Churchill’s take on love and on information seems a bit chilly. There may be a lot of both love and information out there, she appears to intimate, but it’s not usually of very good quality. Much of Churchill’s frostiness is, however, presented with a comic touch, emphasized by Dierdre McAllister’s direction, by the energetic and youthful ensemble, and by the audience, which seemed to be goading on the performers with constant and frequently loud laughter.
Neil Simon’s indecision about genre in Brighton Beach Memoirs was related to his problem being direct about his parents. A true account would necessarily have revealed their fighting, his father’s desertions and infidelities, and the eventual failure of their marriage, and could only have been presented as a tragedy or melodrama. A comedy (and Brighton Beach is formally a comedy) would need to present a sanitized version of what Simon remembered; it would satisfy his audience (which expected comedies) and his parents, but it would also come further from the flavor Simon wanted to present. What we get in consequence is a play in three somewhat inconsistent genres.
New Modes of Representation Forcing Reexamination of Oldtime Heroes: MEN ON BOATS at Baltimore Center Stage
Jaclyn Backhaus’s Men on Boats, now appearing at Baltimore Center Stage, is a gently amiable but persistently subversive take on America’s age of exploration. It recreates the 1869 expedition of John Wesley Powell and nine others down the Green and Colorado Rivers and into the Grand Canyon on a presidentially-ordained voyage of discovery. As the play is at pains to show us, the trip was a voyage of discovery only from the perspective of certain white Protestant men, since Native Americans lived along the route – and white Mormons dwelt close by as well. But only when the river and surrounding lands were surveyed and mapped by certain kinds of white men could they truly be considered part of the American imperium. While the travelers can acknowledge that various people “have run these streams” before them, including “natives” and military deserters, these predecessors were persons whom “no one counts.” That laughably foreshortened perspective does not rob the travelers of bravery, resilience, or grit. It just makes their heroic sacrifices less consequential than they understand.
Clearly, the story of a king who would, legally speaking, seem like the safest person in the land, but who nonetheless is slain, as is his lover, because their relationship is considered taboo, seems facially like a perfect vehicle to provide that treatment. But it simply isn’t, or at least not without more work. There are too many complications unique to a royal situation, as this play cannot help showing.
And thus the struggle over ways of thinking and dealing commences. For Hicks, the past that Sterling and Barlow are protecting has no value, and the validity of Barlow’s legal claim is irrelevant. From his standpoint, when the powers that be have firmed up their plans to a certain point, mere legality must step aside. For Wilks, abandoning the rule of law leads to chaos, even if following that principle leads to results that disappoint the oligarchs. I’ll leave it to audiences to discover how the clash of perspectives works out, but it is clear that, regardless of what becomes of Aunt Ester’s home, Wilks’ choice to adhere to the rule of law and to honor his roots and ancestors would destroy his great plans, his business partnership, and probably his marriage. Though, of course, regardless of the outcome, such a choice would also make him a hero.
An Old But Surprisingly Modern Comic Treasure: THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory
The Knight of the Burning Pestle is rarely produced, and it certainly deserves the occasional outing, if only as a reminder that our forbears were just as interested in trying experiments with theatrical genre and form as we are.