28 June - 24 July '04
9 jul INVASION OF PLEASURE VALLEY Queer Soup Theater BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE
11 jul [ RAGTIME The Footlight Club FRANKLIN PARK ]
19 jul [ WELCOME TO LIBERTY Once in A Blue Moon BOSTON PLAYWRIGHTS' THEATRE (reading)]
21 jul THE WORST MUSICAL NEVER MADE Turnstyle Theatre Project DURRELL HALL THEATRE/CAMBRIDGE YMCA
22 jul A CLOCKWORK ORANGE Company One BCA 78
Yes, this is ridiculously late and embarrassingly sparse. In the whole week that ended June and began July my dance-card remained a total blank --- as did my mind, pretty much. The machine developed severe pop-up problems (They say that too much indiscriminate digital sex will give you Viruses, and oh, how true that is!) and that and the humidity sent me into depression. (Lee will fix it; he's decided we have to rebuild the entire system from scratch using my back-ups. That's the good news; the bad news is that this week he is hip-deep in the VETERANS FOR PEACE Convention here in Boston and so he won't get time to do it till Next Bleepin' Week!)
But I digress, don't I?
What interests me about everything I've seen so far, though, is less the shows themselves and more the companies that produced them.
Take Queer Soup Theater, for instance. When I first met them in a little hole-in-the-wall theatre a lo-o-ong walk from any T stop, "The Brian & Mal Show" was essentially a collection of gay comedy sketches. Their current "Invasion of Pleasure Valley" (still running at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. GO!), preserves those easy laughs with blatant double-entendres (i.e. characters named Pussy Whetmore and Suzi & Dick Longstaff; an alien in the shape of a five-foot dildo with face and hands), but the show has a solidly constructed plot --- a direct, shameless parody of the cheap alien-invader sci-fi quickies of the 1950's. The primly domestic wives of this "average" little seacoast town in the mid-west shift their Tupper-ware parties to sales of electrified dildo's while everyone feels the tug of their gay tendencies run riot. The sketch-style external acting fits the parody perfectly, and the best news is that Irene Daly's incandescent face (she has the lead role of Suzie L.) is only one in a star-studded cast. If this script is not quite a substitute for "Psycho Beach Party" their next one might be.
And, hell, why don't I give them the germ of an idea to explore:
"The Grays of Dorian Hall" will concern a family of young character-actors whose group-portrait and whose head-shots show their age. (Kim Hoff, for instance, isn't fourteen, she's fifty-four!) The family-comedies of early television where Rickie Nelson had to stay eleven for a decade would provide ample material...
Mal? Kim? Brian? Have I earned a finder's fee?
The Sunday celebration of a revival of The Elma Lewis Playhouse in Franklin Park was designed to highlight a revival of African American theater here in Boston as well as diversity in casting and material in other companies. The shows kicked off at one, and I didn't get there till three-fifteen, since I mis-read a press-release. All I got to see was a concert-style reprise of the Jamaica Plain Footlight Club's "Ragtime".
The Playhouse in The Park turned out to be On Wheels! No kidding: a wide, shallow stage with a protective roof rested on several sets of wheels and, once supporting feet were withdrawn, a truck hitched to the stage-right end could haul the whole thing away to a storage-shed. The "playhouse" had a group of foldong-chairs set up on the grassy flat bed of a valley, with additional audience arranged in the rising bank opposite.
I expected to see shows mounted by the New African Company, Our Place Theatre Project, and Up You Might Race as well as the Footlight Club, and I apologise to all my friends in those companies for my mistake.
There wasn't any program at the Once In A Blue Moon reading, so I can't give details --- except that Bill Mootos and Kippy Goldfarb had roles and Karen Woodward Massey acted as hostess and read stage-directions and off-stage voices. "Welcome to Liberty" was a comedy wound around people's misunderstandings, all acting upon wrong assumptions in an atmosphere poisoned by a serial-killer collecting the thumbs of his/her victims. The script-in-hand reading was primarily to allow the playwright to judge from audience reactions and in talk-back what parts of the script might need change or re-writing.
But another purpose for the one-Monday-a-month readings is to get professional Boston actors on-stage and working at their craft during those occasional "between engagements" periods in all actors' lives. The audience was nowhere big enough for the purpose, and I must have been the only person in that audience who was Not a playwright! I have asked Karen to alert The Mirror about ALL future readings, and I'll alert YOU as soon as she does me. There is a particular thrill to watching good professionals wrestle with a new script, and actors' comments on aspects of characters always illuminate the players as much as they do the plays. Drop in Monday next month and get in on the fun!
I had seen two Turnstyle Theatre Project productions at Actors' Workshop --- both small, actor-oriented shows that had polish, intensity, and originality --- and so I was glad to see them climb up onto the much bigger "Family Theatre" stage at the Cambridge YMCA doing a full-length musical spoof of backstage life with a cast of eighteen and a four-piece orchestra! (The show will run through this coming Sunday there, with a matinee added Saturday.)
The show was written by Nathan Laver and Evan Monsky out of suggestions and improvisations by the cast --- a system that Joe Chaikin's Open Theatre used to employ, using many months to rehearse, revise, and hone their works till everything irrelevent was eliminated. Of course, they picked subjects like Death and The Fall of Man to wrestle with, and had the luxury of grants and long-term commitment. With less of any of that, Turnstyle came up with an explosion of ideas flying about the stage like a flock of hungry sparrows. (Those of you who see the show will understand how pertinent a simile this is!) It's major strength is the intensity of performances. Each of the eighteen performers maintains character, and gets several moments to shine, and the audience can push in a thumb and pull out many succulent plums from a production that often seems to mirror the problems that, in the script, make making a musical difficult. In my opinion, for instance, the "bit parts" shine while those carrying the plot cannot simply Be but are hampered by flimsy writing. Some songs and most choreography are splendidly original, but the show lunges by turns at parody and honesty till the two simply get in the way. What's good here is great, but ultimately I wished the show would just flip a coin and run with one aspect or the other. See it yourself and send us a Quick-Take!
"Company One's mission is to be a source of Boston's best creative ideas, passionate energies, and inspired collaborations" --- and they Always take risks. Their level of artistic reach and attainment is unsurpassed, the variety of their shows astonishing. (Check out their Track record!) And "A Clockwork Orange" is almost a summation and re-statement of all their accomplishments. The show has sixteen actors playing 53 roles in a fluidly "cinematic" story, a multiracial cast, and it used a Video Director, a Fight Director and Assistant Fight Director as well as a Brutality Consultant and a Choreographer; it incorporates original music (by The Dresden Dolls) that centers around Beethhoven's "Ode to Joy"; and those who like me have thrilled to past productions will see familiar faces in new roles.
In a sense, the popularity of Anthony Burgess' book and Stanley Kubrick's film make the story-line here a little familiar and predictable; however, that very familiarity helps to bridge the gap where Burgess' sometimes bewildering street-slang ("droogs" and "viddy") could get in the way. And a reprinted "time-line" in the program documents the novelist's difficulties with the movie --- which prompted him to write and then re-write a "truer" stage-version.
The true joy for those of us who have sat in houses of a dozen or less at Company One shows is that on opening night "A Clockwork Orange" played to a nearly packed house of enthusiastic young faces, and it won't close till 14 August.
Whether the rest of their season, including works by those household names Ntozake Shange and Stephen Adly Guirgis will be equally popular remains to be seen.
But They SHOULD Be!
During this year's Boston Marathon back in April, Karen Woodward Massey gave me a white button with the red and blue words "BEAT BUSH" that has been pinned to my black suspender ever since. And ever since, more people --- even strangers on the T --- have talked to me in three months that the in previous forty years I've lived in Boston!
This evening, at 6 p m, I will be putting my mouth where my button is: John Kerry's people asked me to walk down Summer Street past The Actors' Workshop to join a group welcoming delegates to The Democratic National Convention, no doubt with lots of loud chanting and shouting. And for that reason I'd like to share two comments about my very first political convention --- the Republican one of 1952:
I had become a Democrat in 1948 (to the scandal and chagrin of my family) and remain a Yella-Dog Truman Democrat still --- though when I first got to vote in '52 it was, as I was told, "to preserve the American two-party system". Yes, I voted once for a Republican, and found a few years later that I couldn't find a job. I have been doing penance for that political sin ever since.
My parents had yet to buy a t-v in 1952, but I spent a lot of time at our Aunt Annie's house watching "gavel-to-gavel coverage" of the event, listening to speeches. One afternoon, I listened to some Black person talk to a nearly empty hall about race problems, near the end of which he summed up "We do not ask for anything more, but we will not settle for anything less!"
Throughout the convention, the cameras cut away periodically to a room somewhere in which sat the sainted newsman Edward R. Murrow making brief, pithy comments and sharing discussion of the events with Earl Warren, the governor of California who was, along with Robert Taft, a major contender for the nomination. As a matter of fact, on the first ballot Warren withdrew, pledging his delegates to Eisenhower, and the convention was over.
Now, at the time Murrow had a fifteen-minute "News Summary" program on radio to which I had become addicted. On the Monday AFTER the convention, that program aired an item collected by some enterprising reporter. He had interviewed a sign-maker just before the convention started who told him an odd thing: he had been contracted to provide several thousand hand-held signs saying EISENHOWER, but with paper overlays saying WARREN pasted on in such a way that they could be torn off at a moment's notice.
At no time during the festivities did Murrow let on, in any way, the fact that he had known before they even started what the outcome would inevitably be.
Ed Murrow, Eliott Norton, and Daniel Schorr are (with a few others) role-models of mine.
Who are yours?
( a k a larry stark )