That Was The Week That Was, 20 - 27 June 2004"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


That Was
The Week
That Was

20 - 27 June '04

The lady who was supposed to share my "ring-side" table at FOREVER PLAID carried a celophaned bouquet, so I knew she knew someone in the cast, but she "made a pit-stop" only moments before the house-lights dimmed and found an empty seat farther back from the stage. Thus I didn't learn till after the show she was Miguel Cervantes' mother, in from Dallas to watch her son cavort in this thoroughly tongue-in-cheek romp. Miguel was in on the making of this production from its original concept, and the shameless send-up of pre-Beatles "guy groups" and their overly choreographed close-harmony bathos hit me differently on two levels.
On the one hand, Miguel and Jonathan Goldberg at the piano and everyone else involved enjoy the satire, and the shtick laid on with a broad trowel is guffaw-good. I mean, at one point the tight quartet split into pairs to make an exaggerated swoop of heads to stare at one another when they sing the line "...When summer TURNS to autumn... "! The juvenile pretension and inane movements, the two-minute parody of The Ed Sullivan Show's panoply of acts, and the MAD Magazine flavor is perfectly suited to the Hotel Radisson bar they're playing in.
On the other hand, the songs --- from the era when Perry Como was king of television --- crawl out of the middle-late '50s --- i.e.: My Youth. I got out of South River (NJ) High School in 1950, and ever since I have regarded the '50s as the artistic armpit of the 20th century. The quartet passionately yearns to be "Four Freshmen"-likealooks and are blind to the narrowness of this aspiration.
Critics are fond of carping that performances often miss the perfection possible in classic shows; this I think is a case of the performers outshining the material in every way.

24 jun [ PANDORA'S BOX Staged Reading THRESHOLD THEATRE Charlestown Working Theatre ]
Kate Caffrey's is "a play about" --- a teaching-play examining the lasting psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse. This was a script-in-hand reading for which I think the author got good, useful reactions and suggestions from a small yet vocal audience.
The major metaphor here is that the protagonist (Kara Pascucci) keeps her memories of the past, as well as her angry, terrified reactions to things in the present, in a clear plastic box upstage. (Olivia Fichter, with freckles on her nose and charming gold loops on her ears, made this id-figure rivetingly alive.) The violently self-protective reactions this dialogue provokes nearly destroy her 11-year lesbian partnership and her responses astonish several long-standing good friends who try to help. There's a no-nonsense psychotherapist, and eventually the always-surprising confessions of long-silent friends to similar secrets, all of which coax the creature in the box to a state of acceptance, if not silence.
One of those "friends" is a child, admirably played here (at age 5 I think) by Sophie Madden, with Valerie Madden type-cast into the role of her pregnant mother.
[There was a reading the next night of a play called "Body/Works" by Michael Z. Keamy which, unfortunately, I could not attend.] But I hope to see "Pandora's Box" again, once it grows up.

Lisa Burdick of the Shadow Boxing workshops/readings program says she has a sort of symbiotic relationship with Thespis, the god of theater: she insists the excellence of Shadow Boxing's productions are happenstance, after apparently disastrous rehearsals.
I don't believe a word of it.
This was the second "experiment" in which three short plays were done, then done a second time but by different directors and different casts. Sounds impossibly dull, but quite the reverse was true! Rather than seeing/hearing the same things twice, a sell-out SRO audience got to hear different pausings and emphases, different pace and shape, different gestures and blocking --- and that meant familiarity bred interest and enthusiastic applause.
The plays --- "What to Do With Mom" by Vladimir Zelevinsky, "Next October" by Greg Lam, and George Sauer's "Baloon Bending" --- were interesting on the page, and exciting given life. The whole exercize leaves me musing about how much at the mercy of casts and directors many Short-Play Festivals might be. It is true, however, that the better plays are those that CAN come-alive when good actors slip on the characters and walk arolund inside them a while. And I think one of the good things about the evening was the eagerness of actors to applaud their counterpart-casts making their plays differently.
And maybe Thespis DID have a hand in it after all!

26 jun [ BREWERS' OFFERING Beer-Tasting WBURfm ]
Lee and I like beer. Well, we really like ales and ambers and stouts and sometimes lagers, and so this annual attempt to get tastefully sozzled has turned into a ritual. This year though, I went with a mission, sadly unfulfilled. I wanted to find Jay Clayton, who has been a sort of funding czar with the station almost as long as I've been listening --- and that means since 1985 or so.
I wanted to thank Jay for broadening my horizons. This June, because of his endless "InfoMercials", I've discovered the joys of ....... WGBH.
In my early-middle-youth, listening to three to five actual Stories on radio every day, I ran into the term "Saturation Advertising" --- which in those days meant running the identical ad on every program in a row. That's where I learned that Anacin, like a doctor's prescription, is a combination of proven medically effective ingredients, despite the fact that I never bought that headache remedy. The relentless repetition, however, taught me how to Ignore all advertising. That was why I became a devotee of NPR stations, and WBUR in particular.
I thought Jay had learned a lesson just last May, when their wall-to-wall flogging of Chocolate Roses for Mother's Day all day long ended up a significant several hundred-thousand dollars Short of their hope of raising a cool mil. Apparently, he didn't learn.
What I learned, though, was that come 4 p m when ALL THINGS CONSIDERED starts on WBUR --- and then stops dead for several minutes of repeated gimmie-gimmie --- that just up the dial two stations is THE WORLD with the ever-lovely Lisa Mullins offering a unique perspective on the news, after which WGBH broadcasts A.T.C. --- and THEY only interrupted it, somewhat more tastefully, for three days.
Okay, I know WBUR is now the flagship NPR station; I know they are ponying up cash reserves with which to cover the Democratic Convention here (and perhaps the expected bombings or gas-attacks accompanying it). I know the news is expensive, and that NPR has been tragically short-changed ever since they ticked-off Nixon. ...BUT:
In the midst of a long pitch for cash Peter Laidotes stopped to read a bulletin that a Korean hostage had been beheaded ... and then he went back to pleading for cash with hardly a break! His very next sentence could easily have been "You know you come to WBUR for the news" too!
And as the pitches ground on, in the late moments of the fund-drive, they decided to sell me The Blue Moose.
Okay, you know him as my ultimate role-model, Daniel Schorr; however, I can never forget the quarter-hour playlet written by Daniel Pinkwater during which Schorr (accompanied by the clump-clumps of his hooves) played the Blue Moose, whose amazing recipes made a failing restaurant in Maine a mecca for people with active taste-buds --- all tongues firmly clamped in cheeks while the entire on-air staff chipped in bit-parts. Nobody but Schorr, over ten years my senior, could manage such a dignified lack of dignity, and I love the man.
So of course I attended the dinner in his honor right?
Well, no, because My Radio Station would sell me The Blue Moose only for TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY Ghodamned Beans, and strongly insisted I do it with a credit-card. (I have never wanted a credit-card; I'm too fucking poor to need one; and $250 is roughly a bit more than a thid of my Social Security "salary" for a bleepin' month.)
But, in flight from the InfoMercials, I re-discovered Lisa Mullins, good jazz, and classical music. Thank you Jay Clayton.

Okay, while I'm doing my Curmudgeon-act I guess I might as well vent my recent revised opinion of the STANDING ROOM ONLY program over Emerson Radio ... just a quarter-inch or so farther up the dial from WGBH ... where, for four hours every Saturday morning you can hear Broadway show-tunes mostly from a library of original cast recordings. It's on from 10 till 2, so once the second hour of Scott Simon's WEEKEND EDITION is over on WBUR you can slide up three stations and do the nostalgia thing. In fact, I did a CRICKET'S NOTEBOOK entry about it some years ago.
Well, the crew that does the show has grown from two to three, one of whom seems egregiously unfamiliar with the English language, and none of whom seem to have the slightest inkling what makes show-tunes interesting. They play four songs --- ANY four songs, chosen totally at random --- and then identify the station, and one asks another "And what did we just hear?" to which the answer is title-composer-lyricist-show and(repeat) and(repeat) and(repeat) and...that's it. They seem to be apprenticing themselves for jobs as top-40 jocks on a commercial outlet in Decorah, Iowa or West Nowhere, Illinois. So far as I've been able to tell they have completely scrapped any audition announcements, and only a live appearance by some cast or singer as a promo hints at any relation to live theater locally whatever.
And probably worst of all, they have allowed a dwindling audience of devotees to call in the same damn tight-playlist of repeated numbers, to the point that I wonder why they haven't put on tape ONE four-hour show they could play every week, and save themselves a lot of time. ("Let's Do The Time-Warp Again" has replaced "The Lambeth Walk" as my "If I Hear It One More Damn Time ..." pet peeve.)
S.R.O. used to surprise me with songs NEW To Me from musicals I hadn't heard of before, or neglected cuts from shows I thought I knew cold. Not No More. Let's ignore the unplayed treasures from that vast, useless library and Just Do The Time-Warp Again. Let's forget MACK & MABLE and ME AND JULIET; let's play, again and again, only the One song from THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE or RENT because it's the only one everybody knows, right? I mean doesn't "building an audience" mean playing the same cut every single week because the same caller requesting it would go into withdrawal-symptoms unless you did? I mean, isn't that why the question "And what did we just hear?" begins to sound to me like "...Anacin, like a doctor's prescription, is a combination..."

27 jun SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED Bailiwick REGENT THEATRE Arlington 75
This proved a good reading of surprising facts; but on the one hand, newspapers and radio news had long upstaged those facts, while sticking to transcripts of Cardinal Law's questioning about so Very Many things he couldn't recall ever noticing before made those facts less than electrifying theatrically. Some in any audience here must have been shocked at this long litany of indifference and self-protection by a supposedly compassion-centered Church; however, I'm sure most of the audience agreed with the show's attitude toward hipocrisy before the entered the auditorium.

Several people --- particularly playwrights --- have decried the dearth of "relevant" plays in Boston, and in America, these days. I think "Sin" illustrates the difficulties involved. It came to the stage, certainly to this stage in Arlington, after the crest of news and public opinion had passed. Also, Michael Murphy's script --- referred to as not a play but an "Adaptation" --- seemed to me to lack any artistic oversight of the events, and thus I felt much less human impact than I remember from several news pieces broadcast by NPR. I feel more imagination and less accuracy might have made it a better, truer play.

But that, of course, is merely my opinion.
( a k a larry stark )

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide