Friday, June 3, 2011

Another glance at Adding Machine and Apology

Two great shows still running into June

By Russ Bickerstaff
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June begins. The last of the formal season’s shows vanish from the stage. There are a couple of shows still onstage this weekend that I truly, truly love. That doesn’t happen too often. I see a lot of shows in any given year. (When I see Carte Blanche’s Titus this evening, it will be the 100th show that I’d seen since the beginning of last August.) I try to take every show on its own merits. As a result, I end up with opinions about shows that I really probably wouldn’t have had much interest in otherwise. It’s odd—thoguh I do end up liking at least some aspect of most of what I see, there’s very little that makes it to area stages that I would actually consider to be my kind of show—one that I would want to see regardless of whether or not I was covering it.

Programming for theatre stages is kind of a weird intersection between commerce, art and freak happenstance. There’s a lot of prediction going on. Artistic Directors are trying to find programming that a board of directors will like that will also be enjoyed by audiences who are distinctly different from anyone on a board of directors while simultaneously hoping to pick-up new audiences without alienating ANYONE . . . that someone can do the aesthetic contortions needed to make decisions for a given season and still decide to produce a script by Sara Ruhl is kind of beyond comprehension for me. Overrated hack playwrights aside, there’s kind of a strange calculus at work that turns words on a script somewhere into experiences and ticket sales and suchlike.

And since it is such a strange and convoluted calculus that brings a show to the stage, it strikes me as being kind of weird that there are TWO shows running RIGHT NOW that I would’ve wanted to see regardless of whether or not I was reviewing them—shows that I would’ve gone out of my way to see even if it meant being obligated to seeing four or five shows in a single weekend.

This weekend there are a couple of shows still running that ARE my kind of thing . . . here’s another look:

 

 

ADDING MACHINE—THE MUSICAL

One more musical that I’ve grown to love . . . and now rather than just liking two or three musicals, I guess I have a list of favorite musicals now. Adding Machine is brilliantly dark . . . and cynical, too. There’s a startling amount of thematic depth in a story about that mindless drone no one ever wants to become but we all fear that we are. And the casting of Ray Jivoff here is absolutely genius. Jivoff has a stage presence that you really, really want to love. Here he’s playing a character so distasteful that he makes it impossible. As Mr. Zero, Jivoff plays the role entirely on the surface. . . he’s like a 1930’s cartoon character . . . an early Mickey Mouse caught-up in a situation beyond his control . . . a person so completely unwilling to grow a soul that he’s doomed for eternity to be utterly depthless. He’s leading an unexamined, apathetic life and what makes Jivoff’s performance so precisely executed is that he stillmanages to be generally likeable in the role. 

In addition to scathing satire on the modern conscienceless existence, there’s also really brilliant jab at organized religion in the form of the character played by Rick Pendzich. The satire doesn’t come across at all heavy handed . . . it’s light, quick witted and to the point. This is an intellectual playground of a show—a brilliantly twisted mutation of a Disney musical . . . Adding Machine is pop stage fare washed through a rigorously hip and classy kind of art damage that would make it palatable to even the most cynical audience. THIS needs to be the face of the modern musical . . . if only because I think I’ve already exceeded my maximum lifetime allowance of stage camp. Yes. Could I have more like this please? Please?

 

 

The Adding Machine runs through June 12th at the Cabot Theatre. For reservations, call 414-291-7800.

 

 

 

 

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening

Everything about this show is a lot of fun on both visceral and intellectual levels. The fact that it’s being staged where it is means that audiences walk through this massive, ancient tribute to cream city brick on their way in to a disused factory space where a giant metal door is closed behind them. The characters enter the space via freight elevator from the past and there’s Michael Cotey—completely bald. He’s playing Faustus—does all the talking the show is essentially a monologue.

 

 

Mickle Maher’s script works on a whole bunch of different levels. It’s been a lot of fun to think about in the week or so since I’ve seen it, and that’s not something that can be said of many fiction narratives of any kind. On one level, it’s kind of a supernatural domestic comedy. Here’s this guy who has been living with a demon (that would be Mephistopheles as played in silence by Rich Gillard) for the better part of a quarter century and on this, his last night with the demon servant, he’s complaining about his lack of privacy . . . really well-executed, but he poetry of a million little semi-defined qualia ricocheting off each other in the shadows of a found space in the Prtizlaff Building. There is reference to Mephistopheles eating egg every morning and leaving the eggshell fragments all over the floor and here are these two actors playing these two characters—both more or less bald—egg-imagery, right? And so the visual reality of the production echoes some kind of abstract symbolic imagery in the text. Playwright Mickle Maher threw a respectable amount of poetic acoustics into the script that resonate particularly well in that space with these two actors and . . . the audience coming to see them.

And taken on a completely different level, it’s just a monologue being performed in an old factory space not farfrom the heart of downtown. It’s just one guy talking, but there’s so much else going on beyond the depth of that that makes this one of my big favorites of the season.

Youngblood’s production of An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening runs through June 17th at at the Pritzlaff Building. For tickets, visit Brownpapertickets.com

 

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