HOT TAKE REVIEW: Uncanny Theatrical Productions' "RETCON: or Villain"

The company of Uncanny Theatrical Productions' RETCON: or Villain.  Photo courtesy of Emily Kautzer.
Uncanny Theatrical Productions is a young NYC company, thus far specializing in Superhero-In-Reality plays which, in this age of the MCU, could not be more timely.

Their latest offering was RETCON: or Villain, a three-hander about a super powered woman who survived (resurrected?) from a rooftop fight, and is now suffering PTSD - torn between her protective, non-powered brother, and an enthusiastic fangirl who wants to "retcon" our heroine into a symbol for her own purposes.

The Well-Done!

A theatre company dedicated to the examination of Superhero Tropes is perhaps one of the most perfect ideas that's popped up in NYC in a while. 

The cast was uniformly strong. Jordan Cobb's Makiyah teetered beautifully between a woman trying to live quietly and an inner goddess - too powerful to fully control.  Sarah Spring's Lisa had an impressive physicality, and never shied away from being a wolf in privileged girl's clothing.  While Jonathan Villanueva's Marcus grounded the production as the brother-next-door, the touchstone to reality.

Michael Smallwood's script was ambitious, with just the right amount of exposition and action, and some truly lyrical speeches for the actors to dive into.

Ally Musmeci's lighting was clean and effective: employing purple and green, those iconic supervillain colors with aplomb - a color palette that was reflected in the costume choices.  (Including a Batman-inspired bathrobe!)

What Needs Improvement

Uncanny made a smart choice in renting from The Workshop Theatre Company in midtown Manhattan.  The mid-sized theatre is one of my favorite venues, and shows a commitment from an up-and-coming theatre company that bodes well for their future.  Unfortunately, with a better theatrical space, one wants a more lush use of that space...that two chairs and a table on a blank stage simply cannot provide. 

Similarly, while Emily Kautzer's direction was excellent for all the soliloquies - particularly a show-stopping central speech by Jordan Cobb - I would encourage this director to explore more physical blocking.  The actors seemed to be confined to one side of the stage for most of the play, and huddled in the middle for the rest.  These are the usual growing pains for any young theatre company, and I have no doubt they will be smoothed out as Uncanny continues to grow.

The text itself was solidly plotted, with some truly nuanced views into race relations between Americans of African and European descent, and some of the tone-deaf things that come out of the mouths of over-enthusiastic Caucasians.  Half of the tension came from these pointed scenes, with the audience groaning in anticipated pain as Sarah Spring's perky Lisa rattled off the worst possible thing she could say in any given situation.  However, when the author ventured into #MeToo territory of the tension between the sexes, he tended to get the lingo right, but not the soul.  Future iterations might be assisted by hiring a sensitivity reader to help strengthen that part of his exploration.

Final Verdict

RETCON: or Villain is a solid sophomore effort from an exciting new theatre company.  I'm excited to see where they go next, as they pit Superhero tropes against societal issues on New York City stages.  Definitely keep an eye out for the Uncanny.

RETCON: or Villain played at the Chain Theater, NYC through January 27, 2019.


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