Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Wild Party"

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"The Wild Party"

Music and Lyrics by Michael John LaChuisa
Book by Michael John LaChuisa and George C. Wolfe
Based on the Poem by Joseph Moncure March
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Music Directed and Conducted by Paul S. Katz
Choreography by Laurel Stachowicz

Orchestration by Bruce Coughlin
Set Design bySusan Zeeman Rogers
Lighting Design by James Milkey
Costume Design by Stacey Stephens
Sound Design by Matt Griffin
Properties Master Caroline McInnis
Assistant to the Director Johnmichael Rossi
Assistant Stage Manager Emi Ridenour
Production Stage Manager Dana Elizabeth Wolf

Queenie....................Bridget Beirne
Burrs...................Christopher Chew
Jackie...........................Kent French
Miss Madeline True........Lisa Korak
Sally...........................Rachel Peters
Eddie Mackrel............Philip Woods
Mae.............................Jackie Duffy
Nadine...........................Bree Greig
Phil D'Armano.....James Jackson, Jr.
Oscar D'Armano.....Brian Robinson
Dolores Montoya...Maureen Keiller
Gold...........................Trevor Little
Goldberg....................John Porcaro
Black.........................Jose Delgado
Kate..........................Merle Perkins

Piano/Conductor..................................Paul Katz
Drums.............................................Kevin Burke
Bass....................................................Ed Krauss
Reeds...Louis Toth, Ray Taranto & Jeff Leonard
Trumpet......................................Steve Banzaert
Trombone........................................Todd Millen
Violin................................................Katy Gillan

I saw this show tonight, and since it is late in the run and the house was packed, and since (with one apparently petulant exception which I have not read) "the notices" have been as positive as the enthusiastic applause at curtain tonight, my own review seems unnecessary --- since Will Stackman/G.L. Horton and Carl A. Rossi have said, in their separate ways, exactly what I would have ["Don't miss it." and "Once it's seen, ya won't forget it"]. Instead I'd like to try to refute some of the unsubstantiated assertions about this show sent here by one Mr. Alexander Wright, who actually believes " can count on your hands the number of Boston theaters that are truly committed to newer material and are willing to take such risks." That is a Dirty Black Protestant Lie, Mr. Wright, and about as believable as any other of your pompous opinions.

"The SpeakEasy production of 'The Wild Party' certainly doesn't live up to its title"
This assertion is the sum total of "Mr. Wright's" dictum: Take his word for it, HE didn't like it, and he sees no reason to tell you why, he just says the identical thing in different words:
"The director of this production, Mr. Volkoff, for some reason, has decided to tone this production down so severely..."
"..but rather than play to the hard edge of the characters and their desperate behaviors, Mr. Volkoff has decided to underplay nearly every opportunity available."
TRANSLATION: Li'l Al's miffed 'cause he ain't turned on. Awww, ain't that too bad!
But, does he ever get specific about why? Well, sort of:

"..the bisexual playboy Jackie (Mr. French) portrays his character as so clean cut and high brow that you might think he stepped straight from the pages of a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. There appears to be no reaction from him when he snorts a line of coke, or any indication of his carnal desires when he is supposedly trying to seduce one of a pair of singing black brothers who are lovers.."

But here our tired-eyed Mister Wright ignores the text: Jackie's dad is a Banker, and though he's the black sheep the money (evidenced in the clothes) the education and the flair are still slumming upper-crust. And Jackie says, flat out, that it's all a game because He Feels Nothing anymore. Didn't our equally bored rev... I mean Critic hear that? Or was he too busy trying to write down his oh so clever Rodgers & Hammerstein quip in the dark --- when he really should have said Cole Porter!

"There appears to be no reaction from him when he snorts a line of coke .."

Another Ghoddamn Lie, Al. True, it takes a second snort, but once the rush hits AllTheirWordsComeAtTripleSpeed for both Jackie and for Nadine, and that rush lasts for at least five minutes --- about as long as any coke-rush really does. It is the most over-priced and over-rated drug on the market and only fools with too much money would pay for it.

"..Mae (Ms. Duffy), an ex-chorus girl married to black boxer Eddie, (Mr. Woods) looks, behaves, and speaks as if she stepped right out of a tea for two party in "No No Nanette" and wouldn't be caught dead at a gathering like this.."
"Also, Ms. Duffy's outfit provides no pizzazz either."

I'll ignore the second cutsey-poo cheap-shot at another musical, but I must point out that the lines have Mae describe herself as "like a champagne-bottle: narrow at the top and big on the bottom"; she is a tug-boat, and I defy any costume designer to "provide pizzazz" even if the text didn't rule it out. And Mae isn't a chorine anymore but an EX-chorine, a matron playing married-lady to the point of resenting any interest Eddie takes in any other woman. But as for not being caught dead here, I don't think humping her hubby down-stage left implies that. (Or were you busy writing again, Al-baby?)

" Kate, Ms. Perkins does little more than wave her arms around repeatedly and crouch down to make a point. She should be the biggest diva of the party,.."

Oh Kate IS the biggest diva here! She IS on Broadway, not hoping to move there from a six-shows-a-day Bowery grind-house. And divas don't Do, Al: they Are. Merle Perkins took the center of attention the second she walked into that room, and Queenie had to claw to get it back. All she had to do was stand there, and whenever she said a word, people listened. But maybe you never saw a real diva work a room.

