By Pat Launer
We’ll be in Peru by the time this will reach you —
In the Amazon, or atop Machu Picchu.
Meanwhile, you can Eveoke yourself; stay on a theater track.
We’ll see you — and many shows, no doubt! — as soon as we get back.
Everyone knows that Eveoke Dance Theatre’s founder/artistic director Gina Angelique is deeply committed to social justice and humanistic ideals. But this time, she’s all over the board. Literally.
“Monstropoly” is played out on a game board. The Lyceum Space is reconfigured as a theater-on-the-square, with the audience surrounding a huge Monopoly-like board where the spaces include ‘Go’ and ‘Jail’ like the original, but instead of properties and Utilities, the other stops are areas ripe for monopolization, such as Military, Education, Internet Media, Leisure, etc. The game pieces are mostly inexplicable — but I guess there wasn’t much sense to a hat, shoe, thimble or iron in the kids’ game, either. Here, it’s multi-billionaires: Holly Hobby Holding a Pineapple on the Edge of a Precipice, The Rolly Polly Bug (typically spelled ‘roly-poly,’ this was only one of many misspellings or typos, in the program and in the placards handed out to the audience); the sexy Woman with Breasts Pressed to the Wind; and the fat-cat Sinkerman (with his feet in buckets of money).
And Raggedy Ann and Andy, who open the show with an apparently meaningless, day-in-the-life, 40-minute floppy-dance to an array of inspiring Tom Waits tunes from his 2002 album, ‘Blood Money.’ The songs are fascinating, often socially relevant, but none of them seems to have any relation to what’s going on onstage. With co-director Michael Mufson, Angelique has not created her most inventive or exciting choreography for this piece, or for the whole evening.
As Raggedy Ann, Ericka Moore exhibits her usual excellence and athletic agility, but her moves become repetitive and tiresome. As her Andy, Nikki Dunnan gets far less to do, less interestingly. It’s great that the two long-time Eveoke-ies get to do one final pas de deux, since this is, by report, Moore’s last performance with the group. She has been its mainstay and surely one of its most exciting and captivating dancers.
So, overall, this first act seemed like filler. Its only relation to Monstropoly appeared to be that Ann and Andy are, as mentioned, game pieces. They’re part of the Family First section of the theater. The audience is given the names of the sections beforehand, and they’re asked to choose which one they prefer to sit in (there’s open seating). The game pieces, along with several assistant “Money Bunnies” (Why bunnies? Who knows? They’re dressed in skimpy black outfits and sport the requisite ears and tails — not as sexy as the Playboy variety, but not your kid’s Halloween costume, either). The Bunnies dance around as each spot is landed on.
In each of the five audience sections (why five, when the room is divided in four??), it takes an inordinate amount of time for the Game Pieces and their Bunny-minions to describe the rules. And they still weren’t all that clear. The whole effort, in fact, was a lot less than crystalline.
Fine to have audience participation. There were always willing volunteers (though often the same ones). But the objective was muddy. Was the intent to encourage debate? Were the onlookers supposed to be serious or cynical? Some participants said real things like: “Buy ‘Government,’ so we can take it over and make some ethical decisions,” while others made sarcastic comments like, “If we bought ‘Parking,’ we could make a lot of money because we could charge anybody whatever we want.’ Or was that serious? I kept getting lost in the morass. There was no debate, and little comment on the comments. Everything moved at loud, breakneck speed. But at the same time, it droned on, endlessly and redundantly.
Oh, did I mention that the inhumanity of the prison system is the main focus here? That issue nearly gets buried in the onslaught, but once it’s aired (including placards handed out to all, proclaiming the disproportionate numbers of blacks and Hispanics in our prisons — but what were we supposed to do with those signs?), it is beaten to death (pardon the pun). The prison crisis is just one in a maze of social issues — just about ALL our national social problems are highlighted, in fact, from energy to malls, Botox to Clear Channel and the “prison-industrial complex” — each imaginatively and energetically catalogued, in hip hop fashion, by the ringmaster (or mistress) of ceremonies (or whatever she was supposed to be), The Lovely Jo Anne Love (played by the lovely Jo Anne Glover).
So, back to the game (I think it takes as long to describe this evening as to sit through it), there’s also a human die, Dice Boy (Doug Johnson), that an audience member pushes to ‘roll’ across the stage, though how the number he supposedly comes up with is determined was beyond me. At one point, he was eliminated from the game (did his act get too repetitive for the creators, too?) and was replaced by an oversized, real-looking die. Oh, and up above, on the catwalk, lurked an armed policeman, the Uber Joker (huh?), played by the tragically underused dance-whiz Anthony Rodriguez, who periodically blew his whistle and noted citation/violation numbers, which Glover then interpreted as losses of rights for the Game Pieces — new regulations such as hands must be shown at all times, smiles must be constantly displayed, the tongue must be protruded (presumably an oblique reference to the rights-reducing Patriot Act). These constraints became progressively restrictive, though the point was made after one or two. This was the problem throughout.
After 90 or more minutes of this, nearly all the Game Pieces had been cited, arrested and imprisoned in some sort of metal box, contraption or torture device that was, before our eyes, riveted to the floor (the creative Cage Sculptures were designed by Marina Shoupe). Intermittently, in the dark (the uncredited lighting was extremely erratic, intrusive or ineffective — the whole center-stage area was unlit for the entire first act), we’d hear recordings of real prisoners describing their harrowing experiences.
