Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "Friday 7 February, 2003 11:46 a m:The Deadbeat Blues"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Friday 7 February, 2003 11:46 a m: "The Deadbeat Blues"

Winter snow is finally falling on Boston.
I don't mean that depressingly ugly, starting-as-rain sleety-slushy stuff that freezes to slippery cakes of pollution-gray slag. That's a mistake of late-Autumn while the season gets the hang of things. No, what are falling are not the neatly-unique star-shapes scientists like; they're big, gauzy aglommerations the size of whisps of down-feather shaken from the breasts of millions and millions of peace-doves. They hang in the air and drift and if you look up into the pure-white sky they look like the high, looping swoop of the family of big-winged soaring predators that visit every week or two, and take a beating from the local crows every time they alight and then try to take off again. This time the temperatures dropped under freezing BEFORE the first flakes fell, and the city is purely, lumpily, softly white; the far side of my valley is a ground-glass milky grey through the fall nearly impossible to tell from that clean-sheet sky or the sculpted lumps of parked cars. It is finally, at long, long last, beautifully winter here in Boston.

But that's not what I want to talk about today.

What should you call a person who sees plays for free on "Reviewer's comps" yet never writes a line about what's been seen?

The answer, unfortunately, is --- "You Call Him LARRY STARK."

The Mirror is different from a newspaper, or even a radio show, in that there's no white-space or dead-air if I don't write about something. And so I sort of made a pact --- mostly with mySelf --- that I would not inflict my bad taste, publically, on any show I really didn't like (unless, of course, the egregious awfulness of a show glies in the face of massive media hype). Instead I'll try to send a private note to the director or producer explaining the why of my silence. That way, the people who really need to know what I thought didn't work (And I could always be totally Wrong, remember), but no one still standing on a stage and doing what author and director dictated needs to have people commenting backstage about this fuzzy-minded critic's public insults. I leave that crime to Bill Marx and the GLOBE.

Well, for more than three weeks now that has been untrue. And I have to apologize, publically, to all the people doing Good Work in Nine Plays about which I have said nothing.

I'm really sorry about that.

Technically, it started with "Godot" --- a beautifully crafted, wonderfully acted reCreation of that Beckett classic.
I couldn't see it on press-night; by the time I called, there were no more tickets available, so I saw it on Wednesday, 15 January, after at least two reviews had already come to The Mirror that (as is my wont) I tried hard not to read. That was the first performance after a first week and after a first couple days rest for this amazing cast. What impressed me was that Rick Lombardo the director had turned the usual approach to the play on its head: Act I was slow, thoughtful and somber whereas Act II had most of the quick, bombastic funny. In a sense the first act was more Austin Pendleton's, more Vladimir's while the second unleashed the amazingly inventive physicality in young John Kuntz' Estragon. The dominant feel of humor in that act meant that whenever old, small, drained Didi turned that cracked smile (all upper teeth) directly to the audience to unleash his quiet, dreadfully honest commentaries, everyone listened, everyone heard.

This was (no, IS; the run was extended till 15 February. G O !!!!!) a concatenation of excellent acting. Bates Wilder who playe.. (sorry) plays the mostly mute slave Lucky is much younger and much more silently resentful than I have ever seen him played, and when Lucky "thinks" the flood of phrases nearly approaches comprehensibility again and again, rather than lapsing into laughable nonsense. And Ken Baltin as his indifferent master Pozzo, the elegantly faded elegance of his costume the only real flash of color in the entire show (thank you Frances Nelson McSherry), also brought to the show a feeling of vigorous life --- however doomed to eternal, unfulfilling action.

The one thing that gave me pause that night, though, were long pauses when all four were on stage in Act I. Every one of the four seemed in these silences to be glancing about, listening to or listening for noises or silences that were never there. Totally silent pauses onstage are very unsettling for an audience: they give the opportunity, almost force them to think about what is no longer going on. What they let ME think was "Are these so long Intentionally? Or has the couple days' rest thrown everyone's rhythm totally off? Or even, is someone drying on stage?"

But that speculation truly insults four gifted, experienced theatrical practitioners. Austin Pendleton is small (He may not even be as tall as myself), but he is also Playing small --- chiding and energizing his young, restless companion out of His broodings while always dealing, internally, with his own. His mere posture silently shrieks the "We Can't Go On! let's ... go on" that is the heart of this classic, beautifully realized play.

But my difficulties started before I saw "Waiting for Godot". I told Rick Lombardo that night that I was behind by Three unwritten reviews, and all those unwritten reviews and unfulfilled promises rattled around in my skull.
One show was the American premier of a play by Tennessee Williams, which I did review.
Another was "The Wiz" by the Our Place Theatre Project, which I saw in a quarter-filled auditorium so cold I had to wear my coat through the second act. I learned, by seeing (by accident) the show closing night, that at opening I saw a final, unfinished dress-rehearsal that improved in two weeks.

