That Was The Week That Was --- 17 & 18 January '09"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


These Were The Fast-Forgotten Few

January 2010

"You CAN'T Lose Them All --- but the Red Sox are out there, every afternoon, ain't they!"

Plays Covered:

21 jan INDULGENCES New Repertory Theatre WATERTOWN 10
24 jan HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD Stoneham Theatre 13
28 jan GATZ Part II Elevator Repair Service LOEB DRAMA CENTER 14
31 jan HALF-MARRIED f.u.d.g.e Theatre Company NEW REP BLACK BOX 18

I don't often write reviews of plays I haven't liked. Such writing only gets the author hated by all the people who Did like a show --- and I speak from years of experience of seeing plays and then reading about them. I've stuck a lot of pins in "reviewer-dolls" in the past, sometimes in after-show conversation, sometimes in print. I see no sense in joining the crew who get their jollies by shooting fish that can't get away and can't ever fight back. I don't enjoy hating theater. I prefer to forget shows that didn't appeal to me --- though perhaps some thought about why I wasn't impressed might prove useful. So here are a few that had excellent productions by excellent designers and performers but nonetheless find themselves in my "forget-ory"; Maybe it's just me, but I wonder why?


Gip Hoppe is a wry, witty Democrat using humor to illuminate political problems. But he seems never to see a difference between a string of biting witticisms and a play that has a shape, or even a beginning-middle-end and a point. Satirizing affluent Republicans can be fun for a while, but when more-of-the-same leads less to insight than to been-there done-that, even I stop chuckling. (And I did vote for a Republican once; but I'll never do a stupid thing like that again!) The most painful part of the evening was watching Julie Perkins and Will Lebow try to stay funny for an hour without a shred of characterization or structure provided by the script.

21 jan INDULGENCES New Repertory Theatre WATERTOWN 10

When I first got to Cambridge (1958) several undergrad-written plays seemed set "In The Void" --- where Chris Craddock apparently set his tennis-without-a-net show. Peter Colao filled the big New Rep stage with beautifully sketched flat black-and-white columns and arches, and either he or propsman Jarred Bray found restaurant tables and chairs that looked blown out of pure glass. Beautiful! Then the play started, and every few minutes I kept asking myself again, "But why does...?" My questions remained unanswered.

Why is a modern industrialist twinned with a Renaissance king? Why are assassins named after the princes Fleance and Donalbain from "Macbeth"? Why is a major figure in modern dress an indulgence-salesman, promising a few fewer centuries in Purgatory (for a price)? Why does the voice of God (a minor role) come not out of The Whirlwind but mewling and whining out of a follow-spot? And why did New Rep's new Artistic Director Kate Warner decide to re-mount this bewildering show here, now? The cast had fun doing it, but what was the audience supposed to draw from it all, except perplexities?

24 jan HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD Stoneham Theatre 13

I'm not a fan of any sport but tennis, and know nearly nothing about hockey, except the old parody "A bit of hockey broke out during the fights on the ice last night at the Boston Garden". For this production, Jenna McFarland Lord reproduced the Stoneham Arena on the Stoneham Theatre stage, and citizens who knew much more about the game must have been the intended audience. As in SLAPSHOT (which I think is a classic movie) Michael Melski's play dealt less with the game than the violence.

Teddy, the divorced ex-coach played by Gabriel Kuttner, was a loud inciter demanding "back in the corners, I expect to see you throwin' "elbow sammiches" in all directions! That's how you win in hockey!" He believed learning to give as hard as they got during games would encourage players to walk tall and take no guff off the ice. The equally divorced Donna, cheering "The Leafs" on with less blood-lust, occasionally reminded her bench-mate "They're only TEN!" and observed that she stayed with her violently-abusive ex for years. Her hesitant reluctance to respond to direct and rather ham-handed wooing from this advocate of "toughness" --- and her ultimate capitulation --- was melodramatically predictable, and since the playwright never allowed "The Leafs" to win even a single game, nor apparently even to score except by accident, there was very little to surprise a non-hockey, non-Stoneham audience. Everything seemed to me to happen because, well, the plot demanded it. I didn't even think the characters --- played by married actors newly parents --- were headed for "happily ever after" with all that old freight to neglect. But, really, what do I know about hockey fans?

28 jan GATZ Part II Elevator Repair Service LOEB DRAMA CENTER 14

I was told I fell asleep during this show. I did, but I regret not sleeping more.
I've also been told that, even if I had seen Part I of this exercise, I wouldn't know why the scene was a cluttered, sleazy, dusty junk-shop of an office, nor why someone was reading Fitzgerald's novel out loud in a deliberately non-dramatic monotone. I wondered why people (other employees?) mouthed character's quotes, and why they did so in such a way as to de-personalize and degrade those speakers. I never saw anything done by anyone that added to or even illuminated anything in the text itself. And I could have slept more fruitfully at home.

I don't think it was that I came to this show while still reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Ernest Hemingway's FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. I do like THE GREAT GATSBY. I've read it several times and intend to do so again. It's not as big nor ambitious nor complicated as his other masterpiece TENDER IS THE NIGHT, but neither is it as "young" and misshapen as THIS SIDE OF PARADISE nor as hap-hazardly experimental (read "badly edited") as THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED nor as tragically unfinished as THE LAST TYCOON. But, since whenever I read anything I "hear" it, and since I think Papa Hemingstein wrote only one bad book [*] while Scott wrote only two good ones, I still wonder why this New York crew of largely inept actors were invited to the Loeb Drama Center to re-invigorate the A.R.T.; and I still wonder why some of the people I watched sitting rapt and silent throughout the performance --- little that took place on-stage distracted me from observing the audience --- sprang to their feet at the curtain-call. They interrupted my nap.
* [ ACROSS THE RIVER AND INTO THE TREES; I consider THE TORRENTS OF SPRING a bad joke, not a serious novel at all. ]

31 jan HALF-MARRIED f.u.d.g.e. Theatre Company NEW REP BLACK BOX 18

I don't know why it occured to Charles Antin & Ryan Cunningham to re-invent early Neil Simon, but if they're serious they have a lot of work to do. Their game started by inventing two couples whose only mode of communication is bickering and argument. Each of the four are too insecure to Ever back down, so they try to settle everything by playing a game, and then cheat. The "more mature" pair are married with a hyper-protected new infant son; the younger are spending their first night shacked-up ("Half-Married") together --- but she's a week late and won't take a pregnancy-test till next morning. The playwrights suggest these kids have been out of college several years; I came away thinking "I didn't know New York State let people marry at fourteen!" All four are to be Laughed At, not With; each character is tissue-paper thin, they rarely realize they're being obviously assinine, and they never learn and never change, ever. Every one of their intense arguments consist of quick, short, dogmatic, shouted sentences that always wind down into "'Tis not/'Tis TOO!" deadlocks; and the repetitions of this repetitiousness is simply boring.

The problem here is that f.u.d.g.e. is a good fringe-company with a good though spotty track-record. They did two musicals --- "bare" and "Nevermore" --- in this same Black Box space of which any company could be proud, and others that came close. Antin & Cunningham had the right idea when offering their new play to this talented group; but the company probably should have turned them down.

But if you can get to their suburban revival of "Nevermore" it will wash the taste of Neil Simon out of your mouth. And the fudge that the f.u.d.g.e. Theatre Company makes, and sells in the act-breaks, is addictive. Try some whenever you can.

Break a leg all!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide