600 HIGHWAYMEN and Employee of the Year in The New Yorker Apr 25, 2016
Just when you think you might be getting a little cynical about the theatre—all those stars in so many vanity productions—think about 600 Highwaymen. Founded in Brooklyn, in 2009, by the vibrant and open young theatre artists Michael Silverstone and Abigail Browde, the company produced, in the dull summer of 2013, one of the more exciting things I’d seen that year: “This Great Country,” their reimagining of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The piece featured seventeen performers, some of whom had professional experience, and some of whom did not. (I was particularly struck by the Texas-based adolescent Ashley Kaye Johnson; her sense of space, timing, and theatricality reminded me of a very young Gwen Verdon.) Using silence and choreographed movement to underscore lines that were spoken directly to the audience, Silverstone and Browde’s cast included teen-agers and women of a certain age, all playing Willy Loman’s sad wife, as well as male and female artists of color playing Loman and one of his disquieted sons. In so doing, Silverstone and Browde went past gender-blind and color-blind casting to emphasize the heart of their enterprise: humans interacting with one another, within a world of well-orchestrated joy and thought, to see what might happen.
600 Highwaymen lacks, blissfully, the too-cool-for-school, droopy-jeans irony that affects so many of its contemporaries. The performers are not embarrassed by feeling, and therefore make us less ashamed of our own. The company’s new piece, “Employee of the Year” (Oct. 15-16, part of French Institute Alliance Française’s “Crossing the Line” festival), stars five girls under the age of eleven in a story about rebirth. The protagonist’s house burns down; so begins her journey in search of home and community. With music by the impressive David Cale, the show promises one thing for sure: a story filled with bodies that are inseparable from the poetry of politics. ♦