Arts & Culture

Ben Katchor Creates A New Kind of Musical Theater

Having long been a fan of his graphic work (or "picture stories", as he calls them) in The Jew of New York and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, and having seen his previous foray into musical theatrical collaboration (The Rosenbach … Read More

By / February 26, 2008

Having long been a fan of his graphic work (or "picture stories", as he calls them) in The Jew of New York and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, and having seen his previous foray into musical theatrical collaboration (The Rosenbach Company) on a particularly awesome date a few years back, I already had some darn warm feelings in general towards the prodigiously talented Ben Katchor. So it was with much excitement that I joined the great man, his wonderful wife Susan, and composer Mark Mulcahy for a preview of The Slugs of Kayrol Island a few weeks ago. The show, Katchor's second collaboration with Mulcahy, is a delight. It tells the story of a well-intentioned, well-to-do young lady who becomes obsessed with the plight of exploited workers in far-off tropics. That she joins forces with a young man who's into the poetry of vintage appliance instruction manuals, and that together they travel to this far-off tropic to save said workers, is only the beginning of the story. Katchor's imagination, needless to say, is a vast and quirky wonderland. The sets are these beautifully designed, moving screens onto which Katchor's drawings are projected, so that what you're watching is a whole new genre unto itself: graphic musical theater. The actors move with and around the screens to make up what feels like one, breathing, changing, colorful, organic whole. Katchor's drawings and libretto are vibrant and engaging, as ever, and the score is foot-tappingly excellent. The NYT's Ben Brantley, in his rave, calls it "an answered prayer for anyone who has dreamed of living inside a graphic novel." (So it seems that sometimes those MacArthur "genius" Foundation Grant folks really know what they're doing, huh?) After the show we all shared some delicious potato pierogi at Little Poland, which I report not because I am a starfucker, but because sometimes those Wow-I'm-Breaking-Bread-With-An

-Artist-I-Have-Always-Admired evenings, which are so cool and inspiring — and which can make a certain type of Lifelong New York Romantic feel like "Hey, damn! Is this my life? Alright!" — are nice to share. It was good. The show has been extended at the Vineyard Theater and will run through March 16, so get a move on.