Registered Critic: Eric A Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, writes for People's World (peoplesworld.org). He has written for dozens of local, national, and international publications, mostly about art, music, culture, religion and politics. His undergraduate degree is from Yale and his doctorate in history is from Tulane. He was director of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring in Southern California from 1995 to 2010. Eric is the author of "Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein," and co-author of "Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson." A book he translated from Portuguese ("Waving to the Train and Other Stories," by Hadasa Cytrynowicz) appeared in 2013. In 2015 he executive produced "City of the Future," a CD of Soviet Yiddish music from the 1930s. He is the former Southern California Chapter Chair of the National Writers Union (Local 1981 UAW/AFL-CIO).
May

ARCHDUKE

But these verbal and sight gags long exceed their welcome. As for the Captain's overheated speeches about Serbian nationalism and the suffocating grip of Austro-Hungary, these are also made darkly comic, a premonition of Hitler who would emerge in the next decade. It's okay to dabble with history as your starting point for drama. Hey, Shakespeare did that all the time. And don't get me started on opera librettists. Archduke may be the playwright's statement on the ways people are recruited for terrorism, the excesses of nationalism and ethnic chauvinism, the folly of war, all these ideas. But please let us not accept that this play has much to do with the causes and origins of WWI, which happened, after all, not that long ago! Here are a couple of reasons why not.

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May

The Sweetheart Deal

I saw this play on Sunday—Mother's Day—and the audience was way too sparse, I hope only because of the holiday. It's an excellent production that should be widely seen, especially by those, young and otherwise, who are not so familiar with this era. Even for those who do know this history, it's a good drama, mostly well told and performed.

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May

reviewed by Eric A Gordon

In fact, there is little that is truly erotic in the show: Everyone is in this play for their own amoral, self-interested reasons, either to satisfy pure lust, to escape boredom or simply to be naughty, or to secure some form of social status. As The Husband states to his Young Wife in a moment of unrehearsed candor, “Sometimes I like to forget that I love you…. Forgetting helps to keep the romance new.” In the end, this is a sad, caustic view of romance, warm bodies wrapping themselves in each other's arms only to be emotionally bruised. Such bitter honesty is far removed from the bubble-gum romance that passes for love in popular music. It seems closer to the contemporary casual dating scene that prides itself on no-strings-attached atomization.

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May

KISS

It's all very mysterious, but not in an Orientalist sort of way; Calderón is too worldly for that. The mystery—personal, political and theatrical—is how much of our lives is mediated in ways we don't even recognize any more: The TV we watch, the papers we read, the gossip we hear, the veracity we expect from our friends, lovers and colleagues. What can we trust? What do we understand, and how do we know it?

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Apr

The Legend of Georgia McBride

So we're back to racially blind casting, which for virtually any audience evokes the potent race issues that still curse and in large part define America, and thereby represents a healthy and thoughtful response to intolerance. A greater point is made: This oddly thrown-together assemblage of human castaways perseveres through hard times and becomes a caring family, whose members achieve a sense of responsibility toward one another. They now even have a couple of young 'uns to nurture into a more openminded future. Civilization, Western and otherwise, always makes room for a little gender-bending as a needed corrective to our fixed notions of convention. If we can acknowledge that not every person fits into the neat boxes society prescribes for us, that creates room for others to emerge and shatter the walls and ceilings that hold them—and all of us—back. In the end, it's not even and not only about gender, but about possibility. How can we bring a new world out of the ashes of the old without breaking a few rules? As stated early on in the play, “Either be a pain—or not, and watch the whole world disintegrate.”

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Apr

Lord of the Underworld's Home for Unwed Mothers

Hill has written a major piece of social history that brings into deep relief a part of our past many would like to forget. Her offbeat title brings together the very distinct environments of the mother and daughter in the two acts: “Lord of the Underworld” resonates with Corie's death-worshipping, satanist heavy metal scene, but also suggests a certain ungodliness in the Church's practice of brutally abandoning “the product of sin” to a bleak fate in the maws of the foster mill. This is memorable and important feminist theatre for everyone (well, not young children).

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Apr

THE ENCOUNTER

The Encounter reminded me of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness—a novel written in English about the Belgian Congo by another Eastern European writer. Like any gripping narrative of adventure, the thrill is in the telling. We take an epic journey—in our seats and with the aural virtual reality coming through the headphones—comprising getting lost in the jungle, tropical rainstorms and raging rivers, strange tribal customs, the disorientation of a clockless existence, intoxicating drugs and fevered dreams, wild animals and dangerous thorny plants, maggots and an ever-present presentiment of disease and death. Your senses are mightily engaged, yet it is all very gestural. With the actor's constant real-time asides and interruptions from his child, we are never left for long in the illusion of the story. Indeed, look up above you and you see monitors prompting Mr. McBurney on his word-for-word script. Primarily we are meant to be stunned by the actor's hyperactivity in body and voice. Those monitors aside, no one seeing him would deny it's a tour de force for the solo performer. There's a whole lot of “ecting” going on. Not counting our 25-minute forced intermission, even at two hours I began feeling after about an hour and a half that he had pretty much exhausted his repertoire and I was ready for him to wind up. The prodigious audio contribution held my attention but it could not cover the eventual sense of tedium with the script.

