Theater Review: “Kiss Me, Mr. Musk” by Single Carrot at the Theater Project
Long ago, in the “times before” (pre-COVID), there was a growing trend among our most forward-thinking companies: “invented” theatre. Beginning without roles or even a storyline, performing ensembles would be formed around a central plot theme or idea and together create a new story. Some excellent productions appeared on the local stages as a result (notably from Submersive Productions and the Asian Pasifika Arts Collective), and it was a great way for companies to save on royalties. The folks at Single Carrot Theater have also planned one of these, a parable that imagines a possible climate change apocalypse. Their 2020 project was cut short (by that other apocalypse), but finally found its feet this month at the Baltimore Theater Project.
…dazzling in design, and performed with gigantic energy by a talented and committed cast of actors.
A kitschy collage of short scenes, “Kiss Me, Mr. Musk,” adds puppets and video to some jaw-dropping design elements in a package that sings rather than preaches. Director B Kleymeyer holds the reins, and the six actors who interpret this Brechtian beauty are inspired by 20th century forms and today’s headlines. In it, the band tries to “orchestrate the swan song of the Earth”, and much of the result is dazzling.
“Musk” opens with a titular musical number, delightfully rendered by Meghan Stanton. His entry into the electric Elon is followed by a verse that includes the phrase “Kiss me, Mr. Gates – don’t kick me Microsoft.” No seemingly well-meaning billionaire is spared. Stanton later returns, performing a brief medley which opens with “Fly Me to the Moon”. But it’s not a musical. The bulk of the show consists of sketches that seem to have been developed from long-form improvisations and monologues written by individual performers. The plot arc shows what could happen the next decade, or later today, when sea level rise caused by global warming floods coastal cities. There’s a strong Baltimore tilt here, but the concerns are universal. Characters range from worried humans to slowly decaying detritus. Stanton and Cyd Cohn are hilarious as an old coffee mug and pen, battling in a landfill. Parker Matthews shines as a serious East Coast citizen who sincerely advocates dredging to restore the waterfront lost to erosion. Elvis Karegeya plays a parent who struggles to apologize to his child on behalf of his entire generation. Ama Brown plays a junkyard refrigerator that has all the power except electricity. Kay De Léon is a flood survivor who is stuck on the roof of a house.
Many of the post-disaster sentiments and actions seem inspired by Anne Washburn’s wonderful play (also dystopian, and also “Mr.”), “Mister Burns, A Post-Electric Play”. The characters are much more about adapting than struggling. They talk about a new normal. When one of Karegeya’s characters says, “I want to find Elon Musk and open it up and watch all his money fall out,” it’s with a sigh and a smile.
These character elements are punctuated by attractive movement parts. Sound designer Heiko Speiker and composer Danny Baird have created a truly incredible homage to Byrne and Eno’s “My Life in the Ghost Bush”, piecing together bits of interviews on a stable electronic bed. This section, towards the end of the show, is utterly captivating for its first five minutes (and would gain even more power if shortened to this length), as the actors wordlessly parade a series of illuminated water sculptures, like a another highlight of the show’s masterful sound highlights a moving piece with warnings from the Emergency Broadcast System and a video dominated by the words GIVE UP and the tornado scene from “Wizard of Oz “.
Kolton Cotton is responsible for the video work, and he is just as breathtaking as the sound of this piece. Just like the previous “Is Edward Snowden Single?” des Carrots, “Musk” incorporates a good deal of live camera work. Sometimes it’s projected, sometimes just powered by the old-fashioned tube TVs that flank the stage. The visual trickery doesn’t end there, as a here-and-back canvas is used for silhouettes and shadow puppets, a parasol becomes a projection screen, and a mirrored disco ball symbolizes a mechanized life-taking. .
Helen Garcia-Alton’s lighting is magnificent, if a little paralyzed by the visual dominance of the projections. Sierra Ho’s set is a great use of theater project space, filling the top scoop of the stage with white cycs and featuring a tiered, cardboard-covered platform. The costumes are reminiscent of the Sleaze Sisters of ‘Times Square’ from the 1980s, with the ensemble clad entirely in single-use plastics and other disposable items.
Special mention is absolutely due to actor Cohn, who also designed the play’s puppets. These feature heavily, with the highlight being a basement scene in which a box of 1992 items opens to find a conversation between a VCR and a flannel shirt (remember grunge?) The VCR describes a very dark “Cheers” finale, and the shirt hesitantly explains that their owner might not be coming back for them after all. Much of this technology is operated by the actors themselves (back to Brecht?) but make no mistake. The complexity and scale of this production requires two stage managers for its execution and Makayla Beckles and Leiah Poindexter do an excellent job of keeping the ship afloat.
The piece could do with a bit of tweaking and had some technical issues on opening night (which will no doubt be fixed by the time this review comes out), but it’s really, really stunning in design, and performed with gigantic energy by a group of talented, committed actors.
Duration: 1h21 without intermission.
Notice: Profanity and flashing lights.
“Kiss Me, Mr. Musk” runs through September 11, 2022 at The Theater Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore 21201. Tickets are available online. Customers must provide proof of vaccination and are required to remain masked.