Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "How I Spent My (Unexpected) Spring Vacation"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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Wednesday - Sunday, 25 - 29 April, 2001: "How I Spent My (Unexpected) Spring Vacation"

It actually began last night when, in the middle of translating my e-mail into entries for The Theater Mirror, first e-mail and then the entire website went dead.
Well, actually, it began a month and a half ago when everything went dead, and when I called TIAC (a k a "inter.net") to find out why got told it had nothing to do with money. They had changed their local telephone number without telling anyone. (To talk to anyone who could tell me this I waited 27 minutes on hold.) "Just use this new number and everything will work," he said, and it did.
Last month my phone bill jumped from the usual $34.00 to $116.79, because that new phone number was in QUINCY! So instead of paying the internet provider the standard $60 per month, I shelled out one hundred bucks to veriZon. I saved the phone bills intending to send xeroxes of them instead of their money. But I didn't do that. This month's bill is again $78.67 --- but before I got to do anything, TIAC pulled the plug. No warning. No explanation. Dead. And again it took a long, frustrating time on hold to be told why.
With Lee VanderLaan's help, The Mirror will be back on-line with a new provider soon.

I may loose a lot of e-mail, all the backlog of saved e-mail, all my bookmarks.
I can live with that.
But The Mirror's only real strength is my ability to respond within hours, or sometimes even minutes, to e-mail input from people from Connecticut to Vermont. And, until the new Provider kicks in, I won't even have a way of explaining why no one can contact me. (I've already had two phone-calls from worried readers.) And, of course, none of the shows I'm seeing can be reviewed until then either.
So, this is my stop-gap solution:

25 April:
I bought an elder-rush seat at Ye Wilbur to see "Hamlet" and sneaked myself into one of the two theatres from which I have been banned. And I'm glad I did.
I'll never know what I could have thought were this my first "Hamlet"; most of my reactions this night were comparisons to others --- inevitably to the four and three-quarter hour Stratford Connecticut production that starred Brian Bedford with Tony Van Bridge as Claudius.
This Royal National Theatre cast featured a much older Hamlet and a much younger Claudius. The lighting, which frequently isolated the faces of the entire cast ranged around the sides of the stage in what looked like tomb-chambers. King Hamlet's ghost was picked out by a ghastly-green spot from the hips up so that he seemed to float rather than walk. His son touched the ghost, and even took his father's sword on which to ask his friends to swear silence. The Player King was played by the same actor who was the ghost, so that Hamlet's silent stare when the players arrived acted as a reminder. Simon Russell Beale's approach to the speeches emphasized quick, passionate bursts punctuated by significant pauses in which he seemed to consider what should come next. His short, round stature and his eager rather than contemplative air put him in the center of the action, trying to figure it out --- more a person than a prince. [These notes are scattered and incomplete because, considering the problems that developed so soon after my seeing the show, I was, myself, scattered and incomplete.]

26 April:
I never made it to Theatre 1 when it was called The Doll House, and tonight I found out why: it's a long hike from any T-stop. But it's a theatre, so.....
"It Came from Brian + Mal" turned out to be a sketch-comedy variety show written and performed by Karen Malme and Brian Jewell that took full advantage of their different physical-comedy styles. Mal specializes in angular poses, quirks, tics and distorted facial mugging; Brian's is a more fluid, boneless slither and a toothy, knowing grin. Both are accomplished, full-out comic performers, and their material is gay comedy for gay audiences --- funny enough to entertain anyone. There was a "serial" done in several segments scattered through the show in which the pair played several roles, and a "Scooby-Doo in Provincetown" in which Brian did all the parts, an improvised "Q-Files" spoof, and among many others a fan-magazine sketch suggesting what new shows or movies could be contemplated by famous names. Since The Orange Show dissolved, sketch comedy this good has been hard to find in Boston. The cast, and Director Renee C. Farster and Stage Manager Kim Olpin, are keeping the genre alive.
[When first introduced to Mal I was convinced I'd seen her before. I hadn't; I'd HEARD her before. She's one of the movie-critics that Bruce Gellerman and Robin Young talk to several times a week on the HERE & NOW noon show over WBUR90.9fm --- where her innate comic impulses are considerably restrained.] 27 April:
"A Piece of My Heart"
This Litterbox Productions presentation was directed by Clinton D. Campbell, while the company's artistic director Heidi-Louise Margocsy joined the cast on stage. Shirley Lauro's piece is much more a stage-documentary than a play, reflecting the lives and experiences of six women who, in various capacities, lived through the Vietnam War --- though each individual is obviously a composit of many others (probably documented in Keith Walker's book of the same name on which the piece was based). Most of the quick-bit "scenes" that come thick and fast are face-forward descriptive narratives, with anyone handy stepping in to play collateral characters for a moment or two of dialogue and mime. The effect is a mosaic of individual incidents that weave a common theme.
Act one focused on the "In-Country" experiences of nurses (both experienced and fresh from med school) a career WAAC intelligence officer, and a singer with a girl group entertaining troops. Obviously, none were prepared the their experiences: "Mash" it wasn't. Mark B. Shaloub who played "All the American Men" experienced both arms blown off, brief and unsuccessful love affairs, administrative pomposities, etc. Again, bits are quick, graphic, and compelling. Act two was, for me, even more engrossing, dealing as it did with "The Return" and the horrifying difficulty of adjusting to "normal life" after their nightmares.
But, more importantly, each act had a clear, comprehensible shape. Each began and ended with background projections of combat footage. Each began with a feeling of naive curiosity and soon-dashed hope. The realities of each situation were tellingly, graphically illustrated. But then, as the second act picked up the healing effects of therapy, group therapy, and a coming to terms with the names etched into the black walls of the Vietnam Memorial, the piece ended, as it should, with the erect, proud, and whole once more.

28 April:
I blew it tonight. The instructions on what trains I had to get on where were, of course, in the e-mail from the Winchester Players that went up in smoke when TIAC pulled my plug. I went to the wrong terminal, got to the right one an hour too late, and spent too much time finding the right (Universalist) church. So I didn't see the first two scenes of Wendy Wasserstein's "An American Daughter" and thus feel it unfair to attempt a review.
But I will.
For me, Wasserstein's play seemed a snap response to the "nannie-gate" episodes of the early Clinton years, thinly disguised and poorly digested. With-it quips an in-joke references were fired off every few seconds, decorating essentially a situation comedy trying to be a "Philadelphia Story" about Washington. A hospital administrator raising twin boys with the house-husband help of her sociologist husband gets nominated for Surgeon General and torpedoed by a summons to jury-duty that she evaded. Her father's a Senator of the other party, her debating-partner an acerbic gay columnist (also of the opposition), and her one strident champion is a like-a-look for Camille ("Leather-Lungs") Paglia who makes a blatant play for the neglected hubby. Director B.J. Williams had her hands full trying to find a single theme in a script that simply galloped off in all directions making heavy-handed, predictable pontifications every step of the way. My feeling was that Williams and her cast earned an E for Effort on a script that would be happier as a movie or a teleplay that needed an editor.
But the Winchester Players have proved willing to take on serious plays and do them well. I found several old friends in the room that night, and was very generously driven back to Boston by Players' president Jim lynch, who has involved himself in local theater easily as long as I have, and has better stories to tell of his exploits and experiences. I was very sorry to have arrived late, but all in all I had a ball.

