There has been a lot of anger over Lena Dunham and the success of her new HBO show Girls, but perhaps the most exhausting (if not exhaustive) attack is Flying Snakes in 3D!!!, a one-act show that ran between July 4-7 as part of the Ice Factory Festival. Produced by the Everywhere Theater Group, Flying Snakes is an autobiographical story about under-privileged actors, writers, and directors who are frustrated that New York theater is controlled by rich, white men who have no interest in their stories. This is mostly realized through a series of monologues. Also, there are mutant flying snakes accidentally released from CIA headquarters. The result is a series of confessional narratives spliced together with a fairly accurate spoof of classic Roger Corman schlock. It may sound strange but it is not unprecedented: the original Godzilla, after all, was not only a monster movie but also a polemic against nuclear warfare.
First the good: Flying Snakes is clearly written by people who lovingly stalked the Horror and Sci-Fi sections of local video stores and who later turned to websites like BadMovies.org and Cinemageddon once those stores went under. It has everything from gratuitous sexuality to awkward expository impositions and even reaches into William Castle’s bag of tricks (snakes are thrown by the actors at the audience and vice versa). Unfortunately, the actors seem a little too amused with their cleverness, and don’t play their parts with the hilarious sincerity that made those movies so effective. Anyone who spends their late nights watching ‘fifties creature features and their subsequent imitations knows that if you try too hard to make a B-movie, you’ve failed. For a more successful version of what Flying Snakes is attempting, I would recommend The Amoralists’ mixed but often stellar play The Bad and the Better, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, or even the recent straight-to-video release Piranha 3DD.
Then there is the class commentary, which is about as subtle as Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters. In the script, one character complains, “I didn’t go to a fancy private school like your rich friend Zosia Mamgay who studied theater arts abroad,” an obvious and gibe at Girls star Zosia Mamet, though at the performance I attended the name is replaced to “Zosia Dunham,” in case the reference to Ms. Mamet would be too subtle for the audience. Later, a group of rich brats show up to accuse the Everywhere Theater Group of being lazy. These are the kind of clueless jerks who think white people are oppressed and who have trust funds but don’t consider themselves “that rich.” In the end (spoiler alert), it is revealed that the snakes have been spliced with the DNA of the wealthy, the ultimate plan being to eliminate all the poor people, allowing the rich to finally enjoy America.
What is so infuriating about all of this is that the playwrights, Teddy Nicholas and Leah Nanako Winkler, are absolutely right: theater is in the pockets of rich, straight, white men and many good shows are therefore being unproduced or relegated to limited Off-Off-Broadway runs. But they handle this problem with such blind rage that Flying Snakes plays as nothing more than professional envy. At one point, Teddy (played by Peter Mills Weiss) tells a rich character whose father has died and whose mother is an alcoholic, “Your fucked up shit is candy land compared to my fucked up shit,” which struck me as cruel and unusual. From there, the play descends into a series of violent fantasies and extended diatribes that are thoroughly masturbatory and completely unconstructive. It is easy to take shots at Mitt Romney and Ivy League legacies who have no clue how the rest of the world lives. But does this do anything to promote a real conversation? For a play with a title that includes three exclamation points, the creators have little sense of humor about themselves.
Such a shame. Early on, Mr. Weiss tells a heartbreaking story about the worst job he ever had: “Once, I was cleaning some lawyer’s house by myself, and I sat on his antique leather couch and stared at the fifty-two inch flat screen television that hung on the wall opposite the couch and pretended that it was my house. I did this for thirty minutes and then went to his bathroom and scrubbed his toilet bowl.” It’s a beautiful, wrenching moment, but serves only as an introduction to Flying Snakes, to let the audience know where the Everywhere Theater Group is coming from. These kind of intimate stories are quickly abandoned but should have served as the bulk of the play instead of the shrill and tiresome attacks against those who have stolen the limelight.
And for the record, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet are both excellent artists.