The Debate Society's You're Welcome

Before the play begins the director walks on stage and explains a few things about the production to the audience. But because you’ve been prepped to expect that  “You’re Welcome: A cycle of bad plays,” the latest from the inimitable foursome at The Debate Society, will, no doubt, involve a few bad play gags, you go along with it. But then, after the director leaves the stage and comes back again and again to tell you just a few more specifics, like the fact that the play we’re about to see involves an imaginary door, a retractable knife and is bound to be very funny but the actors are professionals and our laughter won’t disturb them, you realize that this, the director’s back and forth, is the play. Which of course we already know since in the opening titles we were told that Play #1 is “The Director Ruins the Play.”

“A cycle of bad plays” can sort of be taken literally. It’s a series of short plays that riff off common pitfalls of “serious theatre,” which include everything from bad direction, bad writing and awesomely bad musical numbers, but in the hands of The Debate Society, the production itself is anything but bad. In one “playlet,” high school students perform the kind of awkwardly executed drunk driving PSA you might very well see at a school assembly, while “We Got a Fog Machine” features several smaller plays gone wrong after the fog machine breaks and a stage hand resorts to just saying “fog” whenever fog is supposed to appear. In a particularly fabulous string of bad dialogue, a woman reads from her diary: “July 31st. A fox came up to the car like a trained house pet. Lou said I’m the good kind of woman.” It’s the perfect parody of that brand of supposedly psychologically layered and revealing dialogue that is ultimately meaningless, stagey and downright bad.

The whole set up: the silly opening titles that get sillier with every screen, the way one short play transitions into the next and the meta-ness of the production itself immediately calls to mind Monty Python. Like the Python chaps, The Debate Society knows how to walk the line between high and low art, and they do it in such a way that even though you’re watching a mermaid with a gigantic dollar sign dance around the stage to cheesy Mexi-pop, it’s obvious the scene was written by a group of bright, highly imaginative and profoundly unique artists. While “You’re Welcome” is not as dramatic as some of The Debate Society’s other work, it still retains the same cleverness, the same precision of storytelling and the same astute observations of the weirdness of normal human behavior.

“You’re Welcome: A cycle of bad plays” at The Brick Theatre in Williamsburg, Brooklyn until February 27, 2010. Tickets $18.