Hands On A Hardbody

  • Our critic's rating:
    March 1, 2013

    Well I ain’t been this happy since the pigs ate my little brother.

    This show could have been as dull as watching people in an endurance contest. Oh, right. That’s what this was. But due in large part to the music and lyrics by Amanda Green and Trey Anastasio, this show achieves a sort of lift off. Think A Chorus Line meets They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The combo may sound daunting, but I’m here to tell you that this filly has legs.

    The plot line is predictable. Most good ones are. Why re-invent the wheel? A bunch of folks sign up for a contest that asks one thing: keep one hand on the red truck at all times. Every six hours you will get a bathroom break. There is no leaning or sitting allowed around the truck. You stay standing and attached or you are gone. The end comes when there is one person left standing.

    Sounds nutty, doing all this for a Nissan truck, but this is Longview Texas, an actual place that had the actual event several times over with no shortage of participants. This creative team saw a story in there and went with it. Specifically they saw potential in the 1997 documentary by the same name directed by S. R. Bindler.

    So what do you do with a bunch of actors who have to stay attached to a truck? Well, first of all you make the truck part of the action. This little baby is pushed, slid, pivoted and climbed on in more ways than you can shake a stick at thanks to Serge Trujillo. And after about 30 seconds of this you appreciate the energy and skill of these performers. They swoop and exchange places; they dip and turn; they pound out beats to an acapella song feast – and all the while they keep one hand on the truck and one eye on the prize. It is ensemble work of the finest kind.

    The back-stories are revealed bit by bit. This is not a show that hurries, and Neil Pepe understands the need for the full reveal. There is desperation and cheating, there is hope and despair; there is backstabbing and forgiveness. These people are icons, yep, but they are a whole lot more. And as they leave the truck, one by one, shamed in some cases, dazed in others and some just happy that they are alive and can feel their extremities, those remaining are exhilarated and challenged by the dwindling numbers. This is a contest in the Texas heat that lasts 91 hours.

    The person who wins is not who you expect, and the dénouement is more about the pursuit of dreams no matter the cost than it is about winning.

    If you want something
    Keep your hands on it
    Cling with all your soul
    When you find your fit

    If you want something
    Let your purpose show
    Hold it close to you
    Don't you let it go.

    Schmaltz? Sure. But it still left me a little teary because this is a show with a big heart that reaches directly into yours. And ain’t that the way theatre is supposed to go?

    So Bravo.

    PS. Mr Pepe - THE ONLY thing that bugged me was that THE TRUCK was not given her propers in the curtain call. She is the title role, and, metaphysically speaking, she is what connects those actors to one another. She soaks up their energy and intentions and holds the space steady for them. Whisking her away before the curtain call deprives us of thanking her. She is a sentient being, after all. If you want proof, try doing the show without her.

    "Brings a fresh, handmade feeling to Broadway."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Offers a decent ride."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Middling musical .... Rarely has so much goodwill been so squandered."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "The proceedings rarely come to life."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "A very odd musical. And that strangeness is both its strength and its weakness."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "It rarely gets to anywhere thrilling.
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Gently appealing show."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "Offbeat but totally endearing show."
    Marilyn Stasion for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter - Variety