- Last Updated: 12:19 PM, July 26, 2012
- Posted: 10:24 PM, July 25, 2012
13th Street Theatre, 136 E. 13th St., smarttix.com. Through Aug. 4.
"It smells like armpits in here,” one of the characters says about the dilapidated train station in “Black Milk,” but the odor is the least of it. Vassily Sigarev’s play, now receiving its New York premiere after an acclaimed 2003 run at London’s Royal Court, portrays a post-Communist Russia infected with moral rot.
The central characters are Lyovchik (Josh Marcantel) and the heavily pregnant Poppet (Liba Vaynberg), a young couple who’ve arrived at the remote, rundown station to hawk “Wonder Toasters” to the locals. The toasters are free — but the “delivery charge” is astronomical.
Narrated by an old drunk who injects himself into the action at key moments, the story involves the hucksters’ interactions with the villagers, including a ticket clerk who augments her income by selling homemade, and possibly poisonous, vodka. One of the couple’s former customers bursts into the station irate and nude under his flapping coat.
“I’ve come for justice,” he declares, brandishing a rifle.
The gunshot induces labor in Poppet, who undergoes a positive spiritual transformation after giving birth. But her greedy partner isn’t about to give up their lucrative scam.
This dark, often absurdist comedy presents a vivid allegory of the new capitalist Russia. But the writing doesn’t live up to its provocative elements, with long stretches of tedium diffusing the impact.
Director Michel Hausmann often lets the proceedings go slack, and the performances are uneven. Although Anna Wilson and Rachel Murdy are terrific as the cynical ticket clerk and a helpful midwife, respectively, the two leads aren’t convincing. And the decision to forgo Russian accents — the villagers sound more like Southern rednecks — doesn’t help.
Mainly notable as an example of sharp-edged contemporary Russian theater, “Black Milk” seems to have curdled in its journey west.