Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Boys at Play"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"Boys at Play"

Written & Directed by Jerry Bisantz

Set Design by Antonio Menditto
Lighting Design by John MacKenzie
Stage Manager Michelle Aguillon

Stagehand/Playwright......................................Tom Berry
Stage Manager................................................Dan Wilson
Producer.................................................David W. Clasby
Set Designer..................................................Mike Sickler
Director/Costumer.....................................Kris Alexander
House Manager............................................Ann Leacock
Arts Council Head................................Elizabeth Marshall
Television Reviewer....................................Sheila Stasack
Television Techie..................................Annamarie Soares
Television Cameraman..................................Jerry Bisantz
Playwright...................................................John Carozza


The Hovey Players' optician-in-residence Jerry Bisantz has written a breezy situation-comedy set in a theater greenroom that cuts to the heart of the major dramatic conflict driving theater in our time: money versus art. The situation is that which has faced theatrical institutions all across America: the new Arts Council Funding Czarina recognizes only theatrical companies satisfying an identifiable demographic constituency, and lovers of good theater ain't on her agenda. Rather than close, the company decides to pander to the one segment of society under-represented in theatrical funding in today's society: --------straight white guys?????

The logic here begins when producer and playwright look around their greenroom and, eliminating all the other demographic constituencies that Have been funded --- feminists, Jews, monosexuals of either gender, and ethnicities of any color but blush pink --- the producer and the playwright constitute a minority. The fact that this minority attracts funding from Rush Limbaugh, Patrick Buchanan, and David Duke and attracts hate-calls from just about everyone else cannot dissuade them from calling the Czarina's bluff when it comes to recognizing the unrecognized in our theatrical society. Bisantz has a lively ear for current buzzwords and quips from the hip at Glock-9 speed exploring the parameters of this disturbingly plausible situation.

The short scenes here have changes admirably covered by well-chosen musical bits, and build in intensity through a confrontation with the funding Czarina herself (Elizabeth Marshall, in black-vinyl pants) and then a live on-air interview by a television reviewer whose initials are J.K. (Sheila Stasack) that degenerates because --- well, let's just say the CPR performed on her little teddybear must be seen to be believed.

But of course, when the piper is paid, the tune is called, and Act II concerns the backstage behavior of the one straight-white-male playwright (John Carozza) the company has managed to unearth. We're talking re-writes and eccentricities here, and a damn-the-torpedoes return to Good Theater for a happy ending. Yes, the company produces a play and yes it's a hit. In fact, the script calls for a same-night Internet review that is so accurate I have asked my lawyer to call them Monday morning to discuss its ramifications.

This is still a work-in-progress, but even now it rocks. There are topical jokes an in-jokes and backstage jokes scattered like popcorn all along the way, but they arise out of deeply realized theatrical characters in every case. Theater people say funny things, and even this greenroom-full of them --- not a one of them an actor! --- plays easily to one another and to the gallery.

Tom Berry is the young go-for-the-gold enthusiast for his own fantasy of an underserved minority Mark Sickler the conservatively gay designer who nevertheless goes along, David W. Clasby the exhausted producer reading the handwriting on the flats, while Dan Wilson and Ann Leacock are board members swept along by the flood. Kris Alexander, however, is the outraged feminist who'd rather quit than direct a cave-man's script. And, admittedly, John Carozza's budget-busting unreality as the first author the company thinks of producing only complicates their "victory" with his neo-Stanislavskian oddities.

Elizabeth Marshall is the great antagonist, fuming in silent high dudgeon whenever asked to defend her out-of-hand dismissal of straight white guys as a viable minority. She can stand toe to toe with a desperate Berry, and only her glaring silences are dents in her arrogance.

Sheila Stasack's telepersonality is a cameo walk-on whose single scene sits as the keystone first-act climax. Come to interview Berry and Marshall about the new funding scheme, she is not of the theater world, controlled by her pack of green 3x5-cards, and not very anchored in any real reality, to put it mildly.

There are lines and scenes and characters that Bisantz may see differently through a first audience's eyes. But then, isn't it the rewrites that out-of-town try-outs like this are for? Even on opening night this show had legs and its audience had the fun of watching a good new play being born. Well roared, lion. well roared all!

Love,
===Anon.


"Boys at Play" (till 27 November)
HOVEY PLAYERS
Abbot Memorial Theater, 9 Spring Street @ Joel's Way, WALTHAM
1(781) 893-9171

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