The third was "Golda's Balcony" --- a play everybody loves; everybody but me.
I admit to certain strong personal indifference to this one-sided defense of Israel's very just aspirations, but I saw little brilliance about performance or direction. Instead I saw the entire play unconvinced. I saw no conflict whatever, and I was horrified by the revelations of a willingness to start an atomic war to save this admittedly necessary Jewish state.
What I really wish Bill Gibson would write is an "in the void" abstract argument in which Golda Meier the genuine patriot would try to argue the fantaic murderer Baruch Goldstein out of emptying his uzi into the backs of forty Moslems praying in a Hebron mosque. I think that dialogue would help sort out for me my misgivings about atrocities on both sides of this bleeding land.

Before I got to the keypad about "Godot" I went to hear a reading of Austin Pendleton's vividly intriguing play "Orson's Shadow" --- arriving late enough to have to brush past the author himself to find a seat. He (like me) was dressed only a bit more spiffily than he does playing Didi, and I found myself saying "I feel I know you, sir!" to this white-haired man who was, the first time I saw him, King Lear.
Now I had TWO plays involving Pendleton, as playwright and actor, jumbling in my mind.

[ 3:55 p m
The bed of a pickup-truck in the parking lot down stairs is almost filled with snow. The table on the outdoor patio looks like a huge white cart-wheel, an enormous as yet undecorated wedding-cake. The flakes have frozen the size of angry gnats rather than big bumblebees, and they no longer float but fall in wind-driven sheets. I'm to call in two hours to find out if the play I'm supposed to see (or the other one I should) will be cancelled.
I know about snow --- I spent five years in Iowa, remember --- and if they play I'll go. On a night like this they will need all the audience brave enough to show up. ]

On the 23rd of January I went over to The Puppet Showplace to see the new show from The Living House Theatre's production of "Hard Times", adapted to the stage by Stephen Jeffries and directed by Kevin Wery.
This is the one of the three neglected productions that I feel most unhappy over. Both the others had reviews in The Boston GLOBE, but I have no idea if any other writer has bothered to visit this show. It is one of those (I love this typo!) "showstring companies" doing interesting work in deliberately non-traditional spaces. The bandbox little theatre was designed for up-close small-person audiences, and the audience was lined with many pegs to keep winter clothes close to kids. In this case they were festooned with many of the costumes Andrea Squires and Cindy Laney found for the ninteen different Dickens characters played by the company of five. The action occasionally spilled into those side-aisles as actors switched characters again and again.

I've tried but never become a fan of Dickens' sprawling stories, so I was glad to see this "Story Theater" style condensation of a book I'll never read. In it Andrea Squires played (along with four other roles) a girl raised by her fact-fascinated schoolmaster dad with no truck whatever with "fantasy" (i.e.: fiction!) The led to a romanceless marriage with an elderly but rich weaving-mill owner who cannot understand why his destitute workers want a union. Rick Winterson played her bespectacled dad, then whipping those off and donning a flat worker's cap became the one anti-union worker to sympathize with the owner's flinch-fisted difficulties --- for which he was promptly Fired because his honest intransigence caused worker unrest!

Larry Jay Tish played only three roles, but one of them was the arrogant mill-owner, and another a semi-mustachioed ringmaster of a travelling trapese troup. (I told you the story sprawls, didn't I?) John Morton took all the really young male roles (well, his walk-on waiter Was bent with age... ), including a subtly villainous thief throwing blame on.... Ah! but there's one week-end left for you to see for yourself, isn't there!

Trudy Goodman swung from age to age, from the little orphan ex-trapezeuse to a sour spinster, and three more in between. Like the rest, she did it with a switch in voices and posture and a quick flick or two of hat or blouse, either fading for a moment backstage, or picking a shawl from a side-wall peg. In every case, she Was what she said she was, as action and narration moved the show from plot point to plot point. These quick-changes, for everyone, were half the fun.
The Living House Theatre did "The Cherry Orchard" in a big ballroom last season, and now is (They play through 8 Feb) cramming Dickens' novel into a teacup stage as small as its cast-list. Kevin Wery has held the core of this interesting "showstring" company together, and I look forward to being surprised by their next show

[ 5:21 p m
The snowflakes are so small and so sparse they might, in the dwindling light, be spume blown off the eaves rather than the flagging storm's end. The motorists are digging out, and that ladened pick-up has left its space in the snow. The Orange Line trains, though, are slow and spark-spangled and so I had better prepare to leave plenty early if either of the two BCA shows I have not yet seen play tonight. But I have come to the end of a pot of excellent tea (Thanks David Myers!!!), I should probably shave, and the T is ambling so slowly along the tracks I think I should give myself Plenty of travel-time. I'll try to get this up, incomplete, and finish it when I get back. ]

But I should first explain why I said both "nine plays" and "three productions" as though my going-on-seventy-one mind had finally slipped a gear.
The third production I've neglected is Industrial Theatre's seventh-birthday extravaganza "7X7" --- a beautiful coming-of-age gesture comprising Seven short plays, each by a different playwright and a different director, but all of them mounted with this company's signature attention to fine acting and production detail.

[ 1:05 a m: Okay, two down, seven to go! ]
The first show on the bill here "24/7" by Susan Trausch is a fuzzy abstraction in which four business people petition Zeus (yeah, That Zeus) fo an additional hour every day, an extra day in every week, to increase productivity. Zeus pleads inflexible laws of nature not even He can readjust, while the four admit their request is only the tip of an iceberg. Frankly, if you came in late and miss this, you won't miss much.

The subtlety of William Donnelly's "7&7" however, lies in its last few sentences.
The scene has two brief full-lighted instants to establish the scene as a busy bar, before lights isolate Kim Anton as a bored and silent bar-keep and Michelle Aguillon as her most enthusiastic patron. She seems to be delivering a dry lecture on Seagram's Seven, while downing half a dozen 7&7 highballs, getting visibly but subtly more and more sozzled until the final, bleak revelation: she drinks because everyone must die of something, and cirrosis of the liver is her one, sure choice, just as Seagrams and 7-Up is her choice of instrument of suicide.
This simple step-by-step descent into unexpected hell is expertly crafted by Aguillon and Director Luke Dennis so that, until the final snapper, the point is obscure but always tantalizingly expected.

Eddie Myricks' "3 Rivers, 3 Lakes, 1 Sea" documents several short and pithy exchanges out of annual outings by two laconic fishing buddies, played by Al E. Carter and Nate Connors. Six of their seven outings illustrate male bonding while fly-fishing, but the final excursion is interrupted by a real Siren (Naomi Gurt Lind) tempting them to shipwreck, leaving them stranded on a rock.

"7 Dreams " by Bill Latanzi is (are?) exactly that: dreams of seven somewhat predictable types that Brian Platt and Kim Anton present --- aided in two of them by Andy Riel. Along the way, the real-lives of a couple get reflected in a courtship-sequence involving an amateur telescope. The dreams are, logically, surreal, enigmatic, and fascinating.

The closest to a real play here is Dani Slepian's careful slice of lesbian life "Seven Little Days", shaped by director Lisa Burdick. Here two old bosom buddies played by Catherine Zapanta and Lara Krepps grab a quick coffee together to exchange good news. One has gotten the promotion she always wanted, the other has a reluctant lover ready to live with her.
Trouble is, the career-woman always had hopes of getting together with her friend, but was urged to take a seven day sebatical by ... guess who? The exchange begins in glowingly positive confidings and, line by line, marches into angry recrimination and shattered friendship.

"The Seventh Floor" is a neat comedy sketch by Sean Barney, directed by his brother Timothy Barney. Here a white-robed head of the firm (actually God, played by Brian Platt) is visited by Lucifer --- boyishly grinning Ron Rittinger in adorable red-red horns. Seems a proliferation of somewhat trivial sins and a backlog of paperwork has led to a crisis of overpopulation in Purgatory. Keeping the argument civil and ordering lunch is Naomi Gurt Lind as God's secretary and old friend of both parties: Mary Magdalene. Cute, and fun.

The final playlet "Seven Hours Overtime" by James Henderson is a slice of interior monologue by Andy Riel as a punchy 7-11 clerk trying to endure a second shift. Five other cast-members play late-night odd-ball patrons, including the appearance for a finale by Cathy Zapanta as the clerk's estranged fiancee. Dave Pool directed this movie-like documentary of sleep deprivation and shop-lifter discouragement.

The joy here, in every case, is more the "finish" given to each piece of the mosaic than the actual writing. Each playwright was invited to write a New Work dealing, somehow, with 7 and requiring minimum props and lights. Each director was given Industrial Theatre's smooth production values, with names from the company's Board showing up in the backstage running-crew.

In a sense, fielding this slate of short plays --- while Playwright-In-Residence Bill Donnelly's newest play "Remuda" had a second run at The Boston Playwrights' Theatre --- was an announcement that "I.T." is no longer "The Best-Kept Secret of The Local Theatrical Scene". And the appearance on the bill of several people familiar from other companies signallized a willingness of all to cooperate for the common good. All in all, a delightfulmilestone for all concerned.....and there's still some of the run left for you to see!

[ 3:02 a m
Okay, I've made and eaten dinner, and finished this Notebook entry.
Let's go to bed! ] Love,
( a k a larry stark ).

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide