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Review: In ‘Usus,’ Pig Latin Gets Lost in Translation

Review: In ‘Usus,’ Pig Latin Gets Lost in Translation


As befits a play set amongst an order of 14th-century friars, “Usus” sometimes makes use of Latin phrases. Sort of. It’s possible that almost all viewers members will perceive “vile rat astard-bay” with out resorting to a dictionary as a result of pig Latin continues to be a residing language.

That the monks in T. Adamson’s play slip into ig-pay Atin-lay is par for the course since their speech mixes eruditely cryptic references (to those that haven’t hung out in a seminary) and a vernacular that at instances feels ripped from TikTok.

The present, which opens the 2024 version of Clubbed Thumb’s standard Summerworks sequence on the Wild Project within the East Village of Manhattan, is a couple of small group of Franciscan friars labored up by Pope John XXII (pronounced X-X-I-I) declaring their vow of poverty heretical. After all, the brothers (pronounced bros) are merely following the precepts of their patron saint, Francis of Assisi, and that shouldn’t make them dissidents.

In between making ready a letter of criticism to their boss, the lads go about their brotherly enterprise. Bernard (Ugo Chukwu), for instance, is accumulating scientific data in regards to the mole rats rooting within the backyard. JP (Annie Fang) is a younger goofball who typically finds himself awed by the brusque, brainy Paul (Crystal Finn, whose personal play “Find Me Here” closes out Summerworks). “It’s so cool how all this lore and expanded universe stuff,” JP says after Paul brings up the First Council of Nicaea.

Paul is a little bit of an alpha bro, extra articulate than the others, extra realized — or a minimum of extra prepared to wield his data — and he directs the writing of the letter to the Pope, instructing Bernard to incorporate the accusation that “John X-X-I-I is the earthly materialization of Antichrist.”

This has the potential for an excellent, intellectually bracing comedy someplace left of “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” however “Usus,” directed by Emma Miller, lands solely a number of the time. Partly it is because the forged barrels via a lot of the dialogue at excessive velocity. This could also be an try to present the strains a contemporary tempo in amusing contradiction with the setting and content material, but it surely solely makes most of the exchanges — typically theologically and philosophically dense — exhausting to observe. And a number of the anachronisms should not as humorous as they should be, with a dialog in regards to the newest music (“This beat slaps! This observe’s a bop!”) feeling particularly compelled.

The largest difficulty is that it’s unclear what Adamson is attempting to say. The finest scenes contact on the assorted methods through which the friars attempt to join with God. For Matteo (Jon Norman Schneider), probably the most visibly conflicted of the bunch, this includes the seek for an ecstatic state (self-flagellation segues into joyous dancing to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”) and coping with repressed sexuality.

After Matteo admits to a raunchy imaginative and prescient, Bernard rejoins with, “What the smite am I alleged to do with this data?!” I typically felt the identical means in regards to the present: It’s intriguing, however what am I alleged to do with it?

Usus
Through May 28 on the Clubbed Thumb, Manhattan; clubbedthumb.org. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.

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