Review: The Wildness

According to The Media, my generation is supposed to be all about sarcasm and irony. But the best work I’ve seen in the past couple of years created by self-identified millenial artists has been deeply, achingly sincere. And another perfect example is Sky Pony’s The Wildness, playing at Ars Nova as a coproduction with The Play Company.

A rock opera meets fairy tale meets cleansing ritual, The Wildness is a metatheatrical blend of fact and fiction as characters named after the actors present a fairy-tale play about combatting doubt, supposedly a tradition the enact every year under the auspices of their collaborator Michael, who recently vanished without a word. Taking his place in the evening’s festivities, presided over by his best friend Lauren (Lauren Worsham) is his sister Lilli (Lilli Cooper).

This blurring of fact and fiction– characters who are named for their actors, who are both real (Lauren Worsham is indeed pregnant and married to co-writer and fellow performer Kyle Jarrow; real audiences members give real ‘overshare’ confessions), and not-real (Lilli Cooper is not really the sister of the fictional Michael; cast members give fictional ‘overshares’ about him)– creates a delightfully sticky and engaging immersive experience.

The fairy tale they embark on telling, about a princess burdened with a prophetic destiny and her devoted, besotted handmaiden, is studded with folk-rock musical numbers and has a DYI burlesque aesthetic, the remnants of your childhood attic on a slightly higher budget. And this tension between yearning for childish things and the irresistibly frightening embrace of the adult– of desire and independence on the one hand, and fear and loss and jealousy on the other– likewise defines the soul of the show. As with many of the genres its mashing up, from fairy tales to confessionals, the point isn’t necessarily subtlety, and this isn’t at all a bad thing.

In Ben Brantley’s review for the New York Times, you can sense his bafflement: why is this all happening? Why is childish nostalgia the aesthetic of choice here? You sense the word ‘cozy’ is not wholly positive. But this show, Ben, is not for you. To him, the soup of comfort and pain seems contradictory (and it’s plain which aspect he values most)– to the target audience, the ones to whom the actors’ reassurance that “we are just like you” is directed, this is the agonizing tension in which we are living. Maybe it looked and sounded different when Ben Brantley was young, but The Wildness taps successfully into the sound and feel of the millenial sense of seeking and alienation. And it doesn’t sound like irony, and it doesn’t feel cold. It’s giddy and confused and hurt and welcoming– and we’re all welcome, too.

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