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Apr

Still Life

Carrie Ann and Jeffrey are both smart, urbane characters who are permeable and resilient enough to allow this new love into their lives. Teetering on the edge of indecision and stasis, both will significantly alter the arc of their lives with the support of the other. Love can have that effect—but will it suffice to heal a whole generation afflicted with anomie?

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Apr

GARDEL'S TANGO

Silveyra is exceptionally well-cast as Gardel. He looks uncannily like his character, and approximates his singing voice adequately enough in mostly English-language versions of the biggest hit numbers. Maman Berthe of course has a French accent, Gardel his presumably Buenos Aires intonation, Le Pera a generally Latino sound. Razzano, however, has an urban tough-guy American voice, with no attempt whatsoever to sound anything Latino; the Baroness talks like a Bronx floozy (we don't really know her background but she fits into the era's stereotype of the American girl who marries into wealth); and Isabel has a way over-the-top Caribbean spitfire tongue. Linguistically, the show is inconsistent to say the least. There could be a worthwhile play in this material, but so far we're not seeing it. The physical production is fairly impressive for a small theatre staging, but the script needs an overhaul.

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Apr

At Home at the Zoo

The Zoo Story ends in quickly rising contention over possession of the park bench, like wild animals defending their turf. Peter's sense of entitlement is brought under question, as though his whole world of existential privilege is being challenged. It may have been Albee's original intention to make this statement about society in 1959—our territorialism, our possessions, our bourgeois comforts, our neat little families providing convenient outlets for sexual expression, our rewarding work—and how these benefits of the smug, self-satisfied life are patently not available to all. It now seems so inevitable that Homelife precedes the drama in Central Park, as if it had always been there. The two-act play may become the standard format.

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Apr

MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG

There is surely a looming cloud over this soul-searching musical, which debuted, I think not coincidentally, in 1981, the first year of Ronald Reagan's “It's morning in America” presidency. We were not meant to recall lost dreams of the left turn never taken, but rather celebrate the get-rich mentality of those corrupt times. Of course the current production was planned long before the fateful presidential elections of 2016, yet it seems fitting that we should be reminded, through the culture that we embrace, of some higher purpose of living than the wholesale looting of our commonweal for private aggrandizement. Did “someday” just begin, or is it midnight in America? Somehow it seems telling that Shepard's new movie, at the peak of his career, is titled “Darkness at Dawn.”

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Apr

ZOOT SUIT

Who is El Pachuco? El Pachuco was famously played in the first production by Edward James Olmos, and now by the renowned Mexican actor Demian Bichir. But who, really, is he? The soul of Mexicanidad in an alien society? The permanent outsider? The cynical, armored macho individualist, the go-it-alone rebel? Some part messiah, Everyman, trickster? A sort of self-destructive Dean of Hard Knocks? A modern priestly avatar of ancient lost pre-Columbian cultures, posing with his bizarre costume, stance and intricate gestures? The consciousness of Raza in the collective mind, the little angel and devil who make their home on our shoulders and whisper unasked-for counsel into our ears?

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Apr

FUN HOME

Leaving the theatre, my companion, knowing I'd be writing a review for People's World, summed it up: “You know what the moral is? Down with the bourgeois family!” Ha! Yes, I reminded him, in the early days of the gay liberation movement, we used to march on Gay Pride Day yelling, “2 – 4 – 6 – 8, down with family, church and state!” Yet, I asked, is the bourgeois family so static? Does it still require that amount of authoritarianism, dysfunctionality and toxicity?

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Apr

Building the Wall

It's a rough-going 80 minutes but well worth the investment if it leads to greater effort to dismantle the incipient apparatus of fascism in America. The Fountain supplied stamped postcards addressed to the president for audience members to communicate their views. See it while you can.

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Mar

The Cruise

The Cruise has promise but needs further work. We don't see enough of the characters' personal motivations. Some substantial and clearer subplotting would help to bring these figures into greater relief.

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Mar

Paradise Lost: Reclaiming Destiny

Ballet is often called “poetry in motion,” and in this case it is literally true. It helps to have some idea of the Milton epic, but just the visual and sonic experience alone is unlike anything you'd see in a small theatre. Sitting close up to these masterfully sculpted bodies at peak fitness in constant movement felt like a rare privilege.

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Mar

Disinherit the Wind

The premise of this work is fascinating, and for many that may be enough. But as theatre it has its longueurs and an inevitability that overstay its welcome.

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Feb

FUGU

Dealing with historical characters, Fugu avoids the curse of didacticism. Teichman and Simon both have long and rich enough experience in the theatre to allow the characters to dictate their roles while staying within the general confines of the well made play that encompasses elements of danger, romance, war, intrigue and the grand sweep of historical events that will be entirely unfamiliar to most theatregoers. The play proves the truth in the old dictum that “something good came out of something terrible.”

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Feb

Plasticity

This is a theatrical experience well worth seeking out. It breaks new ground as a tour de force for the solo actor, for the vigorous freshness of the production itself, and for the discussion that will undoubtedly follow.

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Feb

Late Company

Late Company is not a call for “political correctness,” but is a forceful reminder of the responsibility everyone bears for their words and deeds. Even the dead in this case are not exempted from interrogation.

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