Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Shut Up! Slow Down! I Can Handle This!"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark

"Shut Up! Slow Down! I Can Handle This!"

by The National Theatre of Allston

Company Founder Wesley Savick
Technical Director Jim Bernhardt
Production Stage Manager Bailey Costa
Marketing Coordinator Rachel Kelsey
House Manager Purnima Baldwin
Lighting Design by Steve McIntosh
Projection Design by Theo Goodell
Costume Design by Melissa Barker
Sound Design by Steven McIntosh
Props Master Brittany Daley
Electricians Steve McIntosh, Bailey Costa, Dave Foley
Spot Operator Alex Pollack, Theo Goodell

This is going to be a very sloppy, disorganized review, so let's start off with an irrelevent aside:
About 1960, in my second book-pusher job at a long-defunct Barnes & Noble store on what's now JFK Street, I had a memorable customer. She was drop-dead lovely, breathlessly enthusiastic, and in a flawless India-accent she gushed "I need diz blay! I'tiz by Bairdoldt Breght and it iz called GaLILLio!"
I saw that play when Michael Murray directed it at the Charles Playhouse with Tony VanBridge in the title role, and will never forget it. Anyway, I mentioned this to someone who responded "Oh yes, we read that in class! How on earth did they handle the Plague Scene on stage?"
At the Charles, there had been no Plague Scene.
When I actually looked at the script I realized that there was almost twice as much text as I had seen in what seemed a very long but coherent play. And eventually I learned that Bertoldt Brecht and his director (Charles Laughton) had started in Hollywood and toured this play across America, cutting and re-writing as they went, until "GALILEO" arrived in New York as a play with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and even a second-act curtain-line. What my gorgeously memorable customer bought was an UNcut script with everything left in.

Now, about Wesley Savick......

I once accused him of being the best director in Boston --- but four other people can justifiably lay claim to that distinction as well. Wes is, however, the most recognizable, inventive, and often exasperatingly incoherent director around. He relies more on improvisation than text, and often his theatrical pieces look more like "variations on a theme" than actual "plays." He has founded a National Theatre of Allston which is peppered with many of his students or former students from Suffolk University. His original works usually have a passionately liberal political subtext, and his company seems willing to try Anything for him. I've seen several of his shows, but general audiences will probably remember only this one from this year's MARATHON:


By Wesley Savick
Sponsored by National Theatre of Allston
Directed by Wesley Savick

Wes Savick loves playing with the fact of theatricality. (I love his stuff! He's in the graduate playwriting program at Boston Playwrights', maybe trying to figure out what "plot" means?) Here he had a dozen young people strung across the stage belting out "I really want the world to sing in perfect harmony..." and then, before they repeated, one would run forward with a few-sentence personal wish about what he/she'd like to give, or what commercial soft-drink might actually Get the whole world to sing in that perfect et cetera. The "choreography" was simple, the choices quick but sincere, and the form set up a kind of audience anticipation of "What will the next one say?"
If you like that sort of thing, and I do, you'd like this. No doubt with more time, Wes would have built something out of this. (Maybe next year it'll have a PLOT, too!)

The line consisted of Melissa Barker, Brittany Daley, Patrick Flaherty, Caitlin Kenney, Laura Liberge, Hannah LaDouceur, Molly Kimmerling, Conor Parsons, Deidre McAllister, Alex Pollock, Greer Rooney and Nick Wilson

I said that in a run-down of the Marathon plays; "Shut Up! etc" featured three "world premieres"
Let me start with the last, which was the tightest and simplestly-written (by Wes) of the three. It featured a somewhat inarticulate king (Tony Passafiume) talking with a magician (Nick Wilson) --- who seemed to know much more about everything --- about the last living dragon mercifully sleeping but dangerous. Without ever quoting directly, Passafiume projected in every way the obtuse, unprepared, tongue-tied confusion of President George W. Bush. A beautiful white rose turned into a beautiful red one, then wilted to a stick as His Highness groped for a decision, doing nothing but talk. Then there was a fade to black, and the lights came up again briefly to find a queen (Christina Watka) repeating, word for word, the beginning of the play, as lights slowly faded. The subtext was impossible to miss.

Theo Goodell's "How to Kill A Robot" took out after contemporary technology in a sprawling, episodic fashion. There were two t-v sets broadcasting what an on-stage camera shot --- often with close-ups of faces involved or commenting on the action. Central to the action were comments by a "Toner Miser" (Patrick Flaherty) about a vindictive copier spewing out threats to kill him. A woman in a slut-red satin dress and boa to match (Talia Bashan) introduced sequences with insoucient gestures; Sing-Along-Sally (Greer Rooney) opened her mouth but only sound-effects emerged. [This review reflects only a few remembered details of a varied and complicated piece, but it is, I suspect, as formless as the play itself.]

The middle play by Alex Pollack "Machine Gun-Death Rattle" is, as it were, a combination of the best elements of the plays that came before and after it. The premise is of a student ("Alex") trying to write a play and taking a few tokes of pot to improve his creativity. Of course each parent demands entrance "smelling smoke", and several members of the company find it necessary, gently or angrily, to criticize the script. Comments from Wes ("Wes isn't here, but I'll read his notes") imply that perhaps some dialogue and a plot would improve the script. A girlfriend (Molly, played by Molly Kimmerling) demands "When you mention 'breasts' are you referring to MY breasts --- and, if not, WHOSE????" One actor considers the violence in the play shallow because he has a cousin in Bhagdad. Comments come from all sides interrupting one another, while the hapless playwright flings himself into contortions and convulsions of inarticulate fear and frustration that must be seen to be believed.

Of course, it may be simply that, as a person who writes, I empathize totally with the problems any writer might have to endure, but I had a ball. I thought Alex kept himself as a writer the central focus of a tornado of commentary, providing the play with a spine from which details exploded. But what also impressed me was that there IS a good deal of bitingly written dialogue" here, and despite a sort of license to improvise, everyone in the cast seemed not only to have memorized every syllable, but Embodied every syllable in clear emotional characterization. And chanting and shouting and rhythmic stomping and pounding on the floor kept insisting that a theatrical physicality was the exact way of making everything clear.

I'm rushing this review because after tonight and two shows tomorrow this whole show will be nothing but a memory. If you luike this sort of thing --- or even if you don't --- try to experience it before it disappears.

Break a leg!
( a k a That Fat Old Man with The Cane )

"How To Kill A Robot"

by Theo Goodell
Directed by Wesley Savick
Assistant Director Rachel Kelsey
Stage Manager Dave Foley

Showgirl.................Talia Bashan
Susan....................Melisa Barker
Barker.....................David Foley
Toner Miser...........Patrick Flaherty
Performer...................Joe Jellie
Ernie...................Caitlin Kenney
Mad Martha............Molly Kimmerling
Beth..................Hannah LaDouceur
Attendant................Conor Parsons
Spik, Bartender..............Andy Ryan
Linda, Sing-Along-Sally...Greer Rooney
Tracie.................Christina Watka
John.......................Nick Wilson

"Machine Gun-Death Rattle"

by Alex Pollack
Directed by Wesley Savick
Assistant Director Purnima Baldwin
Stage Manager Dave Foley

Alex...........Alex Pollack
Molly......Molly Kimmerling
Principal......Talia Bashan
Patrick....Patrick Flaherty
Director....Caitlin Kennedy
A.D. .........Conor Parsons
Actor............Joe Jellie
David Foley, Andy Ryan, Talia Basham, Brittany Daley, Laura Liberge, Molly Kimmerling, Patrick Flaherty, Caitlin Kenney, Conor Parsons, Joe Jellie

"His Highness and the Dragon"

by Wesley Savick
Directed by Brian Anastas
Stage Manager Amy Frizzi

His Highness....Tony Passafiume
The Magician........Nick Wilson
Her Highness....Christina Watka
Guard.................Andy Ryan

"Shut Up! Slow Down! I Can Handle This!" (21 - 24 May)
@ Boston Playwrights' Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON MA
1 (617)824-4297

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide