Pontiac Firebird Variations

pontiac01cr.jpgReviewed: July 6, 2011
Venue: 3LD (NYC)
Producers: Aztec Economy
Running Time: 90 minutes
July 6 - July 9, 2011
Part of Ice Factory 2011

Creative Team:
Text by William Shakespeare and Casey Wimpee
Music by Ryan Dorin and Charles Yang
Directed by Matthew Hancock

(L-R): Michael Mason as Rico and Isaac Byrne as Dickey (Photo by: Yvonne Allaway)

In the Pontiac Firebird Variations, the "Pontiac Firebird" part refers to an auto chop shop in Willet's Point (Queens) run by Dickey. The "Variations" part refers to a portion of Act I, Scene IV of Shakespeare's Richard III, where the two murderers sent to assassinate Clarence, Richard's brother, muse upon conscience.

In the play that bears the full title (described on Aztec Economy's website as "Richard III mixed up with some other shit"), six killers are rearranged in variant takes on Shakespeare's text as they (struggle with? meditate upon? engage in an existential debate about? who knows?) the moral consequences of killing and dismembering Clare and stuffing her in a barrel full of Pepsi, the modern variation of the "Malmsey butt." ("Clarence" has been inexplicably changed into a sister that Richard never had.)

As in Casey Wimpee's previous Ice Factory entry, Lavaman, in 2009, the characters spew text like high-pressure firehoses, some of which goes where it's supposed to but most of which just spatter-coats every living and non-living form in the immediate vicinity. The six killers natter on about the Pepsi-Coke wars, 1980s pop music, world wrestling classic moments, the tech specs of Pontiacs, McDonald's Happy Meals, tendonitis, crickets (in short, the "some other shit" goes on for days) while Clare, handcuffed, slips her biography and musings in edgewise as the murderousness swirls around her.

At about 90 minutes or so, the show feels overlong, in part because a kind of aural exhaustion sets in as the variations play themselves out. It also feels overlong because the production's structure (controlled mayhem) works against its dramatic intent: to explore how "the murderers' conflicts of interest and unique dregs of conscience are unraveled." Things are pitched at such a high decibel level and frantic pace that there are no spaces where the actors have a chance to engage in a real dramatic subtextual exchange.

The actors all acquit themselves admirably, the technical crew is superb, and Ryan Dorin (piano) and Charles Yang (violin) provide excellent musical accompaniment. But the Pontiac Firebird Variations could both be more fun and more dramatically interesting than it is. The production's structural elements need to be better integrated (why the reel-to-reel tape recorder? why bottles of Pepsi that look like they're filled with weak tea?), and some rhythmic change-ups need to work their way into the proceedings so that the core moral exploration of the piece has a chance to make its presence known.

Michael Bettencourt