What's it like to work at a job that's slowly sucking the life and soul out of you--and is it worth it?
That seems to be one of the questions asked by Alexander Perez in his dark comedy Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle, directed by Rebecca Martinez and produced by Egg & Spoon Theatre Collective at A.R.T/New York Theatres. Although it raises some serious issues (low wages, family illness, the struggles of immigrants and succeeding generations), it's mostly just a very fun night at the theatre.
Full disclosure, I reviewed this show a year ago (almost exactly) in its workshop run at IRT Theater. Even then, as a small-budget production in a black box theatre, it was an entertaining show with plenty of heart. Now, with some slight adjustments, a few more bells and whistles, and a partly different cast, it runs like a well-oiled roller coaster: smooth, exhilarating, and occasionally heart-stopping.
Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle is an out-of-the-way amusement park with a failing budget; a tiny team of overworked, underpaid, employees; and deadly competition in the form of a newly opened Six Flags. Ramon (alias "Randy") runs a tight ship and doesn't seem to care about his employees' emotional health (or physical health, for that matter: he's too cheap to provide insurance). Never mind that those four employees--a very stressed out manager, her cynical boyfriend, an ambitious rookie, and a chill mascot--are the very life-blood of Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle. As tension builds and tempers flare, the amusement park becomes the site of comic mishaps, hilarious conversations, and some not so funny moments when real life interferes with costumes, popcorn, and roller coasters.
Among those issues are parents whose health is failing, unexpected pregnancies that don't go as planned, brittle relationships in danger of breaking, and, of course, a miserably low wage that isn't helping things at all. But the characters are resilient, and disappointment is nothing new to them. In fact, Perez has given us a cast of characters--brought to vibrant life by an energetic cast--as distinct and compelling as they are relatable. Easy to laugh at as well as to love, they form a found family of sorts, and one that, for 90 minutes at least, we're allowed to join. In addition to genuinely funny dialogue, a few extra flourishes add to the entertainment: most notably, a frightening, low-budget-looking rat costume that soon becomes a vital part of the park's everyday operations, for better or worse.
Unlike their characters, who are there to work, the cast is there to have fun. Or at least, that's the impression I got from the audience high-fives and spontaneous between-scene dancing (a nice touch). Their enthusiasm overflows into the audience: who seemed eager to laugh and dole out high fives whenever possible. Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle (the amusement park) may be a dumpster fire inside a train wreck, but Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle (the play) is a roaring success.
'Randy's Dandy Coaster Castle' runs through September 2nd at A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 W 53rd St). For more info and to purchase tickets, see the link below: