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Wild Pairing


ArtSpot Productions is the current resident theater company at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). Kathy Randels, artistic director of ArtSpot, is best known for her performance art, and so it is not surprising that her CAC productions tend to have a strong "performance art" flavor. In ArtSpot's recent Joan of Arc piece, for instance, components of the set were investigated thoroughly: turned on edge, turned upside down, stood on, crouched under, etc. There was a great deal of counterpoint in the staging. While one actor was doing "x," another was doing "y" (an action that had no relation, no linear relation at any rate, with "x"). Was this a vibrant new form of theater? Depends on whom you ask.

But that question seems to hover in the air over ArtSpot's latest offering, Chekhov's Wild Ride, a collaboration with Moving Humans. In this piece, ArtSpot takes an epic look at a theatrical revolution of a century ago. The Moscow Art Theater of Konstantin Stanislavsky and Anton Chekhov -- from which the Actor's Studio and "The Method" evolved -- provide the central focus. Assuming, that is, one can talk of a central focus in a presentation that works in a deliberately centripetal form. One has the feeling that the unstated premise of the Chekhov's Wild Ride is that ArtSpot's way of working is the "now" version of the revolutionary artistic attitude under examination -- a claim of avant-garde legitimacy, so to speak.

The canvass is sprawling. Home base is a production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, a breakthrough drama of what you might call "lyric realism." It received a stunning production at the Moscow Art Theater in 1904. The Cherry Orchard depicts an upper-class family in economic and spiritual free fall. A former serf of the family, now an ambitious entrepreneur, can rescue them with his plan for building summer homes on their land. However, the vast, symbolic cherry orchard must be chopped down.

This is a gripping tale. But ArtSpot is not interested in performing The Cherry Orchard, so much as using it as a springboard for a leap into history, theatrical and otherwise. So the Cherry Orchard characters step out of the drama at will, breaking the celebrated fourth wall. Sometimes, they become the actors who are playing the Cherry Orchard characters. Sometimes, they become other historical figures: Stanislavsky, Maxim Gorky, Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Clifford Odets, Chekhov himself, his wife or many others. These historical characters are all locked in their own dramas. But the dramas intertwine, particularly as the Americans come under the influence of the Russians. Of course, artistic revolution in the Moscow Art Theater is one thing. Revolution, Soviet style, in the streets of Moscow is quite another. Eventually, the Russian artists come under the sway of state censors and bureaucrats (not to mention torturers), while the American artists are faced with the House Un-American Activities Committee. There's a lot to chew on here. But it's not so much a history lesson as the dream you might have if you fell asleep during a history lesson.

While Chekhov's Wild Ride has the fluidity and insouciant tempo one associates with performance art, the show is less formal than the Joan of Arc production. There is less concern with variations on a theme, or a posture, or the placement of a prop. Congratulations to the cast -- J Hammons, Chris Lane, Mariza Mercado-Narcisse, Cecile Monteyne, Nick Slie, Rusty Hammons and Kathy Randels (who also directed). They perform with energy and concentration in their multiple roles. The live music by Eloise Chopin (cello) and Shana Bey (violin) is haunting and appropriate.

Meanwhile, over at Rivertown Rep, Director Gary Rucker has put together a superb show that every character in Wild Ride would probably execrate and detest. I wasn't in the mood to see Damn Yankees myself. Not that I execrate and detest the musical. I just wasn't in the mood. So I was caught off guard by how likeable it was.

Space doesn't permit a detailed discussion. Suffice it to say, I came out with a smile on my face, humming "Whatever Lola Wants." Hopefully, this saccharine behavior went unobserved. Admittedly, this is a strange pairing: a conventional Eisenhower-era musical about baseball, marriage and the devil and an experimental piece on revolutionary art. But, such is life, or more accurately, the busy fall season.

The cast of Damn Yankees definitely has "heart." A few of the standouts: Kelly Fouchi (who also choreographed) as Lola, Robert Richardson as the Devil, Marc Fouchi as Shoeless Joe, Mark Burton as the older Joe, and Martha Dufour as his loyal wife. A final note: Whoever does that spectacular midair flip off the dugout roof, may the theater gods keep him from harm.

Van Buren (Bud Landry), Lola (Kelly Fouchi) and Joe Hardy (Marc Fouchi) in Rivertown Rep's production of Damn Yankees
  • Van Buren (Bud Landry), Lola (Kelly Fouchi) and Joe Hardy (Marc Fouchi) in Rivertown Rep's production of Damn Yankees

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