145 Sixth Ave. at Dominick St.
Wednesday - Sunday through April 29, $30-$45
Since 2008, creator, director, and designer Reid Farrington has been staging wildly inventive multimedia re-creations of movies using a unique combination of live action and original footage. His past presentations include The Passion Project, based on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Gin & “It,” which went behind the scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, and A Christmas Carol, which brought together dozens of adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic. Farrington and his wife, Sara, have now turned their attention to the making of one of the greatest films in Hollywood history, Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. In the 1942 movie, Humphrey Bogart stars as Rick Blaine, an American nightclub owner in Casablanca who encounters a former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who is in town to meet with her husband, resistance fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), seeking letters of transit that would allow them to escape the Nazis. Written by Sara Farrington and directed by Reid Farrington, who also designed the sets and the video, CasablancaBox takes the audience in front of and behind the camera, as the actors portray the characters in the film as well as the actors playing that character, and the film is “made” before our eyes. Thus, Roger Casey plays Bogart and Rick, Catherine Gowl plays Bergman and Ilsa, and Matt McGloin portrays Henreid and Laszlo. The proceedings are intricately choreographed by Laura K. Nicoll (who was Joan in The Passion Project), as actors carry flat wooden scrims of varying sizes on which clips from Casablanca are projected; behind them, the actors either mouth the parts, so film dialogue is heard, or they speak the lines, with the film sound turned off. (Travis Wright is the sound engineer, while the black-and-white lighting design is by Laura Mroczkowski.) The Farringtons use backstage discussions to lead into the final dialogue, particularly when Peter Lorre (Rob Hille), who plays the sleazy Ugarte, is worried when he is given new lines (“I won’t be fired. I’m the only actor in Hollywood who can make murderers into lovable little teddy bears,” he convinces himself) and when Henreid’s real life as an escapee of the Nazis affects his performance in several takes of a critical scene.
Meanwhile, director Curtiz (Kevin R. Free) barks orders and gets a massage, a pair of Eastern European refugees (Gabriel Diego Hernandez and McGloin) argue about being extras and playing Nazis merely as background atmosphere, Bogart’s wife, actress Mayo Methot (Erin Treadway), stalks the set, and the four screenwriters — Lenore Coffee (Lynn Guerra), Philip Epstein (Adam Patterson), Howard Koch (Kyle Stockburger), and Julius Epstein (Jon Swain) — argue over key plot points. Trying to hold it all together is Irene (Stephanie Regina), who serves as a kind of stage manager as well as the announcer. (The real stage manager, Alex B. West, deserves kudos as well.) The show also tackles censorship issues, shares an anecdote about Errol Flynn and horses, and delves into how no one knew how the film was going to end. The cast also includes Zac Hoogendyk as Claude Rains and Captain Renault, Patterson as Conrad Veidt and Major Strasser, Stockburger as Sydney Greenstreet and Signor Ferrari, Toussaint Jeanlouis as Dooley Wilson and Sam, and Hoogendyk as Bergman’s husband, Peter Lindstrom, and her lover, Roberto Rosselini. Not all of the behind-the-scenes detail is completely factual, and a few scenes grow repetitive, but the Farringtons accomplish their stated goal to “tell the beautiful, chaotic, and sometimes accidental story of a work of artistic genius.” Inspired by the cinematic style of Robert Altman and what the Farringtons refer to as “theatricalizing the camera,” CasablancaBox is also surprisingly relevant, given the current refugee crisis and the spread of hate crimes around the world. But mostly it’s a lot of fun, a creative look at an American classic.