"Mr. Delgado endows his character (Black) with a flat and stale persona that seems out of sync with that of a confident and sexy gigolo."

Of course he does, because he's Not confident anymore. Because this whole play is About "flat" and "stale" --- about Jaded, about "been there, done that" about gin and coke and sex itself as flavorful as a wad of gum left on the bedpost overnight. Everybody's wild for kicks, but the only real kick in the whole long night is Black and Queenie (Bridget Beirne) out on that fire-escape starting to level not just with one another but with themselves, and grudgingly discovering that that shop-worn word "love" has the power to strip away pretenses and mean something. Kate tells him flat-out that he's just another man, and getting old at that, and Queenie's compulsive dabs of powder from her cruel compact can't hide her terror. But for that moment, their shared world goes quietly, tenderly "Wild"!

".. a majority of the cast does not progress very convincingly from sober to drunk as the liquor flows freely."

Another bald-faced lie. True, nobody staggers and slurs and Indicates stage-drunkenness. It's in their eyes, though, in their switch from social conviviality to small, intent couples, and a change in lighting-color that throws the coupling bodies into half-shadow. It's not their outward actions, but the intensity with which they pursue one another, that signals the effect of the jolts of gin on what had been a champagne exchange of general ribaldry up till then. Sorry you missed that, Al.

Actually, Our Mister Wright managed --- probably by the million-monkeys method --- to say a few things I could agree with:

" The Wild Party' centers on the relationship between vaudeville dancer Queenie (Ms. Beirne) and her somewhat abusive live-in partner, Burrs (Mr. Chew). Queenie is bored so Burrs decides to throw a party, promising lots of "skin and gin". [The exact quote is "Gin, skin, sin, and fun" But let it go.] A catalyst for the party arrives in the form of revellers Kate (Ms. Perkins) and Black (Mr. Delgado), which eventually leads to a tragic result. The rest of the characters are a colorful crew composed of bisexuals, swingers, innocents, has-beens, and drug addicts."

"The show starts off promisingly and it looks like things are going to start kicking into gear, especially during "Welcome to My Party", which is beautifully executed by Ms. Beirne and allows her ample moments to shine so brightly."

"The high point of this production is the integration of the excellent and top notch vocal ensemble and pit band. This show sounds very, very good and each of the members of the cast contributes equally. The music is somewhat jazz, somewhat blues, and even a little bit contemporary. As mentioned earlier, the 'Welcome to My Party' and 'Gin' numbers are executed wonderfully. Also, Ms. Beirne and Mr. Delgado beautifully render the duet, 'People Like Us'. Both Mr. Jackson Jr. and Mr. Robinson are also vocally adept during their several numbers."

"Ms. Keiller (as Delores Montoya) [Who has legs to Die for!] nails her two numbers, 'Moving Uptown' and particularly, 'When It Ends'."

Ah, but let's not waste words in compliments when its so much more fun to Criticize --- isn't it, Al? I mean, let's all giggle at a sentence like: "As for as the technical elements of SpeakEasy's 'The Wild Party', the set is functional and serviceable for the theater at the BCA as well as the lighting." and point out that it's Not that "The set is functional for the Theater And For the lighting" Al, it's "The set And The Lighting that ARE functional...'. right? Right??

But finally, something about this critique leaped out at me when I put a number of phrases together. Here:

".. a party, promising lots of 'skin and gin' .."
".., with a party that promises 'skin', it would have been a good choice to use some outfits that let the ladies show off their bodies a little bit."
"..Ms. Korak's outfit gives us absolutely no indication that she is a stripper."
"With a stronger sense of desperation, decay, and debauchery it could be a party to remember"
".. the groping of body parts is quick and done more as a quick goose on the ass rather than with sexual intent .."
"Desperate people often turn to desperate methods for finding happiness and burying their insecurities."
"These two actresses help us to remember we're peeking in on a party where something naughty is supposed to be going on."
".. things take a downturn and this production begins to limp .."

And there it is!
When Our Mister Wright read the word "Wild" what he thought was "smut"! He came into that hall expecting strippers and dildoes, not people trying but failing to thrust a little life back into their lives, and, in short, Little Alex couldn't get hard.
"The SpeakEasy production of 'The Wild Party' certainly doesn't live up to its title."? Now ain't that too damn bad.......


1) I read the phrase "That's a dirty black Protestant lie" in a biography of Orson Welles. Welles (a pathological, liar) said when at eighteen he played in "The Jew of Malta" at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin that line was shouted back at him from the gloom. It is a mouth-filling bit of rhetorical verbiage that I like to uncork now and again. That should not imply my serious respect for The Catholic Church (ANY Church), especially this week!
2) I run any review sent me, uncut and unedited, though I sometimes ask if the writer would like any editing tips from me. Some have said no thank you, some have turned such exchanges into conversations, and some have cheerfully dismissed my every sentence and continued as though I'd said nothing. That's as it should be. There are as many styles of seeing plays as there are seats in the theatre, and I am grateful for whatever notice is paid to the activities on any "empty space" in the world. I have uploaded reviews from Alexander Wright in the past, and will in the future. That should not imply my serious respect for anything he has or will say, here or anywhere, especially this week!

"The Wild Party" (1 - 23 February)
539 Tremont Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide