Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Steel Kiss and On a Clear Day
Also see Richard's recent reviews of Threepenny Opera and Song at Twilight
The Pride Company opened its 99-00 season with the US premier of the Canadian play Steel Kiss. It was written by Robin Fulford, who is artistic director of Platform 9 Theatre in Toronto. This was formerly two one-act plays. The first one-act play, Steel Kiss, premiered in 1987 at Toronto's Platform 9 and became "an incendiary landmark of the late-80's Toronto's theatre". The second one-act play was called Gulag and it premiered in 1996 at Platform 9.
In the current Steel Kiss, Act 1 is the true story of a 1985 murder of a gay teacher in Toronto's High Park by four local teenagers. Act 2 takes places four years after the murder. The perpetrators' jail time is winding down and the boys are more frustrated and impotent than four years earlier; they are edgy, violent and angry
This play examines the teens as products of a homophobic culture in which just ordinary boys can become killers. In the second act, these boys become young men unable to grapple with the causes of the crimes, and society is incapable of rehabilitating the criminals. Mr. Fulford says he wrote the play "to open the eyes of teenagers and to inspire the converted to back up their belief with action." I am not so sure he did, since I found the second act weak and completely overdone
The first act was beautifully dramatized with a clarity and great choreography. The four young men portrayed the homophobic gang that beat the gay teacher to death. The opening scene is very shocking as you see three member of the gang beating the fourth unmercifully, their boots hitting the head and body of the unfortunate man. The stage goes black and then we see these four guys prior to the killing who are fag haters in the park looking for gay men. You see them fag bashing, roughhousing; we see the phony bravado of these teenage boys. This act is riveting. The four young men also take the part of the parents to show their lives prior to this killing.
I can only wish the second act held up as well. After four years in a juvenile jail these boys still are irritable and brutal. They really have not learned their lesion. However, this act is very incoherent and extremely abrasive. A woman is introduced who takes the part of a sister, mother and whore as she goes from one man to another. She is played by Desiree Rogers. There are quick little scenes showing what happen to each of the young men after leaving prison. This where the play becomes incoherent. At the end of the play there is a bachelor party since one of the men is getting married. This goes on much too long and the men who are getting drunk just lose control of the play. This last scene was an attempt to shock the audience, but I found it a little boring. There is an ending that is also meant to shock the audience, but it was lost amid the yelling and screaming of the actors as they try to act drunk. It is more of a roughhouse scene that was totally unnecessary.
On the whole, these four young talented actors are superb in the first act. Billy Allen as Neil is particularly excellent as a hanger-on in the group. However, in the second act he tends to overact as an angry young man. His voice inflection becomes very strange; it is overly guttural when he expresses anger. There is a young man playing Billy who is an alumni of ACT's Young Conservatory Training Program. His name is Rajiv Shan and he shows great charisma in his acting. He should have a good career in the acting game. The other two actors, James Marks and Lino Antonio, are excellent in their roles. Ms. Rogers was a little weak in her role at the beginning of the second act, but she found the characters as the play continued. I can't fault the actors in this production since they make the best of the second act script. I only wish that act could have been as beautifully dramatized as the first act.
The direction by Ed Decker is crisp, however I wish he could tone down and shorten the last scene of the bachelor party. It would be more effective with the shock ending. The staging is interesting. There are beige steps on the side and center parts of the small stage with no other scenery or props. Lighting was also good.
The production continues until October 30.During the summer of 1965 I was able to see On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. It was the first time that I saw John Cullum on stage and he immediately became one of my all time favorites . Barbara Harris played Daisy in the production at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. I loved the music of Burton Lane and the lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner. "Melinda" and "On A Clear Day" became my favorites and the way Mr. Cullum sang these songs was electrifying. His renditions is still one of my favorites.
The Broadway production ran only 273 performances due to heavy competition from other musicals playing in New York. There were road tours of the musical starring Tammy Grimes, Linda Lavin and Nancy Dussault. The latter is currently playing in Threepenny Opera.
42nd Street Moon productions did a splendid concert reading for a regional company of On a Clear Day ... during this past week. The production starred Andrea Marcovicci, the wonderful cabaret artist, and Michael DeVries, fresh from his role in the Manhattan Theater Club production of Captain Courageous Mr. DeVries is well known in New York and performed in Sound of Music with Rebecca Luker prior to the New York opening. He also created the role of Capt. Lennox in The Secret Garden and played the Baron in Grand Hotel.
There is an interesting story behind the appearance of Ms. Marcovicci in this production. She had always wanted to play a role in one of the concert versions of past musicals at 42nd St. Moon. Originally the company and Ms. Marcovicci were going to do Lady In the Dark. However Kitty Hart, wife of Moss Hart, said no way would she allow this Kurt Weill-Moss Hart musical be presented by a regional company. So the company compromised and Andrea took the starring role in this musical.
The effervescent Ms.Marcovicci had a grand time as Daisy/Melinda in this production which is based on the Bridie Murphy plot about reincarnation and ESP. She was delightful in a beguiling roles. She had rhythmic control of the songs that she sang. Her rendition of "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" was a highlight of the show.
Michael DeVries was dashing as Dr. Bruckner and his vibrant tenor voice was majestic in the two songs "Melinda" and "On A Clear Day". I will not say that he was a good as John Cullum, but passable. He did have a little trouble with the high notes in "On a Clear Day". His "Come Back To Me" was curiously fascinating.
There was excellent support from 42nd Street Production regulars. Steve Rhyne, who has had leading roles in past productions of this company, was excellent as Daisy's boyfriend Warren Smith. He had a terrific number called "Wait Till We're Sixty Five", very well done. Gordon Goodman of Los Angeles played Edward in the 18th Century section of the musical. He had an immense, powerful voice. One of my favorite numbers was "On the SS Bernard Cohn", with some choreography featuring two great dancers: Martin Lewis, recently of Phantom of the Opera, and Kirk Mills, who has a nice list of credits in both LA and here.
This production moved to the larger Ira Gershwin theatre and for the first time the production had a larger stage plus a 6-piece orchestra under the direction of Michael Horsley . The direction of Wayne Bryan was unfussy and snappy. Even Daisy's flashback to her past life worked very well. All performances were sold out and it is hoped that next summer 42nd Street Moon will go into a larger theater. It has been reported they will move into the new Gateway Theater next summer, good news indeed for fans of the company. It is a shame they could not have extended this production. It could have played for a month to full houses. This was the best production this talented company has done so far this season.
42nd Street Moon's next production will be Cole Porter's Let's Face It. It opens on September 30 and runs until October 17. Elmslie and Richardson's The Grass Harp follows October 28 to November 14 and the season concludes with Rodgers' and Hart's Babes In Arms, opening November 26.