Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Fenway Players ( a k a Dr. Gary Christopher Vezzoli)"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Monday, 30 November, 1998:
The Fenway Players ( a k a Dr. Gary Christopher Vezzoli)

"I should have had second thoughts
when I called about the audition
and he cast me as the lead, sight unseen, over the telephone..."

I saw a pretty good show tonight (number 124 since January, but who's counting ?). I won't review it, however, because it was a book-in-hand staged reading of a musical called "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" that its creator, Elmer Hawkes, is still busy reworking. I did feel that his music and lyrics were fine; my suggestion would be for him to try the book as a straight-play without music once, to see if it works from a fresh perspective; but he obviously gets feedback from much more useful sources, so I shall say no more. I do regret, though, that such a tunefully original score may never find funding simply because Disney Inc. has dibbs on the title and a large and insensitive legal department.

I was particularly glad to see this engaging show tonight because it renewed my faith in theater after the disastrous turkey I attended Saturday night. Good shows can do that, though the memories of such a gobbling horror are hard to repress.

Now, I make it a rule not to review shows I don't like, even though I bend it from time to time, and I have seen some bad shows this year. I have seen good plays done poorly, like the Rough & Tumble "Macbeth" or Sugan's "Portia Coughlin"; I have seen good people struggle with terrible plays, like Delvena's "Misery" or ReveScape's "Love Is Murder"; I have seen shows in which it was hard to tell what went wrong, like SpeakEasy's "A Fair Country" or where script and production were both under par, like Mosaic's "Vanities"; I have even seen new works one sincerely hopes have been hidden in a vault somewhere while the playwright tried better things, such as "Elektrafire" or "Marilyn Monroe in The Desert".

Usually, I don't review such shows. Sometimes, certainly if asked, I'll send a private note to the director outlining what I clearly explain is my own, possibly incorrect, opinion about the show. But the people who make theater are usually much more aware of their shortcomings than I could ever be, and don't need a public pillory. People who genuinely want to improve usually do, without any help from me; and people who don't probably learn, when they don't get cast or asked to direct again, or when no one wants to produce their next script, that they should either improve their work or stop.

But some people don't learn, and for that reason I'm going to break my rule and speak in detail about The Fenway Players' twentieth full length production: "The Spy" written, directed, designed, stage-managed, stage-handed, prompted, and with paintings and violin solo compositions by Dr. Gary Christopher Vezzoli.

Now I don't mean to embarrass the cast or crew for this show; they will go on to other things having learned something from this experience. And in point of fact the violin solo compositions, used to cover the many interminable set-changes, were very well played and constituted the only pleasant experiences of the entire evening. Nor do I expect Dr. Vezzoli to benefit from my comments; in fact people have warned me that I lay myself open to death threats and even possible bodily harm from the good Doctor, who responds badly to criticism.

But I have seen three of Vezzoli's twenty productions over the last few years, and though others may learn from them, he never does. I have seen roustabouts wrestle a huge, heavy, real church-pew onstage, then off, then back on again in a one-act play the central scene of which had three people conversing at a cafe table, and I have seen a heavy railing wrestled on and offstage to illustrate, quite unconvincingly, that a scene took place on the deck of an ocean liner. I have seen an actor "fall to his death" from the top of a child's plastic jungle-jim. I have seen an actress "run through the chest" by a plastic toy sabre and expire, apparently of internal not external bleeding. I have seen an actor go up totally and turn helplessly to two others who stared stonily at him not knowing the line either. I have seen an inspector in a last scene cleverly explaining a torturously intricate plot by reading his lines from a three-ring binder. I have seen the proud murderer of ninety-nine men, angry at his woman, faunch back terrified when she accidentally stumbled into him. I have heard this Muslim murderer known as "Le Zouave" loudly and repeatedly referred to as "Lay Zuavay" by a woman the script insisted was French. I have seen an actor indicate his nervousness by stomping aimlessly around the stage spitting out his lines, without pause or inflection, as rapidly as he could. I have seen actor after actor indicate emotion by hunching slightly forward, upper arms straight down, and flapping both forearms up and down, palms upward. I have heard more flat line-readings, more swallowed sentence-ends, and more half-hearted responses in one of Dr. Vizzoli's plays than I have in an entire year of very active theater-going --- and all this after nineteen other "full productions" since 1990, from which the artistic director of The Fenway Players has learned absolutely nothing. A serious director who knew a bit about theater could have improved things in every one of these instances. Dr. Vezzoli never did.

I don't mean to insult the actors. They will survive. They'll move on, to better directors and better plays, or out of theater entirely. Many of them probably didn't realize that they were cast only because more experienced actors refused to work with such a director, though they know it now. Dr. Vezzoli exploits their inexperience and innocence, then leaves them naked onstage mouthing his words before an audience loath to guffaw because of their obvious helplessness. And those who stumble into The Fenway Players by accident fall victim to the actor's instinctive loyalty to a cast to which they unwittingly committed themselves. No one wants to fink out on friends in the middle of rehearsals because miracles have happened in shows before. And besides, audiences will consist mainly of only relatives and friends of the actors --- although actors have been known to plead with friends NOT to come once they saw the trainwreck of opening night approaching. But actors rarely work with Dr. Vezzoli twice.

The Fenway Players are always kittenish about performances, rarely spending two week-ends in the same playspace. Usually it's half a dozen one-night-stands around Boston (one of which is videotaped), plus one night somewhere in New York City. That way Dr. Vezzoli can claim in his audition-calls to be casting a world premiere that will be moved to The Apple. One wonders what audiences in that southern metropolis make of these astonishingly inept extravaganzas.

But since he is no director, perhaps Dr. Vezzoli spends all his creative talent writing original plays. I have seen only two full-length plays he has written. Both were, in form, much like the mystery melodrama B-movies of the late '40s, with ponderously complicated plots that would delight Harry Steven Keeler. These plots may be merely an excuse for characters to launch into long, leaden, lofty pontifications quoting Neitsche and Lucretius that would be more at home in the pages in a novel than on stage, but they certainly are bewildering, and turn on "astonishing" revelations. One had a parrot who let slip the fact that its owner was not the deaf-mute he pretended to be. Another had the lines
"My dagger is at the bottom of the river, in the heart of a man who insulted me!" "We found your dagger at the bottom of the river, and in its hollowed handle a message in cipher, just as suspected."

"The Magpies of Copenhagen" --- a title no one ever successfully explained to me; perhaps the poetic passage that did was forgotten by an actor --- had a film director named Lavner Trigve who ten years before had insisted his beautiful-actress wife perform a circus-trapeze stunt live before his cameras without a net, during which she fell to her death, causing a police captain to suspect him of murder. He plans to re-enact the crime with his new love, but this time the Negro dwarf deaf-mute trapeze-rigger is unmasked and falls for his own trap trying to escape. The lugubrious pontifications here, most of which the actors cut, involved the rise of Nazism.

"The Spy" was set in Algiers, with a Jewish French lieutenant accused of passing information to the enemy resulting in a Foreign Legion massacre. A novelist/reporter named Zagreb ("Why Zagreb?" "I was born there.") thinks it prejudice and looks for the real spy, as well as the real prostitute who passed on the secrets. The Jewish lieutenant and his friend, a Catholic priest, had the same mother --- thus the lugubrious pontifications about race/religious prejudice and only accidents of birth deciding which side one's on. The autocratic (and lascivious) Coronel had a Jewish mistress who refused to marry him. Later the son he always suspected/hoped he had turns up, unfortunately grown up Jewish. The lieutenant's French mistress paints the Coronel's portrait hoping to find out what "evidence" he's using to convict, yet the lieutenant has fallen in love with the very prostitute suspected of drugging his wine and passing the secrets to the enemy. (You ARE taking notes, aren't you? There's a quiz in act four.) Some coded messages were discovered sewn into costumes sent to a suspicious laundry --- whether from a prostitute or a dancer is unclear. There is a plot to spirit the lieutenant out of Algiers in a barge-load of bodies from a smallpox epidemic that just happened to erupt in the middle of the play. Then there's the belly-dancer (who is really a Syrian agent) and her lover "Lay Zuavey" --- hot stuff, what? Frankly, it's damn hard to tell all the players without a score-card.

Dr. Vezzoli's one-act involved a man demanding of a priest to be absolved of sin because he once had the opportunity to murder the young Stalin, and didn't.

That's the sort of plays Dr. Vezzoli writes. "The Spy" is in four acts of eleven scenes, with two prologues and one epilogue, and lasted three hours plus an intermission. It might have been a bit shorter if the on-stage scene-changes hadn't tried for significant realistic detail, with all the heavy furniture shifted by only one man. Still, there was some very nice violin-music, very well played.

If these plays had any theatrical possibilities, Dr. Vezzoli should have been able to get one of a number of Boston companies to produce them. Failing that, he might at least have found an experienced director to work at bringing them to life. Instead, The Fenway Players is really one man, with a new set of actors every production, playing to smaller and smaller audiences none of whom are anxious to become subscribers.

Next year Dr. Vizzoli's company promises a full production of "Hamlet, Prince of Denmark" (which he insists was really written by Edward De Vere), no doubt cut and shaped, perhaps slightly re-written, presented in his inimitable directorial style by undoubtedly an entirely fresh set of Fenway Players. Order your seats now and avoid the rush.

The best thing that could happen would be that every performance by The Fenway Players would be crammed with thoroughly experienced theater-goers who would give full vocal vent to their every reaction to what goes on onstage. The next best thing would be for Dr. Vezzoli to announce auditions, and have not a soul show up. But theater-goers have a lot of much better things to go to, and young actors have far too few opportunities to work, and Dr. Vizzoli will never take any critical commentary seriously, including this one. His genius is, after all, misunderstood. And, let's face it, this is only one man's opinion, and I could be wrong. I mean, after seeing only 124 plays this year, what the hell do I know about good theater?


"The Spy"
Actors' Workshop, 40 Boylston Street, BOSTON (21 & 28 November)
French Library, 53 Marlborough Street, BOSTON (12 December only)

In an attempt to compare my failing memory with the actual text, I made a search of the Internet through AltaVista, because of this back-of-program blurb:

"Six of Dr. Vezzoli's fifteen original plays are published on the World Wide Web under 1st Books as 'The Purgatorio Trilogies'."

With this result:

AltaVista found no document matching your query.
Refine your search
Ignored: The Purgaorio Trilogies:0

So I tried searching for the publisher, with this result:

+"1st books online"
AltaVista found 4 Web pages for you.
Refine your search
1. fisher
nbsp; The Fisher Scale. Using this scale, if the Literary Agency Point Scores adds up to: 1-2= Be careful. 3-4= Be suspicious. 5-7= Proceed at your own...
Last modified 7-Aug-98 - page size 3K - in English [ Translate ]

Not Found
The requested URL was not found on this server.

Attention: The Write Connection's listing of questionable agents is simply a compilation of complaints from many writers, and is not meant to encourage or.
Last modified 8-Aug-98 - page size 14K - in English [ Translate ]

3. Questionable agents and publishers **
UPDATED October 1st, , 1998 Attention: The Write Connection's listing of questionable agents is a compilation of complaints from writers, and is not...
Last modified 1-Nov-98 - page size 18K - in English [ Translate ]

4. Questionable agents and publishers **
nbsp; UPDATED September 4th , 1998 Attention: The Write Connection's listing of questionable agents is a compilation of complaints from writers, and...
Last modified 10-Sep-98 - page size 18K - in English [ Translate ]

** These were not found, but this was:


1st Books Online/ Solicits writers who have registered their books for copyright. Charges to set up novel online. Subsidy press in electronic form.

The list is headed with this disclaimer:

Attention: The Write Connection's listing of questionable agents is simply a compilation of complaints from many writers, and is not meant to encourage or discourage the seeking of further information regarding these businesses. All information is subject to review, and anyone may contact the Write Connection directly by e-mailing:

In other words, Dr. Vizzoli sought to get his plays on the net by paying a "vanity publisher" who apparently took his money and then didn't even do the publishing.

Nonetheless, Dr. Gary Christopher Vezzoli is indeed a published author, as an Amazon search proved:

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Superior Horsemanship : Learning and Teaching the English Hunt Seat by Gary C., Vezzoli

ASIN: 0498019225
Availability: This title is out of print. Although it is no longer available from the publisher, we'll query our network of used bookstores for you and send an update within one to two weeks. Sales Rank: 1,241,771

2 items are shown below.

Superior Horsemanship : Learning and Teaching the English Hunt Seat
Gary C., Vezzoli / Published 1978

Proceedings of High Tc Superconductors : Magnetic Interactions (Progress in High Temperature Superconductivity, Vol 17)
by L.H. Bennett, Y. Flom, G.C. Vezzoli (Editor)
Our Price: $99.00

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide