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Western Civilization

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Geri Haywood is a Jackson Square artist. She has been writing plays since 1988. Now, for the first time, she's got one on the boards. Camelot Unveiled, at the True Brew, is celebrity worship turned sour. The celebs are John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby and Marilyn Monroe. I mean this is a crew that -- had they lived 3,000 years ago -- would now be constellations.

Director Dane Rhodes (and set designer Joseph Riley) went for a more contemporary take on these cultural icons. They wrapped their celebrities in cellophane -- 'like Barbie Dolls,' as Rhodes put it after the show. The whole set sits inside a clear, plastic box. This packaging is appropriately weird and dreamlike. The same may be said for the chic, sexy disc jockey-cum-stage manager (Liz Ladach-Bark) in her high-tech cubicle at the back of the stage. Otherwise, the set is Marilyn's bedroom: white wicker chairs, a white wicker bar (covered in pill bottles and martini glasses) and a white vanity table (also covered in pill bottles and martini glasses). This boudoir reeks of decadent Hollywood death-trip vibes.

In short segments -- each given a title by the stage manager -- we watch the Kennedy brothers acting out like neurotic frat boys with the world's ultimate glamour trophy. They demean her and paw her and kiss her and generally lech after her, while at the same time pondering an invasion of Cuba. These Kennedys are not only infantile and sleazy, they are somewhat nuts. For instance, whenever JFK hears the phrase 'P.T. boat' (which Marilyn tosses his way from time to time for the evil fun of it), he goes into a trance and returns in his mind to the deck of the boat he served on in World War II. There, he harangues the crew.

The sad fact is that all three of these celebrities are doomed. Two will be murdered by assassins; one will commit suicide. This little cellophane-wrapped group-grope is all the earthly paradise they get -- or, rather, it is their sad, chintzy version of No Exit.

The principal actors (Leah Loftin, Lucas Harms and Andy English) do a commendable job of suggesting the archetypal originals without descending to impersonation.

In general, the strength of the script lies in its curdled, acidulous point of view and non-linear approach. Like the adulterous hijinks of its protagonists, Camelot Unveiled shows us an outside that has no inside -- a facade of fame.

Meanwhile, some other indelible cultural icons were on display recently in Rivertown Rep's vibrant production of Big River. Mark Twain put in a brief appearance. He was soon joined by some of the imaginary folk he created -- chief among them, Huckleberry Finn and the runaway slave Jim. That unlikely team of adventurers was then joined by Tom Sawyer, the Duke and the Dauphin, as well as Huck's Pappy, the Widow Douglas and various other denizens of the banks of the Mississippi in the late 1840s. This musical (with book by William Haptman and music by country singer Roger Miller) was a surprise hit in 1985.

Now, one way to look at the story is Huck's attempt to escape civilization. Of course, Jim is also trying to escape civilization, since civilization means slavery for him, his wife and his children. You get the feeling that the sardonic Mr. Twain woke up at night screaming from dreams in which he had been 'civilized.'

In any case, at Rivertown Rep, we were in capable hands with Scott Sauber as Huck and Tony Molina Jr. as Jim. They played with an easy naturalness. They sang strongly. They were likeable (a quality that the script sometimes pushes a bit hard) and yet they felt authentic.

In fact, the whole cast was in top form. Commendations to Robert Richardson (the Duke), Marc Belloni (the Dauphin), Wayne Gonsoulin (Pap Fin), Barbara Lacour (Miss Watson), Lisette Bayle (Widow Douglas) and John Hammons (Judge Thatcher) -- to name just a few. Gary Rucker, who also played that young scalawag Tom Sawyer, directed the show. In addition to eliciting fine performances from his cohorts, Rucker managed to mold a pleasingly unified whole from this wandering tale ("wandering" in all senses of the word). Part of the credit must go to Chad Talkington for his glorious, fluid set. A tip of the hat also to musical director Lori Dewitt, choreographer Kelly Fouchi, costume designer Linda Fried, lighting designer Michael Brown and scenic artist Michelle Levine for this fine show.

Lucas Harms, Leah Loftin and Andy English yuck it up as the Kennedy brothers Jack and Bobby and their muse, Marilyn Monroe, in
  • Lucas Harms, Leah Loftin and Andy English yuck it up as the Kennedy brothers Jack and Bobby and their muse, Marilyn Monroe, in

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