You Want to Live Like Common People?

Emily (Emily Bowker) is a derivative abstract impressionist painter who is defined by contempt: contempt for banks, for supermarkets, for corporations in general.  Contempt for football, marriage, inherited wealth, private property, private education, and New Labour.  Perhaps the only thing she holds in contempt more than this “hideous capitalistic gangbang” are its victims, people who, by virtue of their public education, cannot understand her contempt.  So when she and her partner Oliver (Alastair Whatley) move up north from London and invite their lower-middle-class neighbors over for cashews and olives—they don’t drink, of course—Emily carefully displays her coffee table-sized edition of Das Kapital and asks Dawn (Elizabeth Boag), the stay-at-home wife of postman Alan (Graeme Brookes), “Do you know his work at all?”  And Oliver?  Oliver is the type of person who begins his sentences with, “Emily just felt that,” before correcting himself: “We just felt that…”

Torben Betts’ Invincible, currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their Brits Off Broadway season, is a terrific satire on leftist elitism that turns, quite suddenly, into affecting domestic drama.  Though Mr. Betts follows an old and perhaps overused theatrical convention—a dinner party turned referendum on the relationships of those present—the humor is sharp and relentless, and the characters so clearly drawn, that it hardly matters.  Alan’s football hooliganism provides the perfect foil to Emily’s pretentiousness, especially once he reveals that he paints portraits of his cats.  With his beer belly hanging slightly below a shirt that reads “England: IT’S IN THE BLOOD,” Mr. Brookes is indefatigably genial, showering his hosts with unwelcome gut-laughs, friendly punches, and naked chauvinism.  Meanwhile, Ms. Boag’s performance is both luminous and heartbreaking; embarrassed by Alan’s boorishness, offended by Emily’s condescension, she is stuck right in the middle, yearning for education and excitement but undeniably tethered to the man and the town that are holding her back.  Wearing a loud red dress that clings to her bosom for dear life, she spends much of the evening self-consciously placing her hands in front of her cleavage and shooting apologetic smiles to Oliver.

In a political climate marked by a profound and arrogant misunderstanding of the working class, Invincible serves as a reminder that agitating on their behalf can often come at the cost of erasing their humanity.  After listening to a lecture on how competitive sport is a means of keeping people pacified and stupid, Alan responds meekly, “Just want to feel like I belong, Emily.”  Here, plain and simple language, expressing explain and simple emotions, trumps the jargon-ridden banalities of the empathically stunted aristocracy.

Invincible runs through July 2nd at 59E59 Theaters.  59 E. 59th Street  New York, NY.  2 hours 15 minutes.  One intermission.

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