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Theater Reviews: 'In the Pony Palace/Football' at the Bushwick Starr

Monday, February 14, 2011

Anyone who’s lived through the relentless maelstrom of egos and emotions of high school knows that anything and everything has the capacity for high drama. "In the Pony Palace/Football" at the Bushwick Starr, written and directed by Tina Satter, captures high school theatrics with an all-female cast of cheerleaders and football players and plenty of whimsy, with some help from a foursome in marching band regalia playing the music of Lady Gaga.

The play opens with a nostalgic video of two cast members weaving gracefully on skateboards but changes gears as soon as the actors take the stage. Cheerleaders played by Eliza Bent and Emily Emily Davis quip in a language that is so utterly foreign to those outside of the cheer-o-sphere that it renders itself almost Shakespearean—the audience may not grasp every word, but the meanings come through.

As the rest of the cast members take the stage—six football players, two coaches and an owl mascot—Satter's play uses language to create the world of jocks and cheerleaders and also to poke fun at it. "Do you know how many flatbed trucks I’ve waved from?" says the team’s wide reciever, Trace, played with hilarious swagger by Erin Markey. When running back Sasha (Nikki Calonge) holds her silver football helmet at arms length and talks to it, Hamlet comes to mind not only because of the gesture, but because being in high school often means you’re as insecure and grandiose as Hamlet himself.

The blasé, teenagery deliveries of the cast are spot-on. But like a teenager hoping one day to double major in linguistics and modern dance, the play at times gets lost in its own shrewdness. The ensemble of "In the Pony Palace/Football" squeezes every inch of high school hyperbole from each word and gesture, to great effect (if not affect). When the football team, the Owl’s, lose a match (one of three, well-interpreted slow-motion games), it’s easy to remember our own adolescent failures, but it’s hard to really be moved.

Whatever it lacks in terms of narrative, "In the Pony Palace/Football" captures the audience with clear, honest, ensemble acting and a complete grasp of irony. And for those wary of being ambushed by feminist rhetoric, the girl-power in the play is, like the glitter-dusted football turf, a tongue-in-cheek part of the play’s universe. And in this universe, a rendition of Lady Gaga’s "Paparazzi" played on a solo flute is all the awkwardness you need to make you relieved you escaped high school.

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