Here the Rodents Reign Supreme: “The Annotated History of the American Muskrat”

Presented by The Circuit Theatre Company
Written by John Kuntz
Directed by Skylar Fox

August 2 – 16, 2014
The Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
Circuit Theatre on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston, MA) My parents were in town this weekend and, in the interest of involving them in my life, I asked them to attend The Annotated History of the American Muskrat with me. My conservative Dad’s immediate response was to ask, “is it weird?” At the time he asked I couldn’t give a definitive answer but, after attending Sunday’s matinee performance,  I can honestly answer that, yes, this show is weird. Yet, “weird” doesn’t scratch the surface of what it is. It is also intensely powerful (reviewers use these words a lot. This show is actually powerful and intense versus a “powerful” and “intense” production of, say, The Cherry Orchard.) in ways that cause the viewer to question how Americans process the life we consume. It’s a bad trip on the best acid. It’s about everything and nothing. It is not for the weak.

To try to describe The Annotated History of the American Muskrat in one paragraph much less an entire article is nigh impossible. It is a complicated conglomeration of American history and myth indelicately blended with decades of pop culture in scenes and vignettes. To start, the actors are involved in a thought experiment tested on muskrats while breathing drug contaminated air. It’s “weird” but very good theatre for the audience, and from the cast and crew.

Behold, the majestic muskrat!

Behold, the majestic muskrat! She’s adorable.

The American muskrat, as described by John Kuntz, is not “a true rat.” Upon Googling, it looks like a small beaver but without the signature flat tail. They live near water but not in dams. The muskrat’s claws are built for burrowing and its tail is narrow like a land rat. Muskrats are rodents, like the rat and beaver, but their closest relative is the lemming. This is important because Muskrats are topical to the production. My suggestion is to memorize this information and then immediately forget it.

This production is very good. The ensemble work is some of the best I’ve seen all year (and perhaps since my tenure at The New England Theatre Geek began). All of the actors are committed to each other and their script unconditionally. At the same time, they are in on the joke that is the whirl of life soup occurring onstage. It was a wonder to behold.

There are so many minute components in this production that it is a simple matter to grow overwhelmed by everything we see, hear, and smell but the devoted cast keeps it all organized for the audience. The production crew’s dedication to detail that enables the ease with which the cast approaches their subject is impeccable. Skylar Fox’s direction,in particular, is commendable. The audience is lead to believe that the actors/test subjects are actually experiencing the experiment. We can’t truly believe because we’re attending theatre and theatre is based on fact but isn’t really real. But, because of Fox’s direction, there are moments when the audience must reorient itself to the reality that exists off stage (versus attuning to the convincing reality we are presented on stage).

Watching Annotated History is like experiencing a serious, non-ironic performance “Joseph Smith American Moses” from The Book of Mormon. It is Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge meets Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation… It’s an adult-themed version of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole with Lil’ Debbie cakes and President Gerald Ford.  To support my summation, I present a photo of the warning notice to audience members posted on the theatre door:

I took it with my phone!

I took it with my phone!

This notice is accurate. I was not the only person who needed a stiff drink after leaving the theater. Attend sober. Do what you must to recover, afterwards.

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