29 April:
I don't get to a lot of suburban theatres because I don't drive. The T can get me to lots of places, but unless I can get to a T-stop in the hour after midnight, I might as well stay home. And commuter-rail isn't very useful at all on week-ends. Case in point: the train stops about a block or two from the old vaudeville-house (now a movie house) where The Little Theatre of Stoughton works --- on week-days. On this Sunday, it's closest stop was Canton Junction, where their producer had to pick me up. Otherwise, I'd never have seen the production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" that Dawn Davis directed for this community theatre. And I'm very glad she did.
This big-cast serious play was something of a departure for The Little Theatre, with a couple smaller roles reappearing as !!!EMERGENCY!!! casting-calls in The Mirror even as rehearsals began. Eventually the company simply cut the roles of Nazi troupers invading at the last moments of the play, and combined the two benefactors bringing news and food from the outside world into that two-year pressure-cooker into the one woman Miep Gies.
Perhaps because of these necessary economies, more likely because of the sharp insights of the director, the play became much less a documentary explanation of flat facts than a compellingly human interaction. I'm sure any modern mind hearing the name Anne Frank has the basics of this plot flash ready-made into the imagination; it's part of the collective unconscious. It's the human details the became movingly apparent here: the silent-times when even wearing shoes was dangerous; the fact that "the w.c." was for two years the only place any of these people could be truly alone; the achingly tender imaginative effort needed to fabricate anything that could be wrapped as Hanukkah presents; and the symbolism of past memories infused in an old fur coat took on personal weight when it had to be sold for food.
For me, the triumph of this production was clinched in the final moments, when the fates of each character after their discovery were voiced not by an impersonal outsider, but by each actor playing that role --- after which the stage went dark for that tenth of a second utter quiet which is the ultimate compliment ant rapt audience pays to an excellent performance. Like, I'm sure, most of the audience, I took that pause for an opportunity to brush the tears from my cheeks before joining the long, enthusiastic applause.
After the performance, since ComputerRail had stranded me, helpless in Stoughton, I was "forced" to attend a delightful cast-party at which I hope I conveyed my sincere admiration for the individual and group efforts, and then the actor/critic Chuck Galle drove me all the way home --- allowing us to exchange countless backstage war-stories while attaching pleasant faces to e-mail addresses. Often, obviously, theatrical exigencies call forth unexpectedly delightful solutions!

30 April:
Mr. Godot couldn't come today, but promised to come tomorrow.
Actually, exactly one week before Lee VanderLaan had shown up for his computer-company job only to be summarily terminated by a Human Resources team that demanded all his keys and marched him past a desk he was not allowed to touch straight to the door. Sometimes the melodrama of modern life rivals Grand Guignole for vicious cruelty, so his concentration on family matters and job-search were perfectly understandable.

1 May:
Actually read the last hundred pages of Iris Murdoch's "An Accidental Man" the book I have been reading in subway-snatches on my way to and from plays for something like the past two months. It is --- as I almost always say about the one I've just finished --- her best novel. It's a hugely panoramic splash of interrelated characters whose lives (like my own) are continually surprised by unexpected quirks and turns. In recurring sections of letters, and in several parties characterized by swift series' of disembodied quotes, she seems to face off toe to toe with Virginia Woolf. Elsewhere, the fact that her day-job was teaching Philosophy at Oxford surfaces in discussions of how people can and must muddle past the fact that God obviously has ceased to exist. All in all a delightful, pithy, rewarding book I may try to re-read at some speedier leisure.

2 May:
Spent most of the day, while not fretting at my Mr. Godot's non-appearance, devouring Tim O'Brien's non-fiction memoir "If I Die in A Combat Zone" and relating it to the conversations over WBUR90.9fm of ex-Senator Bob Kerry's experiences in Vietnam. O'Brien ended his tour in the Pinkville area a year after Lieutenant Calley's exploits there --- in other words exactly when all of America learned of the My Lai massacre. (When I heard those same revelations, I had a black arm-band sewn to my jacket and wore it for a year. Lee, who lied about his birthday to get into that war and became an active Veteran Against War when he returned, must have had twinges of deja-had over this week's conversations as well.)

3 May:
What Day Is Today?
I have on the wall a lovely Art Calendar which decreed that "Thirty ONE days hath April" and my Dance-Card turned out to be a "Weekly Planner" without dates, so I had to write in those dates, trying to be careful that the last blank on each right-hand page was the TWO week-end dates. The concatenation of circumstances had me insist on the phone that "I'll come Tomorrow, which is WEDNESDAY, to review the Delvena production of ' 'Night, Mother' "
Somehow, I lost a day. Probably the fact that I have not had to role out of the sack at about 10:30 every morning to face the onslaught of theatrical e-mail to The Mirror left my life structureless. In any case, I blew it, big-time. Not only had to re-schedule Delvena for the next available Wednesday (whenever That is!), but I very carefully explained that we would be expected "Tomorrow at 8 p m" at the New Rep's "Moby Dick" press opening --- which happens not tomorrow night but on Friday the 4th.
Tonight, getting back to real-time, I did indeed present myself at The Community Church of Boston to experience Craig Houk's series of dramatic monologues "Desperately Aloof" --- which I shall cover in a Full Review as an act of faith in Lee's promise to come tomorrow and re-connect The Mirror to a new, cheaper, more reliable Provider.
Film at eleven.....

4 May:
It is at this moment 1 p m, and I'm waiting......

Love,
===Anon.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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