunning showcase for an ensemble of phenomenally talented performers. In particular, Kerri George (Constance Wilde) has a star turn in a power ballad showcasing not only her astonishing vocal prowess, but also her ability to entrance an audience whose attention has been intentionally challenged and pulled in a million directions throughout the course of the play. It is worth the price of admission alone to witness George’s performance.
Unfortunately, this production has a few things working against it that very much undermine the stellar potential this piece clearly possesses. Firstly, Jack Williams’ sound mixing, though energetic and reminiscent of the club scene in which the show is entrenched, also drowns out much of the vocals and dialogue. The audience often finds themselves lost in what is happening in the plot because the heavy bass and pop music drown out their voices. Everyone is miked for this show, so there is no reason anyone should be straining to hear what is being said or sung. This show would likely receive higher marks if those in attendance could hear the story they’re experiencing.
Additionally, giving the audience free reign to use their cell phones during the show is a major detriment to the piece. Looking around the room, at any given point at least half the audience had their phones out, either texting and ignoring the action of the show completely, or filming and photographing the performance so intently that they were missing the actual experience in being in a theatre with live people. As the audience is welcomed into this world, they’re told to “do whatever the f*** you want,” with their phones, but later in the play it is revealed that there is no signal or internet in the bunker for fear of being discovered by the regime. Why then, would the audience be encouraged to have their phones out? Both as a point of fact within the contract of the play as well as a major annoyance for patrons that came to experience live theatre, the prevalence of audience cell phones makes the experience of seeing OSCAR at the Crown far less engaging and enjoyable than the fantastic work these artists have put into it merits.
OSCAR at the Crown undeniably has that “it” factor , the feeling that it could be a tremendous success. And it is painful to not be able to unreservedly pronounce that it simply must be seen in the lovely and intimate 3 Dollar Bill before it gets snatched up into a larger venue that will inherently reduce some of its visceral intimacy. But unfortunately, between the audio issues and the disconnected nature of an audience tethered to their phones, this brilliant piece of theatre ends up being a merely good experience as opposed to the transcendent one it truly promises to be.
Runs Until 26 August, 2019 | Photo credit: Ted Alcorn