By the end, there was a winner. Was it money accrued or sheer survival that determined the win? Ultimately, who cared? In my party, we were just glad the Game was over. But not yet the evening.
The Imprisoned Ones spent a long time actively struggling and suffering, thrashing about in their cages. Finally, they were covered over with white sheets (symbolic of those who die in prison??) and never even got to make curtain calls — though perhaps it was just as well, since it was an extreme under-use of talents such as actor Jim Chovick or butoh artist Charlene Penner who, as Rolly Polly, spent her evening inside a truck tire and never got a moment of solo stage time. A pity. But it was her long (overly long, like everything else) anguished, heart-wrenching cry/wail/moan that finally ended the piece. But not before we got to hear a long-winded, repetitive litany of what had been lost, presumably in prison (“I lost my mother; I lost my house; I lost my clothes…” and on and on).
This was more assaultive and battering than any agit-prop performance. I felt more trapped than the Game Pieces. And it all seemed to go nowhere. The (very didactic) points could have been made in a pamphlet. There was little art, minimal dance, no theater here. The younger people seemed to like it and respond, but it wasn’t clear what they might’ve taken away from the experience. Some of the audience comments were downright disturbing, and they weren’t really countered or contradicted.
Angelique has done some brilliant work. She’s a passionate and gifted creator, though subtlety has never been her strong suit. That weakness is potentiated in this collaborative effort. Perhaps this Game should be put back in the box.
I saw a t-shirt the other day: “Do something for the environment,” it said politely. “Plant a Bush in Texas.” New York is begging for Bush-bashing productions, and it’s getting its fill, with about a dozen shows running or in the works before the election. Now San Diego will have its own edition…
Fred Moramarco, actor, writer, SDSU professor of English and Comparative Literature, and artistic director of Laterthanever Productionns, has secured the rights to the West Coast premiere of A.R. Gurney’s political comedy, “Mrs. Farnsworth,” which featured, in the well-received Off Broadway production, Sigourney Weaver, John Lithgow and, in another NY/SD connection, UCSD alum Danny Burstein.
Moramarco will be producing and directing the show at the ARK Center for the Performing Arts on Kettner , opening October 8th, for 12 performances only. For details, or further info on the Fundraiser on Sunday August 22, check out www.laterthanever.com . Of the Bush-incriminating comedy, Ben Brantley of the NY Times said: ” Though it deals with revelations that are the stuff of smear campaigns, ‘Mrs. Farnsworth’ is as polite and sweetly subversive a political attack as you’re likely ever to come across.”
OPENINGS, CLOSINGS, EXTENSIONS
Billy Crystal’s side-splitting and tear-jerking homage to his father: “700 Sundays,” which premiered at La Jolla Playhouse and was directed by Des McAnuff, will open on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre on December 5 (previews begin November 12). The show, which was a Page to Stage work-in-progress, could not be reviewed, but suffice to say, it was everything you’d hope for from Crystal — and more. Best local angle — designers David Weiner (sets) and David Lee Cuthbert (lighting) will also be traveling with the production and making their Broadway debuts. Rock on, San Diegans!!
Downtown theater is having a resurgence…. And the Fritz is back. Their well-sung production of the Tony Award-winning musical, ”I Do! I Do!”, starring the ever-popular Leigh Scarritt and Fritz Theatre artistic director Duane Daniels, has extended indefinitely in its new dinner/show space at the Sixth Avenue Bistro. Bravo to two infinitely-engaging performers.
In the national theater Debit column, we’ve just sustained another loss… The 21 year-old non-profit Musical Theater Works, dedicated exclusively to developing new musicals, has just officially suspended operations due to a lack of funds. The New York-based organization, which specialized in small musicals, nurtured more than 200 shows, including “A Class Act,” “Ruthless” and “The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin.” This summer, the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts is producing Michael John (“The Wild Party,” “Marie Christine”) LaChiusa’s new musical, “R Shomon,” developed at Musical Theater Works. Musicals still draw ’em in. Sad to lose another venue for developing new, small and producible ones… Rest in Peace.
And now, for THIS WEEK’S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“A Lesson from Aloes” — taut drama, gripping production, finely nuanced performances. At 6th @ Penn Theatre, through July 21.
“Kid-Simple” — wildly imaginative, and just plain wild. A sound-feast and act-fest. At Sledgehammer Theatre, through July 11.
“Bed and Sofa” – delightfully quirky little musical, gorgeously designed and sung. See it, for sure! At Cygnet Theatre, through July 18.
“The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow” — fascinating premise, a stellar local lead and excellent direction; at the Globe’s Cassius Carter, through July 18.
“The Maids” — darkly disturbing, enigmatic, and not for everyone, this 56 year-old Genet classic tells a murderous tale of incest, jealousy and dangerous games. A risky/sexy production at 6th @ Penn, through July 25.
“Continental Divide” — a pair of plays, for anyone who cares about the state of the Union, the political process, and our loss of idealism (and has a long attention span). In repertory at the La Jolla Playhouse, through August 1.
Celebrate Bastille Day (7/14) — Storm the barricades and go to the theater!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.