Les Freres Corbusier garnered controversial buzz and an Obie Award last year for their original production of “A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant,” cast entirely with tykes. This time around, the company tries its zany hand at staging the rise to power of Gotham city planner and controversial historical figure Robert Moses, who developed most of the city’s bridges and expressways but is more negatively remembered for displacing the poor in his relentless fight for industry and commerce over neighborhoods and citizens.
Ironically, “Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert Moses,” suffers from the same problem as its hero: an inflated self-image and a master plan that leaves behind the very subjects it should serve — in the case of Moses, the people of New York; in Les Freres Corbusier’s case, the show’s audience.
The major historical players during Moses’ mid-20th-century heyday are woven into the action, including FDR, Mayor LaGuardia, Nelson Rockefeller, architect Daniel Libeskind and Jane Jacobs, an activist who was the primary opponent to Moses’ plan to build a Lower Manhattan Expressway.
The plot attempts to trace Moses’ path to power and the agendas of his supporters and detractors. A chorus of Freemasons dressed in masks and capes is thrown into the mix, credited here with supplying Moses with his power, appointing him as their new messiah in place of corrupted French architect Le Corbusier.
Adding to the play’s epic tone, Moses is compared on several occasions to his biblical namesake, in his legacy to change the future of the people he was born to lead.
The production uses quirky devices that are imaginative in isolation but fail to offer a cumulative impact or contribute to any larger narrative arc. Live rabbits inhabit glass cages, dressed up to portray FDR and Hitler’s propaganda minister, Goebbels. TV screens show maps of Moses’ contributions to Gotham’s industrial landscape. And a scene where Jacobs and FDR’s crew join forces against Moses is handled as a noir parody, staged largely out of audience view and shown instead on a screen via live video feed. There is also an oddly pleasing lip-synching number of the Talking Heads song “Don’t Worry About the Government.”
But all the fuss aimed at creating a titillating viewer experience is ultimately less amusing for how hard it tries to be in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink school of hip comedy. The many plot elements are convoluted, haphazard and absurd, as if part of an inside joke conceived by the show’s creators while smoking too many joints on an afternoon off, never going back to reel the thing in.
Part historical musical (with only two stiff numbers) and part conspiracy farce, the work tries to get away with too much in both subject and style. The production might have worked better in a simplified musical form: It’s easy to imagine numbers such as a hunched FDR wheeling into the aud to croak an ominous tune about his plan to bring Moses down; Jacobs, a sexy sliver of a woman in a fiery blues number lauding traffic-free summer nights in Greenwich Village; a duet between lascivious Mayor LaGuardia and his horned, half-naked, lisping page boy.
Those four characters are the most engaging in a production guilty of unnecessary antics and attempts at hyper-ironic humor that miss their mark. Worst of all, “Boozy” takes an intriguing and relevant subject and makes it pretentiously esoteric.