Like most New Yorkers, I've had my share of run-ins with cockroaches. The most unnerving being when I entered the bathroom one night to find a gigantic cockroach sitting on top of the sink faucet. I got out of there fast. In my mind, I can still see his antennae quivering.
But in Krista Knight's CRUSH, a beatnik cockroach poet with a crush becomes an entertaining, empathetic tragic hero. In a series of six short videos, the roach unpacks his love for the messy, crumb-dropping human who lives in the house he infests. A film by No Puppet Co., CRUSH won the 45th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival. But when its premiere was canceled due to COVID-19, Knight and co-creator Barry Brinegar decided to stage the show virtually using live animation, with actor Ben Beckley voicing the cockroach. The result is a strange but delightful synthesis of beat poetry, live capture animation, and special effects. And it's somehow...adorable?
At first, the cockroach is thrilled that his new tenant is messy and always dropping sizeable crumbs. Soon, his delight turns to admiration, then adulation. Before long, our hero is hopelessly ensnared--chasing the love of a human who doesn't even know he exists, and who comes close to accidentally stepping on him. "Do I only want you because you scare me?" the roach wonders, shortly before he vows: "I'll make you happy."
Unfortunately for our hero, most humans don't take well to roaches, especially roaches living in their home in plain sight. When our hero seizes the stage of the living room floor to perform a naked birthday dance for his crush...well let's just say things don't go as planned.
Beckley's voice and intonations are perfect: balancing childlike over-eagerness with wry humor and sarcasm. The script never tries too hard to be serious, but neither is it superficial fluff. This roach is rhythmic and quick-witted, and his poetry sings in its own way.
Zany and amusing, CRUSH presents an inventive, original new format for virtual theatre. Krista Knight and her team deserve praise for bringing something fresh into a venue that, these days, mostly consists of zoom readings and living room concerts. It's a fresh take on theatre in the age of COVID-19, just as it's a fresh take on first love. And even if those quivering antennae made me feel a little uneasy, I enjoyed seeing the world from a roach eye perspective, if only for a little while.