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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Marathon '33

Marathon '33
Jennifer Richter and
Bruce Alan Rauscher

American Century Theater in Arlington, Virginia, and director Jack Marshall took a massive chance in staging Marathon '33, and the good news is that this overpowering, immersive look at life through the prism of a Depression dance marathon is utterly involving. The audience members surround the dance floor, standing in for the 1930s crowds who paid a quarter to watch destitute, desperate people risk their health and lives for the possibility of a cash prize.

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
Marathon '33
July 27th - August 25th
By June Havoc
Beezer Calloway, roustabout: John Klenk
Pete Petrillo, roustabout: Paul Alan Hogan
Fletch Winston, band leader: Tom Fuller
Ruddy Blaine, MC: Bill Karukas
Radio Technician: Viktor Tchevyenko
Clyde Dankle: Craig Miller
Eve Adamansky: Jane E. Petkofsky
Rita Marimba: Mary Beth Luckenbaugh
Angel/Nurse Judy Nance: Carrie Daniel
Dr. Myron Thorne: Colin Davies
"Sugar Hips" Johnson: Carolyn Myers
Lusty "One Punch" Hutchinson: Joshua Rosenblum
Health Inspector/Dick Billingsley/Hinky Blaine: Noah Mitchel
Scotty Schwartz: Steve Lebens
Pearl Schwartz: Emily Thompson
Robin Kaye/Clarice: Aviva Pressman
Bozo Bazoo: Daniel Corey
Abe O'Brien: Alex Perez
Michelle "The Mick" Swensen: Jamie Ogden
Helen Bazoo: Chanukah Jane Lilburne
Ida Gulliver/Pinky: Rachel M. Loose
Red Gulliver/Rod: Jared Mason Murray
Joe Burnett: Robby Priego
Patsy McCarthy Wellington von Westonfarb: Bruce Alan Rauscher
June/Jean Reed (June Havoc): Jennifer Richter
Flo Madison: Elizabeth Hallacy
Al Madison: Terrence J. Bennett
Rae Wilson: Ann De Michele
Schnozz Wilson: Frank Britton
Mr. James: Alex Witherow
Mrs. Beckett-Jones: Deborah Rinn Critzer
Magdalena Sanger: Karin Rosnizeck
Directed by Jack Marshall
Musical director: Tom Fuller
Gunston Theatre II, 2700 S. Lang St.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: www.americancentury.org.


Photo: Dennis Deloria


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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