Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The 1963 play was written and originally directed by June Havoc, based on her own experiences in the dance marathon culture. It begins with teenage June (Jennifer Richter), who had been a vaudeville star since childhood (Baby June, as portrayed in the musical Gypsy), looking for any job in a bad market. She has walked miles to the dance hall to earn $5 singing with the band, but instead gets tapped by marathon regular Patsy (Bruce Alan Rauscher) to be his partner.
Today, the term "dance marathon" refers to charity events that run for a strictly limited period of time. In the 1930s, unemployed people who had run out of options agreed to dance 45 minutes of every hour, 24 hours a day, for as many days as they could, playing to the audience (songs, comedy routines) in the hope of receiving a "silver shower" of coins while outlasting the other contestants to win $2,000. One dancer has a tooth pulled without leaving the dance floor; two dancers, wrapped together in a blanket, have sex in plain sight. The mellow-voiced MC (Bill Karukas) stirs up the crowd with the repeated slogan, "How long can they last?"
June soon understands the appeal of the marathon to spectators: "Sadism is sexy, masochism is talent." The producer of the marathon (Craig Miller) sees this situation from another perspective, helping to calm down dancers who hallucinate and scream because "when she crashes for good, the audience has a right to see it."
Richter, with her guileless, open face and golden curls, captures the audience's sympathy and Rauscher is a good match as a man ground down by cynicism but determined to keep going.
Marshall has organized a fearless cast of 32 actors plus a live band led by Tom Fuller. Most of the time, the group of dancers serves as a living backdrop to the constantly shifting set of small dramas playing out on the floor.
American Century decided to localize the setting of Marathon '33, placing the marathon site in the historic Arlington neighborhood of Clarendon. Audience members begin their trip into the past as they walk through exhibits presenting Clarendon in the 1930s, then-and-now photos of landmarks (a building that now houses coffee shop was originally a streetcar station), and newspapers from the period of the play.
American Century Theater