Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "The Lost Week-End"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Friday - Monday, 16 - 19 April, 1999: The Lost Plays

No, I wasn't hiding brandy bottles in my chandelier, but it is a peculiar page in my dance-card. Of the plays I had pencilled in and expected to see, I didn't see SpeakEasy's "Three Days of Rain" or Le Black Kat's "Fen" open on Thursday, I didn't see TheatreZone's "How I Learned To Drive" open on Friday, and I didn't get to see the forty ten-minute plays that the Theatre Marathon put on Sunday. Still, I saw three plays and met an old friend for the first time. Let's start with Friday:

I have to have a dance-card --- okay, a "Pocket Pal" date-book a friend gave me last Christmas --- because there is so much theater I'd like to see and that I'm invited to see that sometimes there are two or three shows I expected to see all on the Same Night. And I hardly ever think ahead more than a few days or a week, so a written record is important for the future, and as important in remembering when I saw what. In this case I had heard of "Talking It Over: Tales of Loaves And Love" weeks before, but forgot to write it in, hence the scrambling to reschedule.

To see it I had to go to church. To Trinity Church, where Nancy Rockwell's chancel drama was prey to technical horrors, like no rake to the pews, wretched sight-lines, endlesslessless echoesoesoes, mikes and disembodied speakers --- and no serious conflict in the writing.

But I didn't go for the play. I went to meet a delightful lady named Rosann Hickey, who has been an invaluable personal friend of mine throughout most of the life of The Theater Mirror via e-mail. She came in from Vermont to play one of nine women out of the Bible talking about bread, and was overjoyed when the church could find only eight body-mikes and she could use her own voice. (I didn't hear any difference!)

She is indeed the same person who enlivened The Mirror with her backstage diary, and we talked one another's ears off after the show and would have gone on for days if there hadn't been a cast-party. Rosann is a teacher, and her students are the luckiest kids in Vermont. I hope she gets back to The Big City sometime soon.

My view of that "chancel drama" suffers by comparison to one of the two shows I saw the next day --- "..And Truth" by Mary Stanford. It and "The Bug" by Julie Christine Phillips were given full productions in the Eighth Annual Playwrights' Festival an Emerson's 69 Brimmer Street Loft and Studio theatres. These scripts were as different as day and night --- a big-city comedy and a mystical drama --- yet both of them were bright, original ideas, and were written in fresh, contemporary speech. I saw one at four, the other at eight, and treated myself to a dinner at Remington's between. It was the kind of day and the kind of plays that made me notice it was Spring.

When Mary Stanford's play began with a sort of choral-reading of Bible passages I immediately thought "I should tell her that the minister over at Trinity said he wanted to do more chancel dramas." Once the plot started, I had to revise my thinking!

"..And Truth" is a play about Incarnation --- specifically, about a second coming of Christ, born as a Central American teacher named Manuel, whose 11-year-old cousin has a vision of the Virgin that excites riots and attracts media attention. However, speaking quietly to a spotlight, Manny pleads with His Father that, this time, He'd rather fall in love, get married, raise a family, and die in bed of old age. Meeting an American doctor running a clinic named Maggie He does exactly that, at least for three days
Michael appears trying to make him fulfill His Father's plan; he's dressed as a Guardian Angel --- not flowing robes, or shining armor, but the black Ike-jacket, enamel pins, and red beret of the volunteer subway brigade.
Satan appears --- sent by His Father --- to sow doubts in Maggie's mind about the big secret Manny says she isn't ready to believe, and consoling her doubts he seduces her, only to find out he's fallen in love with her himself.
The local army head of security tries to beat out of Manny's cousin ("Saint Juanita") the message she received from the Virgin, and she dies, only to re-enter clothed in light to tell Manny that what she had learned was --- a foretelling of the story so far, and the fact that all this will now convince Manuel to do His Father's will. And a final choral reading from Scripture closes the play.
Quite a lot for a first-time playwright graduating this year isn't it, and I've only scratched the surface of the conflicts involved. The wonderful thing about the script, though, was that everybody spoke as comfortably contemporary, humanly intelligent, with-it people all --- well maybe with the exception of poor Maggie --- dealing in direct, serious terms with their dilemmas. Not a holier-than-thou pretense anywhere, though all of them were concerned with the most unbelievable miracles No wonder Maggie thought Someone must be crazy.

And the acting was magnificent. I ran into actors later watching the other play (and one on the streets of Cambridge days later) and just had to tell them that. But the hush of rapt attention shattered by repeated bursts of laughter or occasional snuffles from the audience must have told them better than I ever could. They had made me believe, not only in Divine love, but in True love, and the difficulties involved in uniting both

I sat behind the playwright, along with Jeff Gardiner (a designer and sometimes one-man set-building crew) Dorothy Brodesser (a successful professional actress) and Fran Weinberg the director of "..And Truth." After the show the playwright was mumbling about re-writes, the designer was thinking of other sets, and the actress was trying to console the director about one or two light-cues that were a split-second off. But they are professionals. All I could do was wipe away the tears, and smile.

Down in the in-the-round Studio, Julie Christine Phillipps' "The Bug" was, as I said, an exact opposite --- save in the quality of the acting, directing, and the writing. In this screwball comedy the basic motor was a total failure to communicate, plus outlandishly exaggerated ego-types for characters.

The guy here never gets past a second date because he's such a self-effacing schnook --- though his latest attempt at romance is with a non-stop discusser of me-me-me. Oddly enough the girl living under his bedroom is always asking him in for sympathetic tea, and convincing her Astrology seminar that, any minute now, he'll recognize her as the girl of his dreams.

Then, at the end of the first act, he falls in love with a talking bug.

Yeah. A beetle in his date's salad catches his eye, and grows by stages into first a hand-puppet and then a girl in a bug-suit --- wing-cases and an extra set of black spindly legs and all --- and he's so smitten he starts classes to better his job and his life, takes her (instead of either other girl) dining and dancing, and even proposes.

Did I mention this is a hilarious comedy?

A cast of five quick-changed into about eight or ten different roles. The script called for several direct speeches to the audience, and more than one spate of simultaneous speaking, plus uninhibited parodies of Astaire-Rogers terpsichery, and perverse unwillingness to let the course of true love ever run smooth. The satirical dialogue rattled on at express-train speed further exaggerating every character's faults, and keeping the escalations in surreal romance well away from any rational thought.

I think I learned from this day's experience of both sides of the theatrical coin that it takes three things for a show to work: you need an exciting script, fearless actors, and a great director. And these shows had all three.

I collapsed into bed too tired to write anything and bounced out of bed at an unaccustomed hour to fling myself into shave and shower and clothes (and only Then remembered the toothbrushing) and even snatched some baby-carrots and a bagel for lunch, headed for the First Annual Theatre Marathon, feeling just a little smug that my lead was going to be "As of last night I had only seen 43 plays since January, but tonight I've seen EIGHTY-three!" But, as I lurched toward the door I reflected that marathons are always on Monday, aren't they? And so I checked, and sure enough the GLOBE Calendar said it would be on the 18th, and my computer-calendar said it was the 17th, and so I went to Back Bay station to buy the New York TIMES (Sundays I read Scripture, but they don't sell it at the local newsstand) and wallowed in it till way past midnight.

Once again I ran bluggy-eyed through that obscenely early ritual and managed to get to The Playwright's Theatre only minutes before noon --- and was told I was exactly 24 hours too late. (My computer told me, just now, that it's still Sunday, 25 April, and it's 9:46 a m. It is Tuesday, 27 April, eight minutes to midnight, and Y2K came early this year)

I don't think it's Alzheimer's, but at my age, you never know.

I don't think it's Alzheimer's, but at my age, you nev... well, never mind.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide