That Was The Week That Was, 19 - 27 November 2004"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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That Was
The WeeK
That Was

19 - 28 November '04

19 nov THE VALUE OF NAMES Theatre Cooperative PEABODY HOUSE 118
20 nov [ Talk-Back JEFFREY SWEET Theatre Cooperative ]
21 nov SCOTLAND ROAD Hovey Players ABBOTT MEMORIAL THEATRE 119
21 nov [ TALK-WITH @ Hovey Players ]
22 nov [ BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE ] 26 nov JOHNNY GUITAR SpeakEasy Stage Co BCA 120
28 nov FULLY COMMITTED Lyric Stage of Boston 121

INTRO:
This going to be a chaotic sprawl written over some days, because a lot of things are on my mind.
Adjust to it, friends!

Okay, I've done reviews of both "The Value of Names" and "Scotland Road" and shouldn't comment further. But I will. The "Talk-back" with Jeffrey Sweet who wrote "The Value of Names" --- which I will go into in detail later --- contrasted the play with all the research that Sweet had Not put into his play, so they are intertwined. I'll cover that later.

I think my review of "Scotland Road", however, is thin and pallid compared to the excellence of the show. I don't think I had seen enough shows that Lissi Engvall had direced, and so I was a little unprepared for the power and solidity of her work here.
Lissi is now a smiling woman with a cloud of porcelain-white hair and delicately pale skin who should be starting a whole second career as a photographer's model; her face would be perfect on magazine covers and in ads pointed toward ... well, toward people my age. She has always seemed quiet, and gentle, and in no way connected with this explosion of a play.
But then, if as some directors aver half the work is casting the right actors, Lissi already had a winner the first and only night of auditions. Wayne Vargas only needed to grow a bigger mustache and learn the lines to bring his character alive, and Leigh Berry, unresponsively silent during half the play, had the entire audience wondering "When is she going to Say Something!"
There is, I hear, an art to the building of suspense!
I got to the theatre late, but after everything the crew re-played the opening slide-show Just For Me! And it was unearthly ... the perfect introduction to this play.

26 nov JOHNNY GUITAR SpeakEasy Stage Company BCA

Director Paul Daigneault set out to be funny.
He needed a rest from dramatical far. ...er, fare!
He searched and he searched and his search come up sunny:
A wester-in send-up called "JUNNY Guitar"!

This little show is a hoot! There isn't a serious bone in its entire body.
Its plot [and many of its silliest lines] come from a cult-classic --- a big-budget Serious Studio Movie especially written for that famous western star ... Joan Crawford!?!?!
For that part (The Lady Known as "Vienna") Daigneault cast Kathy St. George who, like the original Diva, is ... well, let's say she's not quite as Tall as I am, though the title-role is played by Christopher Chew, who is (in the words from the script) is "A lotta man in them boots, stranger!" The mismatched heights make the love-scenes a little awkward --- again, probably mirroring the odd original.
But Vienna's black-hearted rival Emma the banker is played by Margaret Ann Brady, who matches St. George in the height dept. --- which spices up the final shoot-out when they both reach for the gun-the-gun which, in true Western Tradition turns out to be a Colt .45 twentysix-shooter.
Both these ladies turn out to be flawed Frontier women jockeying for power-positions when The Railroad comes through town, dallying (or trying to dally) with temporary affaires while waiting for a One True Love to roll into town again like the sagebrush. But while Brady sticks with basic Villainess-black, Gail Astrid Buckley's costumes for St. George start with sprayed-on jeans but get progressively frillier and wife-ly-er --- until the final shoot-out scenes --- which suggest either that she has redeeming social values, or that she's the Star the original show was written around.
And I must say I never thought of Margaret Ann --- with her razor-sharp comic timing --- as the cavorting type, but cavort she does! And Chris Chew gets to uncork one of those West Texas ballads full of pathos, passion, and pig-headed bravado, backed by a do-wop western trio (well, it was a quartet till that unfortunate slip with the six-gun...).
In other words the cast --- including J.T.Turner as the crooked Sherrif, Timothy J. Smith as The Dancin' Kid, Luke Hawkins as young Turkey, and Drew Polling and Christopher Robin Cook and John Porcaro playing Bart, Tom, Carl, Sam, Ned, Eddie, Jenks, Bill, Hank, The Quartet AND The Trio --- pose and posture and sneer their way through a frothy spoof that can only be called An Exercize in Style!

Actually, in addition to this show, I tried to buy a ticket to see "Sonia Flew" in the balconied main-stage at the BCA's Calderwood Pavillion, but it's last performances were sold out; good news for them, bad for me --- I've never made it into that big new theatre yet.
However, in the act-break I did talk briefly with two of the permanent staff for the theatre --- self-styled pieces of the new theatres' structure --- who ushered us to our seats. I neglected to ask names, but one is a smiling somewhat oriental lady, and the other I can only describe as An Elf. Their job is to make the audience's stay as pleasantly problem-free as possible, which they accomplish with honest interest and sincere concern. And they coonstitute only one detail of the overall "Calderwood experience" --- an experience already turning what some thought of as a "gentrification of the BCA" into a seamless delight.

Then AFTER the show, I stuck around to ask Christopher Chew about this line in his bio:
"Chris is Co-Artistic Director of The Village Theatre Project, a new professional ensemble theatre."
The "Village" it turns out is not in Downtown NYC, but in Canton, Mass.
The aim is to collect together An Ensemble of Actors willing enough to work together for a three or four play season, and taking administrative roles whenever necessary. Chew thinks the time is ripe for expanding the Boston theatrical sphere beyong Route 128 --- and an artistically-aware suburban crowd living between Canton and Sturbridge don't have a resident local theatre to go to.
It's working in Stoneham, isn't it? Why Not!
Film At Eleven.......
Stay Tuned!

28 nov FULLY COMMITTED Lyric Stage of Boston 121

Act one of Becky Mode's tour-de-force script is an extended comedy-act sowing seeds that blossom into a genuine play only in act two. And in both, John Kuntz is what makes the show work,
He plays the-man-in-the-middle --- in this case the second-string reservations-clerk at the nerve-center of a famous up-scale New York restaurant. It is early December and every table has already been reserved through the end of February. Sam sits, wondering where the Head reservations-clerk is, taking phone calls from people who see him as the soft, vulnerable cog in the system that either can get them a table if they scream loud enough, or is wilfully ruining their lives by withholding one. But a big red intercom-buzzer delivers the Head Chef's conflicting and impossible orders ("We're not 'full up' we're "fully committed'!" and "No caller waits longer than Two Rings, right?!") while the rest of the busy staff give no help at all.
The script has Sam deliver, and act out, every conversation that comes over phone or intercom. This is a snap for Kuntz, whose body nor face have any bones whatever (he has played a dozen different characters in a murder-mystery in ten minutes in The Boston Marathon, after all). However, Becky Mode's script turns every one of the forty-odd phoners into two-sentence Tics that Kuntz can handle but which strait-jacket his gift for dialogues with himself. Too few of the ego's who torment him from both sides of the system are on the phone long enough to become anything but a new pose/new voice.
Sitting in the still point of this churning wheel, however, is the real John Kuntz --- a put-upon, genuinely caring, helpful individual trying to keep everyone happy.
All the quaint and quirky tormenters of act one get, in act two, exactly what they deserve --- including Sam. And that's why coming back after the act-break is ever so much more satisfying than seems possible in the flurry of that cruel first act.

Kuntz' bio in the program is staggeringly long, citing six produced plays, movie and stage roles (including Richard III a month or two back), Elliot Norton and IRNE Awards, "pursuing a Masters in Playwriting at B.U." and "teaching Solo Performance at Emerson"! And all that by someone who off-stage looks a fresh-face twenty-two and looks everyone directly in the eye and responds sincerely and unaffectedly to every comment.
Someone sitting with me at Sunday afternoon's performance speculated that, in order to fulfill his potential, John should make a name by doing a television sit-com. I think that would be hell for him, though --- playing the same role every week in someone else's scripts for three rat-race years? I hope not. It would be a cage to his creativity.
Some years back I saw him in a small production of "Taming of The Shrew"; he played Petruchio's Servant, and didn't merely describe the raucous goings-on of the newly married squabblers, but acted them out as he spoke. Suddenly it was a case of "Starring John Kuntz in a minor role!"
I don't think any fame that any t-v role could give would be worth clipping his growing wings to fit a sit-com. He's still a kid, after all...

