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Off Broadway

Aisle Say On The Square: March at the Signature Center (Part Two)

Aisle Say On The Square: March at the Signature Center (Part Two)
Michael Emerson, January Lavoy

Michael Emerson, January Lavoy

As for the offerings at the Signature actually produced under the Signature banner …

Playwright Will Eno is fond of dealing in ambiguities. But perhaps uniquely, he’s as fond of keeping things ambiguous for himself. (Or maybe not uniquely; but he may well be unique in admitting it openly.) Which is to say, he likes to present a situation and place idiosyncratic characters in it and then have stuff happen. Without knowing entirely what the meaning of that stuff is—or even altogether why it happens. He wants the audience to fill that in. He even likes talkbacks in which the audience tells him what they think, because it reveals things to him he didn’t even realize.
Curious, but okay.
January Lavoy, Michael Emerson

January Lavoy, Michael Emerson

Personally, I’ve found this to work better for Eno with the plays that have a number of cast members. With The Open House and The Realistic Joneses, I was happily on board for the ride, and I think that’s because when ambiguity is paired with interaction—at a high enough level, that is, and Eno may well be carving out his niche as America’s New Millennium answer to Pinter—there’s at least the suggestion of story to fill in, of relationships (and their complexity) to wonder at.

Not so much with his monologues. He has been lauded for them—in particular for Tom Pain (based on nothing), which ran a long time off-Broadway—but I find that after a certain amount of time being engaged by the wordplay, I lose the thread, and concentrate as I may, I fade in and out. Ironically, the subject at hand is a play called Wakey, Wakey—which is only mostly a monologue.
Our guy is named Guy (true). We are given to understand, implicitly rather than explicitly, that he is dying. Our first glimpse of him is on the floor, half naked, looking up, maybe he’s aware of us, but he appeals to a higher power, says, “I thought I’d have more time.” Then the stage blacks out. And when the lights come back up again, he’s fully clothed, in a wheelchair, prepared to address us. As if speaking for Eno, he first acknowledges that he’s not altogether sure of the point; but as he rambles on, what seems to be the point is a thesis that we should enjoy all the wonderful things in life while we’re around to appreciate them, since the time we have left is unknowable. At some point, he is joined by Lisa, who would seem to be a nurse aid. He contributes a little bit and monitors his condition until indeed, apparently, he dies. The end.
Michael Emerson bring a sweet, nervous, self-conscious charm to Guy—he’s nice enough company—and as the soft-spoken, mostly quiet Lisa, January Lavoy is both serenely lovely and a perfect presence for the task. There are some bells and whistles to the direction, also Eno’s, lighting effects and projections, but the main event is Guy, rambling perhaps by way of trying to hold on. I desperately wanted to hold on with him, but for lack of a narrative anchor, or even just an articulated objective, he lost me. Your mileage may vary.

1st Rehearsal for Everybody

Another experimental work is on the Signature mainstage: a free adaptation of Everyman, the classic, anonymous mystery play (as in Bible mystery), here titled Everybody and delivered in contemporary colloquialism by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

As a piece of writing, it’s okay, rarely transcending the gimmick of putting the essence of an archaic text through a street-slang filter; but the gimmick seems to entertain. That is not, however, the only gimmick.
Louis Cancelmi, David PatRick Kelly, Michael Braun, Lakisha Michelle May, Brooke Bloom, Marylouise Burke

Louis Cancelmi, David PatRick Kelly, Michael Braun,
Lakisha Michelle May, Brooke Bloom
and Marylouise Burke (Photo: Monique Carboni)

In Everyman, God announces his dissatisfaction at mankind’s obsession with material wealth and commands Death to summon Everyman to heaven to make his reckoning. Upon receiving the message, a distressed Everyman begs for more time, which is denied him. But Death allows him to take a companion—if he can find one. And so Everyman goes through the roster of possibles, all reflections of human nature: Friendship, Kinship, Beauty, Love and etc.

In Everybody, as cast for this production, God speaks through the body of a young, African American usher (Jocelyn Bioh), Death is a feisty old white woman (Marylouise Burke)…and all the other roles are determined by random lottery, such that any of the talented multi-ethnic, multi-age, either-gender others (Brooke Bloom, Michael Braun, Louis Cancelmi, David Patrick Kelly, Lakisha Michelle May), can play any of the other roles, including the title role. Meaning that the numerical odds dictate that no two performances will be exactly alike, and that every “chance” role will be played for the values of the individual. The night I attended, Kelly, the senior member of the company, was Everybody, and coincidentally, he’d be the most obvious choice for one looking into the abyss of the unknown and worrying his worthiness. So I may have been witness to the least trope-bending iteration of the text in that sense; though there’s plenty moe trope bending to go around.
Under the direction of Lila Neugebauer, the whole of the theatre is utilized as a black box space and there’s almost nothing in the way of scenery until the end, when Everyman’s journey leads him to the edge of the eternal.
There’s a sense in which Everybody, like Wakey, Wakey, will be an eye-of-the-beholder experience. The source material is about humanity in general, so it can only really be philosophical, leaving the actors to personalize the concepts; and Everybody’s search for a companion is basically schematic; there are no real story surprises. But the cast is game, and the game is what you’re there for. If what I’ve described sounds like fun to you…it almost certainly will be. And if not…well you can’t please Everybody…

Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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