Krista Knight wrote Crush as a series of six, two-minute micro-plays to be performed during set changes of a ten minute play festival. “It has wholeness to each segment, overall narrative arc and, most importantly, can be done with barely any costume, no set. Just a human being speaking beat poetry who’s eventually revealed to be a cockroach.”
She submitted her script to The 45th Samuel French Off Broadway Short Play Festival and won, but plays couldn’t be produced because of COVID-19. “They told us they were going to do something that felt like a virtual festival. I was desperate to make work. This was a great excuse and opportunity to be part of a conversation.”
Knight and collaborator Barry Brinegar decided to make a “film” (by No Puppet Co) completely in-house. The work is wildly imaginative, droll, sympathetic and technically marvelous.
Crush is a one-cockroach play. (Don’t stop reading.) Why a cockroach? “I saw one in my East Village studio and it felt like we were the only ones left in the city,” Krista answers. The animated insect, sometimes referred to privately as Ben after the actor, is a bizarrely appealing character. He has a crocodile mouth with underbite, oscillating antennae, the arms of a graceful dancer, a gently bouncing belly, crenulated brow, and a distinctly Beatnik vibe. (He wears a pink beret.)
Words are repeated and/or emphasized, pauses significant, movement an extension – as if a vocal jazz riff with Brinegar’s infectious, rhythmic music underneath. (Oh the percussion!) Krista says they were inspired by Michael Myers in the 1993 film So I Married An Axe Murderer. Imagine a 1950s bohemian poetry reading.
The roach: It’s summer in the city. “Crush. Candy Crush. Crush ice to make a snow cone…Bathing suit. Flip flopsss.. Flip flopsss. Bathing suit. Flip-flops. Flip-flops. Bathing suit YOU are go-ing to the beach. This is our first summer together…” When he says to the tenant (who can’t hear him), “you leave crummmbs…nasssty crumbs,” it sounds provocative, as if her doing so amounts to foreplay.
I inquire about the title. “The roach has a (romantic) crush on his apartment tenant.” It’s a fraught relationship, one of appreciation, unrequited yearnings, and observational swipes. Her living style affects him. Also Krista loves the Jennifer Paige song: It’s just a little crush (crush)/Not like I faint every time we touch/It’s just some little thing (crush)/Not like everything I do depends on you…
The Roach: “Starving. I haven’t eaten for weeks. Without your footfalls the idiots come. I hate nothing so much as another cockroach!…” “BACK! You’re back! But you seem different- tan?! Weren’t you using skin lotion…on the beach-having fun…” “Is your birthday coming up? What would help? If I complimented you? You’re not ugly, you’re not old. If you could see yourself right now the way I see you…” “You came a little close to actually stepping on me…I’m hearty it’s true but mortal! I’d never hurt you…”
The Roach: “It’s your birthday” repeats and echoes to an echoing disco beat…”day, day, day, day, it’s your, your, your…” “Bare. The bare foot. I bared it all…You threw a party, and filled OUR apartment with strangers…” The ending is inspired.
For those who are techies (I’m decidedly not), this is “a Unity to live-motion capture.” The pair recorded actor Ben Beckley (wonderful!) over Zoom with the help of director Matt Dickson, then shot the accompanying visual. Krista and Barry set up a home nerve center with five monitors (assembled from tablets, computers, and spare screens) using an Oculus Quest/PC Headset- to capture motion in 3D space matching vocal performance.
With one person in virtual reality and the other watching the footage, live animation was synced. (Both played the cockroach.) The editing program is LumaFusion.
There’s a wonderful Process Video:
All unattributed quotes are Krista Knight
Photos and screenshots courtesy of Knight and Brinegar
Krista Knight is currently Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Barry Brinegar is frontman for the NYC-based band, David’s Pegasus. Both worked on the animation here. Knight wrote the script. Brinegar composed/played the music.
*Archy, a literary cockroach and Mehitabel, an alley cat, appeared in hundreds of humorous verses and short stories in Don Marquis’ daily column in The Evening Sun. Their exploits were first collected in the 1927 book archy and mehitabel, which remains in print today, and in two later volumes, archys life of mehitabel (1933) and archy does his part (1935). A musical version was recorded July 7, 1953 and April 9, 1954 with Carol Channing and Eddie Bracken.