Thursday, January 26, 2006

(I Am) Nobody's Lunch

Written and directed by Steve Cosson. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman. With ensemble cast. 59E59.

by Adam Feldman

The Civilians' rich, resourceful and brain-tickling docu-musical (I Am) Nobody's Lunch is that exceedingly rare show that leaves you thinking, laughing and humming all at once. Steve Cosson's script is a dazzling cut-and-paste job, compiled from interviews the company conducted with a wide assortment of subjects--from psychics to National Guardsmen--whose juxtaposed responses explore an America in which fact and fantasy blur together, and knowingness stands in for knowledge. The show's songs and vignettes flow into a waterfall of question marks: What is that mysterious green sports bag doing onstage, and why is it meowing like a cat? Is the CIA torturing prisoners? Are aliens farming our fear? Can we trust the news? And--perhaps most important--is Tom Cruise gay?

The sui generis format of (I AM) Nobody's Lunch--epistemological vaudeville--allows an elegant balance of intellectual inquisitiveness, political comment and sly entertainment. Even as the quasi-documentary text tethers the show to specific human reality, Michael Friedman's superb songs (tuneful in an olio of styles, with lyrics that cleverly mix erudition and jarring banality) provide occasion for canny irony. And Cosson's skilled, casually polymorphous cast of six--including Jennifer R. Morris, Daoud Heidami and the perfectly hilarious Caitlin Miller, whose praises this reviewer lacks the words to sing--conveys a range of strange opinions without condescension. Be sure to catch the show in its too-brief run at 59E59, if you can still find a ticket: The Civilians may once have been a well-kept secret, but the cat's getting out of the bag.

Photograph: Leslie Lyons
SPIES LIKE US The Civilians experiment with espionage. [Photo of Brad Heberlee, Quincy Bernstine, Daoud Heidami, and Jennifer R. Morris]