That Was The Week That Was, 11 - 17 November 2004"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was
The WeeK
That Was

11 - 17 November '04

3:40 a m "Wednesday" 18 November

Unlike the people who do the "Jazz All Night" show on WGBHfm, who begin referring to their Next show as "tonight" after midnight, I am of the firm belief that "It's Not 'TOMORROW' until you Wake Up In It!"
And I can say that Thursday through Wednesday constitutes a week, can't I?
And What A Week!

11 nov BELLA DONNA Devanaughn Theatre 113
12 nov SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE The Concord Players 114
XIII ***
13 nov PERMANENT COLLECTION The New Repertory Company 115
14 nov SPELL 7 Company One BCA
15 nov a m [ "BRING A FRIEND SUNDAY" Arlington Street Unitarian Church ]
16 nov [ A STATE OF GRACE (Reading) Underground Railway CAMB> YMCA ]
17 nov MACBETH Shakespeare Now! TOWER AUDITORIUM 117

[ ***This keeps track of Reality for me; I do note non-"Show" stuff, like Readings or the StageSource Town Meetings and Annual Party; however I also keep a Hard Count of "Shows" --- i.e. fully-staged productions with respectably long runs before usually Paying audiences. That's why, though I've been other places (like August Wilson's lecture), I can now tell people "I've seen a hundred and seventeen shows Since January" honestly. (I've said all this before, haven't I? Never Mind.....) ]

12 nov SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE The Concord Players
I reviewed this, and have nothing more to say except...

11 nov BELLA DONNA Devanaughn Theatre
This was reviewed by Susan Daniels and Carl A. Rossi and I disagree with both of them.
[ I've been disagreeing a lot lately; am I finally getting to my crotchetty-crabby old-age years? Hell, I Hope Not! ]
Susan saw the show on a bad night, while I did on a better one, and thus I wondered why --- unless she'd seen a previous production or had read the text --- why she praised it so highly. In my mind, these succinct scenes separated in time (and requiring substantial changes in sets and props and even some costumes) would be much happier on film or taped for t-v, where passage of time could be handled in knife-clean cuts or fades. It's a credit to the company that the actor/stagehands handled this as well as they did.
I must also add that two of the characters are close-to-death 3rd-degree-burn victims, and Director Rose Carlson had the intimate insight to have these two actors CARRIED off-stage and then on during the black-outs framing the act-break, because though the Actors could, those Characters could not walk!
Then again, there were to my ear accent problems. One of the Americans was [ Is, I mean; the show's not closed yet ] a New York Italian whose "r's" came out with a stage-fake "oi" --- which may be in the script. [It's not "JOIsey" it's "JEYsey". Ask Graucho Marx. ]
I think both of them were reviewing what the play Could Be rather than what it was. The two "AREish" it seemed to me turned in good "StEIGe-OIrish" speech. But then, though Ae do'n't-kno'w Sligo, all the Belfasters on the radio inflected every sentence as a question? The'r loik Valley Girrls wit' a Brogue, beDad? Drives me batty it does? And yet the night I was there the Nun runnin the hospital kep' swallern' all the ends of her lines 'sted o' Pointin' em Up at t' end?
Still, I must say that since the complaints Susan had on first night were missing when I got there, the performance must be improving every night. I think when everyone settles deep into their parts as to Become these people, it will, maybe has, become the interactive whole that improves its parts.
At the heart of the play is a metaphor: The excellent doctor who only happens to be an Army Air Force Major plays Jazz and Mozart on a clarinet (well-mimed enough to look, though not sound, real). He says he likes fitting himself to the old straight-jacket of Classical notes, the desire to get them out, expressively, as they have always been played. But Jazz is Freedom, freedom to be yourself, to make it new, to play your Own notes. That, the playwright says, is the difference between the traditional ways of old Sligo and the make-it-new Americans. And, of course, at the fulcrum of the play is what they eventually admit is a wartime-fling, a luminously realized love of a Sligo lass for an American doctor that will not, tragically, change anything for either of them ... because it's wartime.
I have no doubt that the play this week will be better than the one any of its critics saw.
Theater is like that, isn't it?

