On the last night of The Lost Boys I sat next to a gentleman who had seen many of our shows in the distant past. He reminded me of a play we did about 30 years ago, The Nerd, and of how funny it was. He said he and his son have never laughed so hard, and they still talk about the moment when the nerd (the hilarious Leonard Riley) emerged from the bathoom, trailing a long strip of toilet paper in his shoe. I too can recall this moment vividly, always with a laugh, and it occurs to me that long after a show has been swept away there are still moments that remain in the heart and the mind's eye, even decades later.
So thinking back over this last year at THEATREWORKS, what moments, what images abide from this year's season? Here is my list, show by show.
Boeing Boeing: This was one of the most popular shows in our history, but thinking back no specific moment jumps into my mind--instead I recall lots of pleasant sensations, indeed a continuous wash of pleasant sensations without one surmounting another. But when I close my eyes, what do I see? All right, I confess: it's the girls. All three of them, Air Italia, Lufthanasa, and TWA. They were sensational to look at, especially in the beautifully tailored air hostess outfits Jan Avramov put them in. No wonder that Lothario Bernard could not give any of them up. Who can blame him? No man, I say, no real man!
The Inspector General: There's a lot to remember from the stylish and energetic student production, but there is only one image that is firmly imprinted above all: the final tableau when the entire compnay froze into mannequins of astonishment after learning the real inspector has just arrived. Our production followed the famous direction of Meyerhold by sustaining this freeze for 90 seconds, a very long time in the theatre, almost as long as a sixties foreign film. Long enough for the audience to wonder, laugh, squirm a little nervously, and feel almost as trapped as the characters themselves. Great stuff.
The Seagull: This beautiful play is composed like a painting, full of resonant pictoral moments: Nina in the moonlight, as the earth spirit in Konstantin's play; three women on a bench on a hot summer's day; a dead seagull dropped at a girlfriend's feet. But for me the image that stays most in the mind occurred in the last act, on the Russian estate, with the wind howling outside. Nina has come in from the rain, and she hears the laughing voice of the lover who adandoned her in next door. And immediately she flies, she flies like a small bird, to the door, pressing herself against it to hear everything. Jamie Ann Romero was so lovely, so delicate in her mouse gray travelling dress, and with her hands and face pressed against the door, saying nothing in the darkness with light gleaming under the door in the next room, she spoke volumes. She was a seagull. One of the most beautiful moments ever on our stage.
The Merchant of Venice: Another play studded with vivid verbal and visual imagery. I'm tempted to say most memorable were the signs I posted full of biblical proscriptions against usury, since they were the source of some unusually vehement protest. But inside the tent you can hardly forget Shylock, and especially the entire trial scene, wonderfully and forcefully acted by the whole company, led by Christopher Lowell and Jane Noseworthy. It's one of Shakespeare's most lucid and thrilling set pieces; it makes the audience completely reverse their opinions about nearly everything. But the moment from this production I most treasure was the very last one. The lovers are dancing to a hot Charleston in Belmont,and Launcelot Gobbo is spewing out money from a money blower all over the stage. The tent is raining money, the joint is jumping, everyone is so happy excepting the lonely Antonio, alone on stage as someone nearly always is at the end of a Shakespeare comedy, and then Jessica sees on stage her father's yarmulke---she stops dancing, she picks it up, and looks at it. Blackout.
Church. There's a lot to remember about this play, but most of it was what happened afterwards--it was easily the most controversial show in our history. And that's rather surprising when you consider it consisted mostly of four earnest if slightly odd ministers preaching the Word of God, and telling stories. And yet I venture to say that everyone who saw it will remember the final image that the entire play was pointing towards: the arrival, one by one, of a full gospel choir singing "Ain't Got Time to Die." The music was powerful,and even more powerful than the music was the feeling of joy and faith written on the faces and hearts of the choir members. You just can't beat that.
Women of Will. Tina Packer is a force of nature, and when powered by Shakespeare she is titanic, as she demonstrated over and over in her one woman show dedicated to Shakespeare's women. But the image that abides with me comes not from her potent performance, but from her workshop with our theatre students, and particularly one instance where she took in hand a young man who was rather timidly mouthing a few lines from Hamlet. In the space of five minutes she coaxed him, lead him, mauled him, and beat him--using his body like her putty to remold, like her drum to beat, and suddenly this mousy young actor was speaking Shakespeare from the center of a new being. Astonishing.
The Lost Boys. Another show studded with images bursting from Roy Ballard's remarkable set, which in effect converted our entire stage into a vet's nursing home. I won't soon forget the flying scene on scooters and trapezes, or Tinker Bell almost dying, or the parade of boys, pirates and redskins, or Hook swimming to his ship, or little Wendy and Peter shaking hands as they say goodbye in Neverland, or Pan flying on his wheelies, Peter standing heroically on the rock, or an old man staring into an aquarium, or the fight on the lagoon with trays and toilet plunger. But my favorite, I confess, was the dance the lost boys did with Peter and Wendy on their last night on the island: "Such a deliciously creepy dance it was, in which they pretended to be frightened of their own shadows." Our wonderful old lost boys will never make it to the finals of Dancing with the Stars, but that's just that show's loss. They put a spell on us with charm, gusto and semi-precision timing. You had to love Melvin Grier shaking his booty (in rehearsal I asked him if could dance, and he said, "I'm black, of course I can dance!"--and he could). You had to love Peter and Wendy's rock star entrance, he with his aviator glasses, and she flipping like a flying fish over his shoulders. Speaking as a lost boys myself, I loved it, and was ready to jump up and join them.
So that's my list. It was kind of a tough year all round in many ways--but rich on our stage. If you have other moments from 2011 you remember and want to share, please do!
Happy New Year to one and all!