When the charmingly crude Old Man (Paul Diem) and his fuck-boy of a son, Boy (Elliott Rauh), persuade the graceful Widow (Tracey Farrar) to marry Old Man and have her daughter-in-law marry his son, the girl is furious.
This is the heart of “Utopia Parkway,” Charles L. Mee’s cautionary tale about the dangers of being a passive bystander, showing at Single Carrot Theatre through April 26. And it’s a musical.
The character “Girl” is a role played by three ethnically diverse women (Amanda Marie Campbell, Camirin Farmer, and Lien Le), and it’s inherently disorienting as they take turns conversing with other characters and passing a rope between them. There’s potential for this artistic decision by director Genevieve de Mahy to be a strong statement about the safety of young girls in numbers. But the potential was lost as the distribution of lines created something more like bewildered thought than deep analysis.
At times, their overlapping lines added emphasis to what they were saying, but their choral voices also contributed to the sense that the delivery was messy and unrehearsed. The confusion regarding how Girl is meant to be seen detracts from the talent of the actors, which could be glimpsed in the moments when each embodiment of Girl was unique and animated.
When Girl refuses to marry Boy, whose douche-y lax-bro nature is made literal with the lacrosse stick he carries around on stage, and shouts that he is raping her, the townspeople announce that they practice “speaking up when spoken to” and seal the Girl’s fate with their silence.
The best scenes unfold between Diem and Farrar, whose chemistry is undeniable as Diem’s thrusting strut compliments Farrar’s elegant stride. Their harmonies and rapport shine among the otherwise-dull relationships, perhaps because it is difficult to decipher the emotional core of this relationship. In the beginning it was definitely fraud, and even though the old man remained hair-raisingly creepy throughout, there is something genuine in his soft coos.
The live music, composed by Faye Chiao and performed by the cast on banjo, upright bass, flute, and other instruments, varied from slow and solemn to upbeat and chirpy and proved to have a more lasting impact than the show itself, as the catchier numbers linger in your head.
The set and costumes, however, created a conflict of time and place. The stage consisted of quarter pipes covered in messy graffiti, while the costumes were reminiscent of peasant rags from centuries ago. Although the production takes place in Queens, New York, there is no deep connection to the city as an actual place. When facing execution, Girl begs a judge with a traditional—British—wig for mercy.
This is actually before she becomes a killer and descends on her enemies, slaying everyone in her path as she gets her revenge. But, with the trial scene and all, it comes across more as wacky than moving as it races toward an anticlimax.