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Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Howard Miller - February 13, 2022

Alex Vernon, Sabrina Selma Mandell, Mark Jaster,
and Sarah Olmsted Thomas

Photo by Richard Termine
Just in time for Valentine's Day or Superbowl Sunday or even a late celebration of Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day comes Barococo, a delightfully giddy hour of 18th century-styled frivolity speckled with just a twinge of satire, opening today at 59E59 Theaters.

Designed, written, and performed by Happenstance Theater and modeled more-or-less on a comedy of manners, Barococo presents us with a gathering of self-indulgent muddle-headed members of French nobility who have been left to entertain themselves within the walls of the palatial abode of Dauphine Marionette (Sarah Olmsted Thomas). You quickly get the sense that they have been here for a very long time, isolated from and mostly oblivious to the outside world, which only occasionally intrudes with a slight air of alarm.

Filled with ennui and hindered with short attention spans, this collection of pampered pantaloons, dressed to the nines in period costumes, engages in childish games of hopscotch, hide-and-seek, riddles, charades, and the like. On occasion, they also hurl off clever bits of badinage, trading witty insults until feelings inevitably get hurt and swords are drawn. This culminates in a mimed food fight that is worthy of a classic Hal Roach one-reeler. If all of this sounds light as a feather, it is. But the members of Happenstance Theater are so adept at what they do that they turn tomfoolery into an art form.

There actually is a predictable ending to all this skylarking, a means of imposing logic to everything that precedes it, but not before you attempt to come up with alternative explanations of your own. Depending on your background, you might connect Barococo, as I did, with the likes of Marat/Sade (especially the conceit about its being performed by the inmates of a mental asylum), Luis Buñuel's film The Exterminating Angel, or Tom Stoppard's surrealistic comedy After Magritte. To be sure, that's heady company to keep, but in addition to the quality of the perfectly timed performances, this is what sold me on this lovely little gift of entertainment.

So, it's hats and powdered wigs off to Happenstance and the ensemble of performers. In addition to Sarah Olmsted Thomas, they are Gwen Grastorf, Mark Jaster, Sabrina Selma Mandell, and Alex Vernon (Jaster and Selma Mandell also direct), with Caleb Jaster accompanying it all most engagingly on harpsichord and other Baroque instruments.

Through March 6, 2022
Happenstance Theater
59E59 Theaters, Theater B
59 East 59th Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: