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September 25, 2015

September’s Leftovers and October’s Brainteaser

So on September 12th right here, did we all celebrate the 48th anniversary of the off-Broadway opening of KLENOKSY AGAINST THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE?

According to THEATRE WORLD 1967-68, it had music and lyrics by William Klenosky and a book “By Life.” The subsidiary credits included: “No Scenery by William Klenosky and Lighting by Con Edison.” Among its songs were “Krushchev, Castro and Klenosky,” “The Republican Dilemma: Goldwater or Klenosky” and “Lindsay Was Prettier and Taller than Klenosky.” The producer was “Billy K. Productions” and this one-person show starred (shall we all say it in unison?) William Klenosky. Think it was a vanity production?

Klenosky, by the way, in 1961 filed papers to be a candidate as Mayor of New York representing his New City Party and then again in 1965 for – I swear it – The Loser’s Party. By September 24, 1967, he must have believed himself to be a loser once again when KLENOKSY AGAINST THE SLINGS AND ARROWS OF OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE closed after 12 performances.

Could Klenosky’s show have been any worse than Joan Beber’s IN BED WITH ROY COHN? The closeted power-lawyer was of course a prominent figure in ANGELS IN AMERICA, which was subtitled “A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” Well, this one’s a free-form phantasmagoria that shows us what was going through Cohn’s mind during his last days. Did he really clutch a stuffed animal as he was dying?

Someone ought to sweep and wash the stage of The Lion Theatre before each show. Seeing Christopher Daftsios upright in his silk pajamas is one thing, but when he’s flat on the bed, the soles of his feet are terribly dirty.

They’re not as dirty as his mouth, however. Those who think that the gays in THE BOYS IN THE BAND are full of self-loathing should see this character. (Or maybe they shouldn’t.)

In Tony Kushner’s masterpiece, Cohn confronts the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, whom he worked hard to execute – so Beber gives husband Julius Rosenberg equal time in this one. (He gets to call Richard M. Nixon “You, Dick.”)

Marilyn Sokol portrays Cohn’s mother, and wears a dress that has many headshots of Ethel Rosenberg on it. Ronald Reagan rides to the back of the theater on a hobby-horse. So it’s the type of play that makes you carefully examine the scenery. The fanciful replication of the American flag had fourteen stripes, which was a lovely compliment to Vermont.

We’re reminded that Barbara Walters was Cohn’s beard -- she calls him “Woy” and speaks a little about “Kowea” – and that Claire Booth Luce coined the expression “No good deed goes unpunished.” No good play comes from Joan Beber and indeed we’re punished by it.

Could Klenosky’s show have been stranger than ORESTEIA that was merely “inspired by Aeschylus” but conceived by Jonathan Vandenberg? After the 458-459 B.C. theater season concluded in Athens, Aeschylus’s ORESTEIA was named Best Play. No such honors await Jonathan Vandenberg’s ORESTEIA.

What Vandenberg has essentially done is taken all three plays and given us lights-up, lights-down snapshots in 90 minutes. I preferred the many blackouts instead of this ORESTEIA’S GREATEST HITS that made me feel as if I had been hit with more of a sky-high concept than highlights. Read the plays beforehand or you’ll truly be lost, for Vandenberg makes Ivo van Hove look like George Abbott.

Much is performed in slow motion, especially the opening scene in which Agamemnon kills young Iphegenia. Agamemnon stands atop a ladder, reaches into a circle that has a knife vertically bisecting it. When he murders Iphegenia, he releases a little vial’s worth of stage blood on her head. Later, when others are killed, the blood flows onto heads from big buckets, making the statement, I guess, that adults have much more blood in them than children.

All this is done in silence, but we know some actors will speak because there’s a stand-up microphone atop a pile of sand. Still, there’s not much more dialogue than you would have heard in AN EVENING WITH MARCEL MARCEAU. You do also get a film of a goat having its throat cut; sound effects that include crashes, static and the strangest sounds since THE LEAF PEOPLE. (Look it up. Then you’ll understand.)

There’s quasi-S&M – meaning chains, but no whips. There’s also a ton of symbolism. After Orestes kills, the knife sticks to his hand, and while he writhes in agony for about three minutes straight in hopes of flicking it off, he cannot. Murder isn’t that easy to forget, you see. At show’s end, he tries to reach that circle from which Agamemnon originally took the knife, but can’t. Get it? Once you start killing, you can’t go back. I just hope that theatergoers who saw ORESTEIA will come back to the usually wonderful Classic Stage Company.

You’d have to have written your Ph.D. thesis on A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM to understand what’s going on at the Pearl. Although I was seeing this play for the 19th time and have taught it as well, I was often lost.

Director Eric Tucker has deconstructed it for five actors – yes, five, five – so the “Cast (in order of appearance)” list gives the actors’ names on the left hand side followed by that familiar row of periods linking to the name of the characters they’re playing – except that the periods end without offering a single character.

That’s fitting, for seeing this production is akin to doing a diagramless crossword puzzle. There’s often been talk of digging up William Shakespeare’s grave to see if anyone’s in there. Well, if the Bard IS in residence, he’s face down now for sure. Not allowing the play to make linear sense made my mind wander and had me asking myself such questions as “Why do we call a person’s gluteus maximus his ‘bottom’ when his feet really are?”

That said, I was intent on leaping to my feet the moment I could to acknowledge the astonishing achievements of the cast. Mark Bedard, Sean McNall, Jason O’Connell, Joey Parsons and Nance Williamson learned difficult blocking, played dozens of different characters and kept it all straight in their heads – which is more than I can say for myself.

EQUIVOCATION at the always marvelous Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey was the same story – metaphorically speaking. It wasn’t written by The Bard (but by Bill Cain), but concerned Shakespeare. Will was commissioned by the king to write a play on an English issue, but is more drawn to a Scottish play. Here the actors were lined up with one character name, but each played plenty more – even Shakespeare’s daughter got into the act – so keeping everyone all straight was woefully difficult. But here too the actors shone: Therese Barbato, Dominic Comperatore, Kevin Isola, Rob Krakovski, James Michael Reilly and Matthew Stucky deserve just as much praise as the MIDSUMMER group.

Klenosky’s show couldn’t have been worse than Alan Hruska’s woeful LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN starts out with Joe (Jayce Bartok) in an attempt to pick up Cleo (Katya Campbell) being as manic and insufferable as Robert De Niro in NEW YORK, NEW YORK. So why would Cleo go with him?

Because there’d be no play if she didn’t. Hruska offers the type of snappy dialogue that no one ever says. One surprise, however, is that Joe promises Cleo that he’ll become successful and therefore worthy of her, and indeed he does as an “arbitrage wizard.” The only problem is that Bartok, under Chris Eigeman’s direction, never seems to pick up the power (and even arrogance) that such a mover-and-shaker would come to possess.

A scene in which an indiscretion is revealed ends before we can see the immediate aftermath, which is all-too-convenient. But the whole show is like sketch comedy at worst and a series of TV episodes at best. It’s as compelling as THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET – and if you’ve seen any of that show’s episodes, you know how compelling that is.

And why does a chandelier which looks as if it’s been lifted from the Marriott Marquis’ ballroom sit atop the action and get lowered a few inches as each new scene unfolds? Is the metaphor that life continues to go downhill? LAUGH IT UP, STARE IT DOWN certainly does. After seeing more than 10,000 shows in my long lifetime, I cannot recall a single one that has such a weak first act and second act curtain.

Meanwhile, over at The Cell, a man and a woman who lost their chance to be romantically linked when they were young now meet again many years later in a bar. What will happen? Damn if any of us knows, because that’s when playwright Pat Fenton stops writing, less than an hour after her show detailed the loss of a beloved neighborhood to urban renewal. I can’t say if Klenosky’s show had a genuine beginning, middle and end, but STOOPDREAMER lacks the last component.

The best play of the month – no Klenosky it – was CELIA, A SLAVE. It’s subtitled 26 CHARACTERS TESTIFY, which is what playwright Barbara Seyda showed concerning the actual trial of State of Missouri vs. Celia, a Slave. Note the poor nineteen-year-old young black woman didn’t even get a last name, for she was, as Seyda reports, “part of an estate sale.”

What she did get, however, was unwanted attention from her master, who raped her repeatedly. Finally Celia had enough, killed him and burned the body. Did she get away with it? That’d be hard with Missourians who had such opinions as “It is part of God’s plan that darkies are to serve us.”

Missed it? No surprise there, for Seyda’s play was given for one night as a reading at the Claire Tow after a ceremony that celebrated her winning The Yale Drama Series 2015 Prize for Best Play (out of 1,500 selected, mind you). Before the reading, Seyda was introduced and took an inordinately long amount of time to thank those near and dear to her. She’d better prune that list to 30 seconds, for when she wins her Tony, we wouldn’t want to see her litany interrupted by the orchestra.

Finally, A.R. Gurney’s LOVE & MONEY wasn’t one of his best, partly because it mirrored SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION much too much. One chilling moment, however, came from the audience. When the high-born Cornelia in her elegant home pointed out to her lawyer that her wastebasket had been made from the foot of an elephant which her husband had killed, many theatergoers moaned aloud. Cecil the Lion, whom Walter Palmer assassinated this summer in Zimbabwe, has not died in vain.

Last month’s brainteaser: I asked what these performers achieved as a result of their stage appearances that they couldn’t achieve as a result of their film appearances? The answer was that Bea Arthur, Ray Bolger, Carol Haney, Judy Holliday, Kevin Kline, Walter Matthau, Ethel Merman, Robert Morse, Zero Mostel, Robert Preston, Phil Silvers, Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon all won Tonys for roles they later recreated in films, but then they didn’t even get an Oscar nomination – let alone an Oscar -- for their second efforts.

Al Koenig was the first to get it, followed by Jack Lechner, Ed Weissman, William Oser, Joe Miller, Jay Aubrey Jones, Arthur Robinson, Christopher Connelly, Jim Dickey, Bryan Brooks, Harry Haun and George Connolly.

This month’s brainteaser: Think of a very famous Walt Disney animated character and his very famous song that could actually be his way of telling us that he owns an original Broadway (or London) cast album with Richard Rodgers’ name on it.

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia



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