The Fled’s wildly creative and hilariously haunting ‘SERIALS’ at NYC’s The Flea

Originally created by Dominic Spillane and Stephen Stout and further developed by members of The Flea Theater’s former resident artist companies, the popular late-night episodic play competition SERIALS is back this season with The Fled – an artists-led Collective dedicated to providing a radically equitable, anti-racist, anti-oppressive platform for theater artists, with a revolutionary mission of celebrating, serving, and leading the community with joy. Mission accomplished.

The latest series, which has been reclaimed and reimagined to prioritize BIPOC and Queer voices, premiered with the first installments on June 9-11, and recurs as a raucous bi-monthly night of short works featuring The Fled’s resident actors and some of NYC’s hottest rising playwrights and directors. The performers are divided into five teams that premiere five ten-minute installments of different plays, each with its own writer and director, with only six hours of rehearsal time. At the end of the show, the audience votes for its three favorites to return with a sequel the following week, while the other two are gone for good – but the teams come back to present an entirely new play.

Now in Cycle 5, the shorts, presented in a style and format akin to sketch comedy, took a variety of over-the-top hilarious looks at occult rituals, demonic possession, murder, and hell (in both life and the afterlife), with an open-ended potential for an ongoing narrative. The laugh-out-loud performances were introduced in humorous direct-address interstitial segments, with recaps of the returning plays, by members of the effervescent producing team (Michael Ortiz, Kristan Seemel, Elizabeth Spindler, and Dolores Avery Pereira), who clearly wanted everyone to have as good a time as they were. Judging by the audience reaction, we did.

Georgia Kate Cohen in Roll for Initiative. Photo courtesy of The Fled.

The wildly entertaining pieces ranged from supernatural occurrences at a children’s summer camp (Camp Dead Tree by Emily Yuko Walborn, directed by Regina Russell, and performed by Regina Carregha, Amara Leonard, and Nat Stornelli); a reality TV dating show, in which the competing contestants are fatally eliminated one by one (Bachelor Final Destination, written by Catherine Weingarten, directed by Michelle Chan, and starring Pereira, Irina Kaplan, and William Vonada); a devilish student showdown of bully versus nerd, aided by a demon friend – from Secaucus! (Role for Initiative by playwright Sam Hamashima, directed by Emily Bubeck, and played by Ortiz, Georgia Kate Cohen, Emily Oliveira, and Christine Pollnow); unhappy workers at a pottery studio who confront their abusive boss and stage a walk-out – but can’t get out (I Quit, by Cody Hom, directed by Kristen Kelso, and performed by Caroline Banks, Eric Berger, Sarah Nandola, and Keith Weiss); and a sidesplitting post-mortem mash-up, with songs, of Les Misérables, Moulin Rouge, and A Christmas Carol (Madame Couché’s Hot Tarts by Chloé Hayat, directed by Seemel, and starring Cohen, Spindler, Macy Lanceta, Sarah Alice Shull, Nicholas Turturro, and Nick Walther).

Georgia Kate Cohen and Elizabeth Spindler in Madame Couche’s Hot Tarts. Photo courtesy of The Fled.

Each and every one is ridiculously witty, directed with an eye on the creepy parodic laughs, and embraced by an across-the-board terrific cast of fully committed actors who nail the hysterical plots and deliver the demeanors, language, and accents of the farcical characters with spot-on timing, emotive voices and facial expressions, and expert physical comedy, in clever make-shift costumes that generate even more laughs, with Hom providing the tech and design for all five pieces (including eerie lighting and sound effects).

The only problem I had with the show was trying to decide which ones to vote for, since they were all so deserving. Even if you haven’t seen the previous installments, each episode of SERIALS stands on its own and will have you screaming with laughter. If you can’t make it in person, you can watch the livestream; either way, be sure to join in on the fun!

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, including an intermission.

SERIALS, Cycle 5, plays through Saturday, December 17, 2022, at the The Fled, performing at The Siggy at The Flea Theatre, 20 Thomas Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $17 in person, including one drink, or $10 for the livestream, plus fees), go online.