Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Bad Jazz"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"Bad Jazz"

by Robert Farquhar
Directed by David J. Miller

Scenic Design by David J. Miller
Costume Design by Fabian Aguilar
Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg
Sound Design by Walter Eduardo
Props by Deirdre Benson
Fight Director Meron Langsner
Assistant Fight Director Mark Villanueva
Stage Manager Deirdre Benson

Gavin......Michael Steven Costello
Ben...................Greg Ferrisi
Hannah/Danielle.....Becca A. Lewis
Natasha...............Karen Manson
Elvis..............Zachary Winston
Danny....................Mac Young

When a play works, it's as though the characters are making it up as it unfolds. Robert Farquhar's "Bad Jazz" is about rehearsals of a play that is not working. The cast, usually with script in hand, are self-indulgently groping for their characters, desperately demanding attention from their director (Michael Steven Costello), mixing up their off-stage sex-lives with the ones in the play, asking the playwright (Becca A. Lewis) "What does it Mean???" and one of them (Mac Young) develops a block and can't get the lines for his crucial scene. The producer balks at actual graphic fellatio on-stage (but suggests a blush-pink dildo as a solution), the director indulges in graphically simulated fellatio and buggery with a male hustler (Zachary Winston), and two of the cast (Greg Ferrisi and Kara Manson) are driven into Hindu meditation and psychotherapy by their experience. In other words, this is a realistic comedy about backstage life.

This is a let-it-all-hang blizzard of in-your-face language and incident. The night I was there two people left [SEE NOTE BELOW] after an early scene that featured 42 iterations (No, I did NOT count them!) of the word "fuck". The director was enigmatically pushing the cast to endless repetitions of a scene they "didn't understand"; if the over-the-edge repetitions weren't funny to those who jumped ship, this prim pair could not have endured the more graphic simulations to come. This is not a play for children or maiden aunts.

It is, however, a Zeitgeist-kind-of play. Artistic Director David Miller has a pugnacious track-record of giving theater-lovers glittering nuggets of hard truth to think about. Typically he puts audience on two sides of a central playing-area so they can see not only the show, but others reacting to the show. Here his set emphasizes the play Within the play by putting a bank of a dozen leko-lights at each end of the playing-field and hanging a dozen or so little "work-lights" over the script-in-hand actors. During the show Michael Costello as the director muses on a play graphic enough to shock audiences out of their complacent ruts, but "Of course, it has no structure"; that could as well be said of "Bad Jazz" itself. Along its jagged way, it is so over the top the cast doesn't always preserve mastery over material --- but it gives a thinking audience a chance to wonder just how far a play can go in the service of an idea.

In other words, this is a Zeitgeist-kind-of play --- playing to too many empty seats.

( a k a larry stark )

"Bad Jazz" (30 January - 8 February)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617)933-8600

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide