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July 25, 2014

July’s Leftovers and August’s Brainteaser

It was the month of The New York Musical Theatre Festival, which yielded a true winner in THE GIG, Douglas J. Cohen’s terrific reminder that the word “amateur” means first and foremost “one who loves” and secondly non-professional. There were plenty of tears and even more applause for this one.

Also hitting the mark was DEL GELBE STERN, while VALUEVILLE was valueless. One of its songs was called “The Shit Song.” Honestly, didn’t songwriter Rowen Caesy learn anything from “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three”?

Even worse were BAYONETS OF ANGST and THE TRAVELS. Each involved much-too-broad comedy and was a true intelligence-insulter and a humiliation to all concerned.

Best Play of the Season Thus Far: Nicholas C. Pappas’ INCLUDING SHOOTER, written for and seen at the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska. Because the festival is for high schoolers, Pappas wrote a play for 16 teens and didn’t pull any punches on his subject matter: school shootings.

Pappas imagined that James Smith created a massacre in this very Lincoln. The playwright didn’t show the slaughter, but instead centered on the years that followed, when one survivor wrote a book and was heavily criticized for wanting to profit from the carnage. But she was better than the barfly who told every young woman who entered the tavern that “I was there” to get their attention, sympathy and bodies.

On the other hand, maybe we all should have sympathized with the lout, considering that we knew what had driven him to drink.

We heard from James’ best friend and even his girlfriend, who’ll forever be haunted by the fact that “James will always be my first boyfriend and the first boy I ever loved.” Who’d want to carry that monkey on her back?

The saddest of all, however, was a kid whose football-crazy father raised him from Day One to be the next NFL Hall of Famer. The lad was doing well until he injured his shoulder to the point where he’d never make it in college ball, let alone the pros. So now he was speaking to us from the grave, saying that he was GLAD that he was killed because he couldn’t bear looking at his father and knowing that he’d disappointed him so much.

The most harrowing scene of all took place years later at the school’s class reunion. What a brilliant idea! What would the mood of a reunion be that was populated with survivors of an unforgettable bloodbath? Pappas didn’t need all 16 on stage for that; few grads would want to remember their school and would instead have stayed home.

The last scene had to have taken place in hell, for it introduced us to Seung-Hui Cho, Adam Lanza, Elliot Rodger, Brandon Spencer, Charles Whitman, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. If you don’t recognize their names, good – but chances are you do, for all were involved with school shootings that killed students enrolled from kindergarten to college. Now they were all giving Smith a warm welcome and bragged “that we’ll all live on.” And here I am writing about them and inadvertently doing my part to see that they are – dammit.

A very different kind of killer came courtesy of Eugene Ionesco (with an assist from Michael Feingold) in a play blatantly called THE KILLER. At Theatre for a New Audience’s handsome new facility, Michael Shannon looked like a grown-up version of the boy in Thomas Sully’s painting “The Torn Hat” while looking beleaguered in trying to figure out what everyone else meant while talking to him.

The configuration was a thrust, and my seat in the second row left gave me ample opportunity to see four pre-teens in the first row surrounded by the adults who brought them. The never-flagging smiles on the faces of the boys and girls once again suggested that many kids aren’t flustered by absurdism but are intrigued by the challenge of it and enjoy trying to figure it all out. As time went on – and THE KILLER has a killer three-hour time – they proved their increasing interest by leaning forward. Good for you, kids!

Onto a show about an attempted killer. THE BULLPEN has nothing to do with all our outlaw baseball players who should be in prison. Instead, Joe Assadourian tells us about his experiences en route to serving 12 years for assault with a deadly weapon. It’s a sentence that was 90,103 times longer than the actor-writer’s 70-minute one-man show.

So Assadourdian shows us the people he met while detained, most of whom were not la crème de la crème, but la merde de la merde. Not unlike MAN OF LA MANCHA, they hold their own trial for him. These guys turn out to be less understanding than those prosecutors whom our hapless anti-hero would soon meet.

Assadourian shows us no fewer than a dozen-and-a-half characters. The acid test of such a one-man show is delineation. Can audience members keep straight all these motley maniacs who haven’t gone straight? Indeed they can, thanks to Joe Assadourian’s skill under Richard Hoehler’s sharp direction. THE BULLPEN should be seen by everyone, but especially teens who think they’re tough and will soon find out they’re not.

Seeing Edina (Minnesota) High School’s production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF revealed something I’d never noticed in the nine other productions I’d caught. After Motel celebrated the “Miracle of Miracles,” the lights blacked out, and as the techies set up the bedroom for “Tevye’s Dream,” the orchestra played “Now I Have Everything” to cover the scene change. Now usually in golden age musicals when a set is changed, the orchestra reprises the song we’ve just heard -- so why was this band playing a song that wouldn’t be heard until Act Two? Then it hit me: “Now I Have Everything” was originally Motel’s song until it was replaced by “Miracle of Miracles” and “Now I Have Everything” reassigned to Perchik. But no one bothered to change the scene-shift music.

And speaking of FIDDLER, on the 50th anniversary of that show’s going into rehearsal, I attended THE WHO & THE WHAT which deals with one of the musical’s main issues: a father who feels he has the right to pick out his daughters’ husbands. Here it’s not Tevye, a Russian Jew, but Afzal, a Pakistani Islamite who, despite living in present-day Atlanta, thinks nothing of screening his daughter’s Zarina’s boyfriends. Wait till you hear how: he creates a Facebook profile for her, arranges meetings with would-be beaus and checks them out. When the ruse is discovered, he tells Zarina “I just want you to be happy!” Yes, but only on his terms. And American kids think they have problems with their parents!

The plot doesn’t quite parallel Tevye and Chava, but there is genuine danger that Afzal may well consider Zarina dead to him. Along the way, recent Pulitzer-winner Ayad (DISGRACED) Akhtar brings up salient points about Islam while managing to make any religious person start asking questions about his own faith. There’s also a shrewd observation about converts and how some (but not all) are appreciated by those born into the religion. Bernard White excels as the single-minded Afzal who demands that his new-son-in law Eli (the fine Greg Keller) stand up and be a man – but when he does, Afzal is hoisted on his own petard. Although Afzal’s a difficult man to love, Nadine Malouf’s Zarina manages to show that while she’s got to be she, indeed she loves the man. Meanwhile, THE WHO & THE WHAT is easy to love.

Last month’s brainteaser: I asked what 15 Broadway attractions had in common. The answer was that each was the first attraction to play a theater that had recently been renamed: ACCOMPLICE (Rodgers), BILOXI BLUES (Simon), BROOKLYN (Schoenfeld), the 2005 revival of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (Jacobs), JERSEY BOYS (Wilson), A LOSS OF ROSES (O’Neill), The 1983 revival of MAME (Gershwin), THE NEWS (Hayes), ONE NIGHT STAND (Nederlander), THE PEE WEE HERMAN SHOW (Sondheim), THE PIANO LESSON (Kerr), SPIDER-MAN: TURN OFF THE DARK (Foxwoods), VINTAGE ’60 (Atkinson), THE VISIT (Lunt-Fontanne) and the 2003 revival of WONDERFUL TOWN (Hirschfeld).

Bryan Brooks was the first to get it, followed by Joe Miller, Joe Keenan, Ron Fassler, Seth Christenfeld, Ian Ewing, Richard Galgano, Stuart Ira Soloway and Rob Witherwax.

This month’s brainteaser: What do these songs from cast recordings have in common? “Adelaide’s Lament” (GUYS AND DOLLS), “Artificial Flowers” (TENDERLOIN), “Cabaret” (CABARET), “Gifts of Love” (THE BAKER’S WIFE), “Good Morning, Baltimore” (HAIRSPRAY), “He Plays the Violin” (1776), “High Flying, Adored” (EVITA), “I Want to Be Seen with You” (FUNNY GIRL), “Irma La Douce” (IRMA LA DOUCE), “The Lonely Goatherd” (THE SOUND OF MUSIC), “Practically Perfect” (MARY POPPINS), “She’s Funny That Way” (BULLETS OVER BROADWAY) and “When You Got It, Flaunt It” (THE PRODUCERS).

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia

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