Certain phrases are red flags for the speaker’s political views. “Pro-life” “Gay Agenda” and “Evolutionist” indicate a conservative crackpot, while terms like “Undocumented Immigrant” “Marriage Equality” and “One Percent” are the domain of freedom-hating commies. The program for Parables for the One Percent ominously warns that “We’re going to very, very liberal tonight” but the show is actually politically moderate, and offers a surprisingly objective view of class warfare.
Parables is written by geek comedian Karl Custer (AKA Uncle Yo) but rather than addressing Anime and video games, this play takes a look at three examples of the wealthy elite trying to maintain their status. Each of these is presented in a broad, farcical style that gets the social and political messages across without sounding pretentious or didactic.
Audiences meet a nouveau riche woman (Stephanie Alvarez) who finds that she’s still ostracized by her old-money wealthy neighbor (Tierney Nolan). Intermingled with that story is the tale of an Egyptian Pharaoh (Casey Bartolucci) who exploits to his slave (Ari Vigoda) through free-market shenanigans. Elsewhere a wealthy couple (David Weinheimer and Cameran Hebb) try to hold onto their upperclass status despite a rampaging recession (Represented by an invisible beast).
However, the humor isn’t mean-spirited, and usually tries to show the point of view of the ultra rich. These One Percenters aren’t all that bad, and are generally motivated by a fear of losing their place on the pecking order rather than by an overt hatred of the lower class.
Of course there’s a limit to just how much sympathy a slave-owning Pharaoh can get from an audience. Each of the three tales is a proper parable in which the characters and audience learn a valuable lesson (Usually in the form of a rich person getting their comeuppance in a grisly fashion).
It’s produced in an off-off Broadway black box, but there is still a lot of effort put into the design. The costumes (By Carolann Voltarel & Carrie Wink) are particularly effective, with the wealthy couple being decked out in jewels as they sleep, including rhinestone logos from Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana on the sleepwear. Vigoda and Bartolucci wear Bronze Age costumes, and the social-climbing ladies are dressed in nearly identical outfits that help emphasize the trivial differences in their social roles.
Between the scenes there are multimedia clips of comedians like Lewis Black and Bill Maher mocking free-market economics. These echo the sentiments of the playwright while also killing time during the numerous set changes.
As an off-off Broadway show, the creative team no doubt assumes that all of the audience members belong to the 99 Percent. It would be easy to simply pander to the crowd and go for cheap laughs at the expense of Tea Party supporters, but Parables offers more than just pointing and laughing at people with different opinions – it makes the audience feel a bit sorry for them before seeing them hoisted with their own petards.
Parables for the One Percent is funny, smart, and can even be enjoyed by conservative pals who are dragged along to the theater. It has a single performance left as of this writing, Sunday January 12th. Tickets and more are available here.