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Reflections on A Check-Room Romance

Below is another reflection on the life of a publicist from Michelle Rafferty. Rafferty has been a Publicity Assistant at Oxford University Press since September 2008. Prior to Oxford she interned at Norton Publishing and taught 9th & 10th grade Literature. Every Friday she is chronicling her adventures in publishing and New York City, so be sure to visit again next week. Follow Michelle on twitter here. Follow the OUPblog here.

Last week I went to the world premiere of the latest graphic-musical-tragicomedy: A Check-Room Romance by Ben Katchor and Mark Mulcahy. Just typing that sentence makes me realize that I am becoming more of a New Yorker everyday—I can casually use “world premiere,” an obscure new theater genre, and the name of a Cullman Center Fellow all in the same sentence. Bonus cocktail-fodder points aside, I’m glad I went to the event and if it continues past the workshop rounds, I highly recommend grabbing tickets.

A Check-Room Romance is the story of Marcus Yule—a family man who lives in a slightly alternate Upper East Side and dreams of installing a coat check-room in his apartment. As this architectural romance unfolds other characters get caught up in Marcus’s obsession, including Lena, the check-room girl and supplier for Caesar DuRag—a “dealer” for New Yorkers with a creepy fetish for wearing the coats of strangers (a serious addiction that earns DuRag $80 an hour). It is fitting that this most unconventional story is told in an equally unconventional way. As Katchor’s drawings tell the story in a-slideshow, four vocalists/musicians deliver the narration and character dialogue: a graphic-musical-tragicomedy-opera. My musically inclined companion for the evening called it “modern, funk-fusion with a little bit of pop.”

The best part of the show is the way the convergence of formats lends itself to the genre of tragicomedy. The still-frame illustrations and the singers’ drawn out notes give audience members the time to appreciate both the humor of absurd human behavior and its tragic implications. Take Marcus Yule’s daughter for instance, who gives up her own room so that her father can convert it into a fully staffed coat check-room. She takes on her “sacrifice” without complaint, while the new check-room goes unused and her still pliable vertebrae becomes damaged by the support bar in the pull-out couch she now sleeps on every night.

And then there are the wonderful contextual details in the show—like when Mulcahy sings about the drones of people on shop-lined Madison Avenue, all checking themselves out in the building windows as they walk up and down the sidewalk, aware of nothing but their own reflections. His satire of our highly appearance conscious city is the most tragicomic because it’s dead on.

As the story unfolds I couldn’t help but wonder how my own life would look in graphic-tragicomedy style. What absurdities of this city would come to light? I envision a drawing of myself on the 6 train in morning—pressed up against the subway doors, a stranger’s hair in my mouth, and bodies piled to the ceiling. And what ridiculous coat-check fantasy would I have fulfilled? I need some time to think on this one, because as Marcus Yule learns, fulfilling your wildest dreams can turn to bloodshed and tragedy quicker than you might expect.

Any thoughts on your own graphic-musical-tragicomedy?

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