15 nov [ A STATE OF GRACE (Reading) Underground Railway) YMCA ]
This was a one-night reading, a sort of "backers' audition" of a work-in-progress re-telling many of the stories of Grace Paley. In the style of the ever-portable Underground Railway Theatre it involves interchanges of a "writer" in her kitchen with dozens of puppets --- characters she wants to write about --- popping out of drawers and cupboards and stoves and sinks into the writer's mind. There was an SRO crowd in the Cambridge YWCA-space, many of them theater-makers, many of them with money, or controlling grants; and I can only hope the potential of what they saw unlocks their generosity enough to let it happen.
The "critical input" here, in the talk-back after, the private conversations and notes, will be sifted through the open minds of the playmakers here as this play grows up. I count myself lucky to have seen these first toddling steps.

13 nov PERMANENT COLLECTION The New Repertory Company
This is a teaching-play, personifying the unthought racist minds inside two skin-colors, arguing. Beverly Creasey's review mentions Thomas Gibbons’ similar play "Bee Luther Hatchee"; I'd like to add a reference to "The Exhibition" --- a sprawling, farcical send-up of people's various reactions to art (a play that might best be performed in a real museum!). This newer play combines both the playwright's interests. As Beverly's review illustrates, this is a play designed to make people come away from it thinking --- something all too rare in today's entertainment-oriented theater.
But let me comment here on what I see as a habit Thomas Gibbons might think about:
Both in this and in "Bee Luther Hatchee" Gibbons tosses into the racial conflict a sort of final-arbiter who could yet won't say the sooth. In BLH it is the Black woman whose letters a White male used to write a best-selling "non-fiction" book about her Black life, using her as a pseudonym to get the book published. Here it is the uppity millionaire who built a museum for his art collection and then demanded that, after death, nothing in the collection change. In each case they impinge on the Black/White conflict, but in neither case offer any clarifying insights.
Of course at The New Rep, that caustic ghost still haunting (unseen) his precious paintings, is played by Paul D. Farwell --- an Equity workman of unflinching integrity using his stage- and his life-experience and the power of his talent to lay in a subtext under every word he utters --- or doesn't. Farwell, silent on stage, speaks volumes. (We should find a vehicle that would let him star someday, shouldn't we?)

15 nov a m [ "BRING A FRIEND SUNDAY" Arlington Street Unitarian Church ]
I was awakened (TWICE!) at least an hour before alarm-clock-time this week. On Sunday it was for a service where neither the Tiffany glass windows or the communion with hundreds of unashamedly Liberal minds --- many of them Militantly and Actively so --- much affected the stony barren-ground of my mind about such things. I have become, for myself, a militantly anti-Christian Atheist, though I admit to having one god --- and I can have no other gods before him. His name is Thespis, and I worship in his temples two to four nights a week. His socks and his buskins, they comfort me. And for my faithful service he rewards me with things like those talked about below:

17 nov a m MACBETH Shakespeare Now! TOWER AUDITORIUM
Probably this is the best damn "Scottish Play" I have ever seen --- and that line stretches back from Kelcy Grammer's to Siobhan McKenna and Jason Robards Jr. in the original tent on the banks of The Charles where Ye Publick Theatre still keeps the flame.
Certainly Stephanie Clayman's is The Best, the most human, the most articulate, the feistiest Lady M. I have ever seen, quite a match for Barry Abramowitz' lusty tyrant and the prick of his ambition when it falters. They are always the center of the action that Director Daniel Gidron moves swiftly and deftly through the two hours' traffic of this stage --- and despite an SRO house of flu-hacking sex-obsessed adolescents this 11-member cast came through clearly and movingly through throats naked of any electronic enhancement! Praise Thespis!
I will add one note to Carl Rossi's review --- short, as this shortest of Shakespeare's tragedies, thought it be. Here you may see a Duncan that Chuck Schwager plays as a good, benevolent monarch for whom others willingly fight, with Spencer S. Christie's Crown-Prince Malcolm, at play's end, ready to heal up the scar of Macbeth's tyrannies with another dose of good, honest kingmanship.
Isn't it a pity one must brave the crack of Dawn to take it in --- and endure the semi-respectful short attention spans of a generation of groundlings promised "Candy --- with Shakespeare added!" by their mentors? Nay the less, brave people already out of their teens may bribe their way in. It is, after all
Pound for pound, probably the best damn "Macbeth" I've seen in ages.

14 nov SPELL 7 Company One BCA ****[Good News!]
My one regret is that since I saw this show on its closing night my words cannot urge more people to fill Company One's many empty seats. Why is it such good work goes unattended in this city so achingly in need of it?
I had another phrase-maker critic tell me, just before I saw this show, that "It's not up to her 'For Colored Girls...', at least to my mind," and since I hadn't seen it I couldn't disagree. But now I want to shout "That is a Dirty Black Protestant LIE***, Sir! This Light-Years ahead of that brilliant show!" [ *** This mouth-filling line was supposedly shouted from the back of the Abbey Theatre at the young actor Orson Welles, so after I shout it I like to explain "I was speaking Hermetically! ! !" Adjust to it... ]
Imagine being taught Women's Studies or African American Studies down in Gainesville's University of Florida by Professor Ntozake Shange! This is a lady re-Creates language. There is a textbook buried in every sentence here, in every word. (You think you know what "Word" means? Do You? Mister Jones?)
At the start of this play a Black magician appears, intent on giving everyone the experience of ---keep your eye on them, the hand is quicker than the words --- Black magic. My magic can't make you White, she explains, but it can do better: It can make you Colored --- and aware that That Is Good!
And suddenly the play simply Explodes! There is wildly gyrating, high-steppin, high-kickin' dance spilling all about the stage, words geysering into the air from mouth to mouth so furious-fast they set up a jagged, jazzy rhythm of their own as the cast sweeps on to a bar run by an owner bar-tender poet proud that actors come there, Black actors sharing dreams and sorrows. ("I got offered another damn 'Whore' part again today." "Gonna take it?' "Hell yes! Gotsta Eat, don't I?") ("If I hear one more White director tell me to 'Act more Black' I may jes DO IT, even if I never work in this town again!") There is no "center" here, ever, always something else happening out of the corner of your eye, while the language dances and slithers into patterns unpredictable, pithy-powerful, mind-opening, always tumbling on so fast from so many mouths the mind cannot take it all in --- like this parahraph of onrushing eyedeas too much in a rush to stay grammatical.
Then, in the center ring comes the story of a woman wants a baby she can call "Myself" and still among the scintillations of asides and commentary everywhere she mimes, alone, her actions, for she knows what's fuckin's for, grosses big with child and tucking knees to chin and pushing through pain to ecstacy learns that "Myself" is a scrawny, needful Black thing she only wants to escape from.
The honest language and the raw truths offended some audience, who could not return for act two, which slowed at times to a linear story-pace, sharing incident and experience and fact, telling why Black people wear Gold, admitting Different yet insisting
Your Colored --- and That's Good!
I couldn't begin to scratch even a scratch of the surface of this explosive explosion of a play even now inviting me to kick out the jams and Sing! For this crew of glorious actors this must have felt like a chance, at long last, to improve their way deep down to truths about themselves and Boogie!
And for everyone in that audience it will be a chance to crow, as I do:
"I was THERE Man!
Where the hell were YOU?"

[ **** From: "Jackie Davis"
Subject: Spell #7
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 2004 15:23:14 -0500

Hello Larry! I just read your week that was, regarding Spell, and thanks for your great comments, however, Sunday 14th was not our last show! We close Saturday, November 20 so there's still time to fill the house!
Jacqueline M. Davis, Executive Assistant
Roxbury Multi-Service Center 9:51 a m
( a k a larry stark )

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