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Review: “The Rise and Fall of… Jean Claude Van Damme” revives an action hero

Review: “The Rise and Fall of… Jean Claude Van Damme” revives an action hero

The New York International Fringe Festival is no more, but the spirit lives on in a black box theater on the second floor on the edge of the clothing district. There you will find “The Rise and Fall, Then Brief and Modest Rise Followed by a Relative Fall of … Jean Claude Van Damme who was invented by a simple reading of his Wikipedia page months earlier,” a new show whose descriptive title takes us right back to the intoxicating days with such Fringe delights as “Theater of the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage” and “Harvey Finkelstein’s Sock Puppet Showgirls”.

Although the show announces itself in an expansive way, it’s a minimalist affair: a reasonably approximate biography of a former B-movie action star told by just two men, using action figures picked up on Amazon and then jury-rigged into controllable puppets. . Again: very Fringe.

It will come as little surprise to connoisseurs of stage use – an expression I use with affection – that the author is Timothy Haskell, “one of the great hustlers of downtown theater,” as The New York Times described him back in 2007. years after that review, Haskell and the company The Psycho Clan cemented their status as emperors of immersive horror theater, best known for the “Nightmare” series of Halloween ghost houses, which ran every fall for 14 seasons and returns in October after a break. . Psycho Clan’s exploration of shock tactics reached its peak with “This Is Real” in 2017, an escape experience where the audience was “kidnapped” in Red Hook.

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With “Rise and Fall,” however, Haskell has returned to the lighter, clumsy pop-subcultural spirit that put him on the Off Off Broadway map in the early 2000s; during that time, he starred in productions such as “Road House,” a “fightsical” based on the film in which Patrick Swayze played a bouncer, and “Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy.” In this show, actors Joe Cordaro (Jean-Claude Van Damme, plus a touch of other roles) and John Harlacher (mostly narrating and ending up in a painfully unforgiving costume) need just an hour to empty through life and oeuvre of the so-called Muscles from Brussels, which achieved peak popularity from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s.

Directed by Haskell, his brother Aaron and Paul Smithyman, the show traces Van Damme from his childhood in Belgium to his early martial arts training and his eventual move to Hollywood, where he deployed ballet splits and athletic leaps in such classics of the VHS era as “Universal Soldier”. “Double Impact” and “Bloodsport.” Cordaro and Harlacher distribute puppets to move the story forward, highlighting these action figures (adapted by Aaron Haskell) for the fight sequences. Most of them have been dreamed of for the show, as a fight between Van Damme and Steven Seagal that many 13-year-old boys would love to see in 1995.

As the show’s title suggests, Haskell has little interest in digging beneath the surface to reveal the man behind the muscles. (For insight – sort of – viewers might want to check out the meta Van Damme movie “JCVD,” from 2008, as we are told, “the author of this play did not see because he was pissed about it.”) But despite the cheerful youth humor, pathos bubbles up, as when Van Damme’s career stops and he is portrayed as grateful for a place as a villain named Jean Vilain in “The Expendables 2”. Haskell’s Van Damme remembers a childhood trauma and swears: ‘I would never laugh again. But I am. Or was. “No time to hesitate: There is always another battle on the horizon.

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The rise and fall, then short and modest rise followed by a relative fall of… Jean Claude Van Damme who took from a single reading of his Wikipedia page months earlier
Through July 17 at the PIT Theater, Manhattan; Playing time: 55 minutes.

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