20 nov [ Talk-Back JEFFREY SWEET Theatre Cooperative ]
What do you do when the playwright himself tells you --- even though in subtext, but still.. --- that your take on his play was Completely the Reverse of what he had in mind?
Mr. Sweet gave a performance every bit as rewarding as the performance of "The Value of Names" that preceeded it. He quoted a whole raft of conversations and observations about the Hollywood Blacklist days (most of which were new to me) that were relevant to the play --- material he had carefully avoided cramming into his text. His talk was a beautiful textbook on how he writes plays:
He said he nearly deified Elia Kazan as a genius director doing landmark classic work both on the stage and the screen, and felt personally betrayed when he found out that when push came to shove Kazan "had been a stoolie." Then he found out that "In interviews or at parties, if no one brought up his naming names of fellow-travellers, Kazan brought it up himself." And he emphasized a fact that never fully impressed itself on me: that the House UnAmerican Activities Committee had Already KNOWN The Names they demanded people "reveal"! That made naming-names a ritual of confession ("I done bad but I ain't gonna do it no more!"), a public auto-da-fe, an exercize in politics as theater.
In his play a Kazan like-a-look asks a former actor-friend to put his thirty years of exile from his craft behind them, and is, coldly and hotly, refused.
And I empathized wholly with the actor; I took sides.
Sweet insisted that BOTH were mired in the past, but the ageing actor had so let his anger rule his life as to have no life left --- even to the point of disdaining his daughter's accepting as director of her breakthrough-play that very same hated nemesis.
The play runs another two week-ends, so you can see it yourself and decide whether my review or the playwright's opinion --- or your own! --- is the correct one.

21 nov [ TALK-WITH @ Hovey Players ]

Date: Sat, 20 Nov 2004 11:28:55 -0800 (PST)
From: The Theatre Cooperative thetheatrecooperative@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: Talk-With?????
Hi Larry,
Thanks for the offer of a session with you. We don't have any week-night shows, but perhaps we could work something out. I'd like to hear how things went at Hovey first.
We'll talk,
Lesley [Chapman]

Since I seem to have been doing Anything But Writing This Entry, I must confess I have No Idea "how things went".
I mean, have you ever asked an actor, right after final curtain "Well, how did it go?"
The performers are the Last People to KNOW "how it went"! And I should probably quote here from a dirty-story of mine. After their first session of pictures, the new photograpoher's model asks:
"How was I?"
"Lousy, actually, but I expected that," Alex said matter-of- factly.
And, since I am, really, new at this, I think "Lousy, actually, but I expected that" is exactly my opinion of my performance! [IF YOU WERE THERE, E-MAIL ME A BACK-FEED!!! please?] No one Except the Hovey and The Theatre Cooperative have made any response to my offer so far (Yes, I will contact a few of you Directly by e-mail SOON), and I suppose I expected that, too. But I'm going to make a peast of myself and see if I can't arrange to meet more of the "Mere theatre Lovers" in the audience this way.
At Hovey I think the really interesting question I tried to answer was "Why did Broadway try-outs stop coming to Boston?" It's a good idea to speculate on, and my one flip answer ["Kevin Kelly!"] was one no one picked up on. If this does happen at more theatres more often, I may ask my friend who sells tickets to come and give a brief version of HIS answer to that very question.
Film at eleven......

22 nov [ BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE ]
Actually, that very Friend Who Sells Tickets bought me an exquisite fish dinner and then at his place he ran this DVD for me and another old friend of ours. It's a film, really, that never found a commercial distributor for a run in moviehouses. But here's how to get a copy of your own
[ http://www.broadwaythegoldenage.com/home.htm ]

The man must have interviewed Very Famous People for hours, and then put together sometimes Significant Sentences from one or several people on various subjects.
There's an incisive nostalgia for the vigor and variety and vitality that was alive in American theater at the time --- and, yes, a pang of regret about what might be termed the "drossification" of that gilded filligree. A lot of the people who talk are my age or older --- but unlike me they all Made Plays all their lives and therefore when they talk I pay attention. And the editor sees to it that I learn things all the time.
I'm told there was a PBS Special on the subject; the two people I was with insist that it couldn't possibly compare to this survey of the same ground. If you saw that, see this. And I'll rashly promise:
If you liked that one better than this one, I'll buy this DVD from you and give it to a friend.
That URL again is:
[ http://www.broadwaythegoldenage.com/home.htm ]

Sorry this is so long. Thank you for your patience!

Love,
===Anon.


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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