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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Cyndi Perczek, Rocky Vega, Eric Williams, Molly McAdoo, Sydney Matthews, Nicole Spiezio, and Israel Viñas.
Photo by Suzi Sadler.
This much I can tell you with certainty about Byuioo, Pipeline Theatre Company's compelling and most unusual musical now on view at The Gym at Judson: The writer and composer is Nate Weida, who has provided a tuneful gospel-inspired score for the very talented cast of 15 actors and 4 musicians to perform.

Also, it is set in the distant future in a place formerly known as New York City—so far in the future that the entire work is presented in a language that time and circumstance have pushed along a linguistic path leading far away from English as we now know it. Since I am not conversant with that language, what the rest of this review will consist of is one person's interpretation of the show.

Enter the theater and you will find yourself greeted with enthusiasm by members of "the pack," as they are referred to in the program. They are really glad to see you, and may escort you to a seat, or playfully nudge you, or offer you a raisin or a piece of a Twizzler. They seem so playful, in fact, you may wonder if you have wandered into a clearing that is home to a group of friendly and curious monkeys.

As it happens, several of the characters are, indeed, identified as monkeys, but the rest have names that come straight out of Rudyard Kipling's "Jungle Book," not an affectation, but a bit of iconic mythos that has survived from the past. Sort of like the video of Hello, Dolly! that represents time long gone to the title character in the movie Wall-E.

As the play itself begins to take shape, you gradually start to sense the purpose of your visit, and why it is the players are so glad to see you. You also come to understand that not everyone you encounter will be friendly. Indeed, you are there to bear witness to the story they have to tell, a cautionary tale about love and loss in a time of war. Might this be our own future they are warning us about?

Through actions, gestures, song, dance (choreographed by Ben Hobbs), and the occasional use of words that have roots in English (a lullaby sung to an infant, for example, contains the lyrics "La La La Ba"), the cast delivers its tale. And, yes, it asks an audience to pay attention to all of these modes of communication, but the effort pays off as you get to recognize the characters as individuals and understand the various relationships among them. Some are kind and gentle; others are mean and dangerous. Some fit in well with the community; others are misfits. Some are brave; others are timid and vulnerable. In short, they are just like us.

Byuioo is not the first show to incorporate a made-up language. The musical The Blue Flower, by Jim Bauer and Ruth Bauer, required Marc Kudisch to perform a large chunk of dialog in a language his character called "Maxperanto." But most of that show and all of the songs were performed in English. So it's hats off to Nate Weida, the writer and composer (who also does a splendid job directing the band), for having the courage to explore this direction to it's fullest while telling such an engaging story.

It is clear that the director, Andrew Neisler, and the excellent cast have worked hard to bring Mr. Weida's vision to life. It cannot have been easy to adapt to using an invented language and to make it so fluent and natural. The performers reminded me of the cast of Hair (or "the tribe," as they were collectively referred to), and so, rather than single anyone out for specific praise, I'd like to recognize them all: Andrew R. Butler, Jessica Frey, Stephanie Hsu, Sydney Matthews, Molly McAdoo, Carly Menkin, Ben Otto, Ronald Peet, Cyndi Perczek, Arielle Siegel, Nicole Spiezio, Dan Tracy, Rocky Vega, Israel Viñas, and Eric Williams.

Wish I knew their word for "Bravo!"

Through November 16
Gym at Judson, 243 Thompson Street at Washington Square South
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: