“RaTsSubwaySongsandStories” at Theatrelab
Reviewed by Showtones lead-columnist, Max Berry
“RaTsSubwaySongsandStories” is a new musical written by Maguire Wilder and directed by Kyle Best. It follows Rat Princess (Fara Faidzan) the subway rat as she is shut out of the annual rat orgy. She is visited by Tabby Cat the Sewer Rat (Maiya Pascouche) and the two set off for Brooklyn in the hopes that Princess can get one of the rats there to have sex with her. On their way, they get trapped in a trap set by the MTA and the two have to figure out how to escape. Such a concept sounds like just the right amount of absurdity. However, it seems this play could not decide what it wanted to be.
The music in “Rats” was created by not just a keyboard, guitar, and accordion, but also several buckets that the cast would frequently drum on to create a sound and feel that was not unlike that of the subway itself. This was a welcomed addition to the music and gave many of the songs a much more stripped-down feeling, which held my attention. While the lyrics were relatively simple, the music kept me moving in my chair
“Rats” was throwing everything it had at you for the first third of the play, being as crazy as it could, while also setting up what seemed like it was going to be a fairly simple premise: The Rat Princess wants to go to Brooklyn to have sex with the Brooklyn rats and this sewer rat was going to help her get there. We now have ourselves an adventure of sorts, a clear want, and a plan to get there. These are all great ingredients for a play. However, rather than embrace this set-up, the play places our two leads in a confined space without much to do and just like that, it grinds to a halt. While there is nothing wrong with being a play with a social message, this play felt it needed to change its core ingredients to get it across.
“Rats” worked best when it embraced its own lunacy. Such details like crazy orgy dance sequences and a chorus of rats who just want to have sex all the time, require a sort of self-awareness and willingness to just have a good time that this play didn’t always have. The moments where this was embraced were incredible amounts of fun, sparking the kind of “What am I watching?” feeling that I was hoping for out of a piece like this. The other moments, however, attempted to bring in a social message that felt out of place and obvious. I don’t need to be told directly about the subways inhumane rat traps, let the play do that for me. The playwright sacrifices lunacy for a message rather than letting the lunacy guide us to our own conclusions.
The show was well acted with a rat chorus that stole every scene. These performers not only acted but played all of the shows music. I often found myself sneaking a peek at the group as they played or stood off to the side and every time I was chuckling to myself. Constantly reacting to every moment, this chorus will no doubt catch your eye. The two leads, Faidzan and Pascouche, had good chemistry throughout. The design was simple and fun, putting us on either side of a subway platform, with most of the action taking place within it. The projections in the show seemed tonally confusing I was unsure of their purpose.
“Rats” had many fun moments but I felt as though the playwright was fighting with what the play needed to be and what she wanted the play to be. There are a lot of ingredients for a really entertaining and still thoughtful piece and I hope that it’s natural momentum is allowed to shine in future iterations.
“RaTs:SubwaySongsandStories” was written by Maguire Wilder and directed by Kyle Best. It featured Fara Faidzan, Maiya Pascouche, Claire-Frances Sullivan, Markese Mclamb, and John Knipsel.
With production design by Lucas Degirolamo and projection design by Meadeline Parks.
It was presented at Theatrelab (357 W 36th St 3rd floor, New York, NY 10018)