Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Paradise Lost"/'We All Will Be Received"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Larry Stark

"We All Will Be Received"

Written by Kathy Wittman, Mal Malme, Renee C. Farster

Directed by Kathy Wittman

Assistant Director Kim Hoff
Production Manager Jess Martin
Lighting Design by Mike Wonson
Costume Design by Nathalie Degenhardt
Multimedia Design by Kathy Wittman
Technical Director Mark DiGiovanni
Assistant Stage Manager Trish Palmiere
Stage Manager Amy West

Kathy Wittman
Mal Malme
Renee C. Farster

I saw these two plays, back-to-back, on the 10th and 11th of March. Each one used generous bits of film and in-theater live-action video to accompany live action in telling stories and making points, and both are still up and running. I must admit I loved one and detested the other, but you should make your own decisions as to what to spend time and money to see. I'll take them in chronological order.

10 mar PARADISE LOST American Repertory Theatre LOEB DRAMA CENTER 42

Having exploded Shakespeare and made a flat fillet out of Fitzgerald, the American Repertory Theatre is attempting to eviscerate everything The Group Theatre tried to do with plays by Clifford Odets. They take the quickest way to de-fang any of its realistic bite --- by hiding his text behind their tech. Audience entering the Loeb Drama Center expecting to see a Bronx family fighting eviction in the depths of the 1930's Depression find a Kirk Douglas film --- or at least some clips about herding horses --- hugely projected in color onto the set. When a play attempts to start, it is spread across the back of the hugely wide Loeb stage, so distances between actors are immense. Whenever anyone has a few lines that sound like preaching or pontification or "message" the actors underline it by talking over loudspeakers into hand-held microphones that look like potato-mashers. Periodically, closed-circuit cameras project huge close-ups of intimate conversations almost as big as the horses' asses that started the performance. In one case, the camera closes in on a huge blow-up of an actor doing a monologue --- but in this case the picture is in black-and-white but projected in negative. Why, I have no idea --- but then, I had no idea why anything in this show --- unless it was done as a deliberate attempt to miniaturize the actors. There is not a single shred of Odets' play visible on stage --- you'll have to read Dramaturg Whitney Eggers' essay called "Revolutionary Force" to have any idea at all what Odets and The Group Theater were trying to do.

I'll put the litany of perpetrators at the bottom of this review, should anyone care.


QUEER SOUP is a joyously lighthearted crew of theater-makers who are deadly serious in their championing of independent gender identification and their use of often hilarious theatricals to save bewildered teen-agers from suicide. Two of them --- Mal Malme and Renee C. Farster, both of whom often perform in drag --- decided to make a pilgrimage to Elvis Presley's home Graceland, since in portraying The King each felt their gender-choices found fulfillment. Film-maker Kathy Wittman went along, intending to make a movie-documentary of their quest ---which, before they were satisfied, included a side-trip to Dolly Parton's home for balance. The result, after a trip through the Queer Soup theatrical mixmaster, is onstage for another couple week-ends.

Wittman's hand-held camera caught the trio joking and bickering and driving, visiting the parents of both Farster and Malme, and reaching apotheoses in the homes/shrines of both Icons. But the trio of writer/performers can both attempt, in monologues or trialogues, to explain the fascination with their idols, and to argue among themselves about the show they are in the midst of making. They are searingly honest about how they feel about their bodies, about an almost sanctity of dress-up, about admitting they are "different" and becoming comfortably different. Malme and Farster don costume and make-up on stage and, thanks to snips of classic recordings, lip-synch Presley standards, and elbow their reluctant cineast into heels and a huge wig to join the act doing Dolly!

There are levels of intensity here that different audiences will respond to in different ways, but the exuberant sincerity of the search, the willingness to dig deep and put themselves on the line, and the bubbling humor bursting out everywhere make this a must-see classic.

And the work of no great playwrights were harmed in the performance. Honest!

"Paradise Lost"

by Clifford Odets
Directed by Daniel Fish

New York Casting Director Laura Stancyzk, CSA
Assistant Director Allison Kline
Scenic Design by Andrew Lieberman
Lighting Design by Scott Zielinski
Costume Design by Kaye Voyce
Sound Design by Clive Goodwin
Video Design by Joshua Thorson
Dramaturgy by Whitney Eggers
Assistant Dramaturg Sara Bookin-Weiner
Production Assistants Samson Quaintance, Jessica Stansfield
Assistant Stage Manager Amanda Robbins-Butcher
Stage Manager Katherine Shea

Leo Gordon...............David Chandler
Clara Gordon..............Sally Wingert
Ben Gordon................Hale Appleman
Julie Gordon/Mr. May.....T. Ryder Smith
Pearl Gordon.............Theresa Plaehn
Gus Michaels..............Thomas Derrah
Libby Michaels...........Merritt Janson
Sam Katz...............Jonathan Epstein
Bertha Katz..........Adrianne Krstansky
Kewpie........................Karl Bury
Mr. Pike..................Michael Rudko
Felix.........................Cameron Oro Phil Foley.................Remo Airaldi
Newspaper Man...........Anthony Gaskins
Schnabel, Rogo, Lucy, Milton, Homeless Men, Detectives

( a k a larry stark )

"Paradise Lost" (27 February - 20 March)
@ Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, CAMBRIDGE MA

"We All Will Be Received" (11 - 27 March)
@ Hall A Upstairs, Boston Center for The Arts, 527 Tremont Street,

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide