Credit 666, the new show at the Minetta Lane Theatre, at least for presenting unusual messages. After spending its first nine scenes suggesting that maybe a maximum-security prison isn’t so bad - what's a urine splashing and stuffed-animal sodomy between friends? - it presents Hell in its finale as someplace that the guys in the audience might not object to. If a show is willing to do both those things, do you need any more proof that all bets are off?
The rest of this plot-free and largely wordless evening from the Spanish comedy troupe Yllana is, despite such elements, gleefully inoffensive - regardless of how hard it tries. It’s so good-natured and fun-oriented that not even what should be a deadly serious story - three psychopaths (Joseph Michael O’Curneen, Fidel Fernandez, and Juan Ramos Toro) and one ostensibly innocent man (Raul Cano) are killing time on death row until the state starts killing them - can register as more than a balletic, slapstick lark.
Like other shows in this genre that have been wending their way into major Off-Broadway venues (particularly the Union Square Theatre) in recent years, 666 doesn’t have much on its mind and doesn’t mind that it doesn’t. There are moments of encouraged audience interaction, in which one lucky (?) woman gets to do some low-impact cavorting with the convicts. There are moments of accidental audience interaction, as well. (Memo to those in the first few rows: Wear something you won’t mind getting wet.) And there are plenty of scenes that riff on the overall theme without lingering long in the imagination.
Most of these tend to riff on prison clichés, from having to sleep with other men (in, um, both senses of the phrase), to the magic of the electric chair and other methods of execution, to the possibility of a sadistic prison barber tending one of the guards. With the exception of that final scene, when the cast goes galumphing about in horns, cloven hooves, and - uh - other adornments it’s all pretty standard stuff, silly and safe, but with vaguely sadistic overtones. Even so, the late-show sight of (for example) two hanged prisoners having fun with the ropes around their breaking necks is more comic than creepy (but still somehow more on message than the Broadway version of The Addams Family).
Of the cast, Cano stands out the most - the scheming, come-hither glares of his garden-variety psycho tormentors become a bit interchangeable after a while, and Cano’s good man going bad represents a kind of character development in a show that generally eschews it with murderous force. The theatricality is otherwise found mostly in David Ottone’s direction, which is carefully paced and never wastes too much time on any given joke, and makes keen use of the set (which Toro designed) that uses a vast variety of heavy-looking doors to outline the space on which this cell-block tango will dance itself out.
666 has proven a huge hit for Yllana in Spain, where it opened 12 years ago and hasn’t closed. Whether it will replicate that success in New York remains to be seen, though it did top-notch business for several days in last year’s Fringe Festival (also at the Minetta Lane). Since then, the show may have tightened a little, but all the scenes and most of the bits remain intact and essentially unassailable. This isn’t going to be a show for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for a deeply weird excavation of the hopes, fears, and phallic aspirations of soft-hearted hardened criminals, you may find this little slice of hell a heavenly way to spend an hour and a half.