Review: "Pocket Curiosities" Serves Up Two Courses of Bite-Sized Theater

Pocket Curiosities

Definitely Not a Pirate Show, written by Rachel Weekley, directed by Nazlah Black

Novae, written by Rachel Weekley, directed by Zeynep Akça

Presented at The Kraine Theater

85 E 4th St., Manhattan, NYC

June 25, 2022

Rachel Weekley. Courtesy Emily Owens PR
Whatever curiosities most of us might pull from our pockets, they are probably not compactly crafted works of theater. Not so for playwright and performer Rachel Weekley, whose Pocket Curiosities comprises two short plays (running around 40 minutes in total). Both are entirely self-contained, although their juxtaposition allows the identification of some continuities, such as questions of self-definition, under an umbrella of prevailing tonal contrast. Pocket Curiosities is part of FRIGID New York's 8th Annual Queerly Festival, which runs from June 15 to July 3 and celebrates "all things" LGBTQIA+ while providing a variety of queer artists an unfettered space for self-representation. A livestreaming option is available for most of the festival shows; and both in-person and streaming tickets can be purchased at www.frigid.nyc.

The first of the two short plays, Definitely Not a Pirate Show, features Weekley as definitely not a pirate…although they do progressively admit to some piratical sounding habits. Weekley, who has training in mime, begins the piece with a stretch of wordless physical comedy, and their progression from silence to fragmented to fluid speech enacts in miniature the journey of self-discovery and self-fashioning that they describe. Having found the life they were "meant" to live unfulfilling, they have changed up their maritime practices, much to the displeasure of the authorities. It is hard not to want to draw a comparison here to Our Flag Means Death's Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), who similarly finds in piracy self-reinvention and escape from stifling expectations–and there is also some queer pirate romance in Definitely Not a Pirate Show, though it is not the protagonist's. While this segment overwhelmingly emphasizes its (very well executed) comedy, it does strike a plaintive note near the end that gives extra weight to the humor.
Anna Stacy, Tyler Riley, and Rachel Weekley. Courtesy Emily Owens PR
The second short play sees Weekley joined by Anna Stacy and Tyler Riley for a performance framed by the proscenium of a puppet theater. The title of this piece, Novae, evokes newness(es) but also, given the play's opening images of darkness, fire, and extinguished stars, the eruptions that (temporarily) brighten those celestial bodies. In contrast to Definitely Not a Pirate's relatively straightforward narrative, Novae proceeds poetically, incorporating dream imagery and playing with sound, gesture (the actors' use their hands and arms rather than puppets or props), subtle lighting changes, and even a dash of song. The play asks, in one memorable line, "How do you love a sky / That can hold so much of nothing," but as counterweights to fears of darkness and isolation, it reminds us also of the everythingness of the universe. Even the different moods that sometimes follow hard upon one another might be seen to mimic that ontological and existential abundance. The three performers adroitly complement one another, creating an aura of playfulness tinged with Beckettian melancholy. Pocket Curiosities leaves us curious as to what Weekley as a playwright still has in their pockets.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards

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