Fumbleweeds (as seen in a three-night run at Manhattan Theatre Source) was an evening of six one-act plays, most of which might more accurately be termed sketches. While they offered moments of humor and pathos, as well as some intriguing theatrical images, the evening had not yet gelled into a theatrically integrated composite.
A Christmas Carol offers George W. Bush (Tod Alan Lash) in his pajamas, having a strange dream in which Tiny Tim (Carol Crittenden) appears, followed by sporadic appearances by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Kirt Harding). Following W's bizarre dream ("I have a dream!", he declares after an appearance of King), Barbara Bush (Linda Howes) tries to tempt W to get out of bed. Bush Sr. (Evan Koenig) sits in a rocker, complaining about his son's policies. This sketch appears to be a political satire of the Bush family, but the intrusion of the surreal in the form of Tiny Tim and Dr. King seems flimsy, and a little more attempt to impersonate Bush père et fils might have helped. (Howes was quite credible as Bush mère). (The pajamas were a nice touch; costumes and props, which enlivened the evening, were credited to Dominique Lehman.)
When She Remembers is an oblique title for a straightforward sketch, though one with another odd premise: Eugene Debs (Harding) is nodding out on a park bench, having been thrown out of the house by his wife. Just waking up on the same bench is Diego Rivera (Francis Romano), who is living the hard life of the streets. Rivera robs Debs, who doesn't really care (when Rivera say, "Your money or your life!", Debs says "My life!"); Debs gives Rivera his Shitzu Dog (Rosie, a real dog) and tells him to stand at a certain intersection with the dog and a cup to beg. Again, the sketch doesn't have much of a punchline, and the point of these two characters' being Debs and Rivera (or were they just two guys who coincidentally were named after the legendary Socialist leader and the famed Mexican muralist? No one would know who they were without reading the program) didn't come out in the sketch (especially being cast against racial type, as Harding was black and Romano didn't look Mexican). While the script only begins to play with the idea of role reversal between the two men, Harding and Romano created some real chemistry with their interaction.
Hamburger rises above the level of the other sketches by being simple. In it, Ida (Howes), a woman who has lost her home of many years by an act of eminent domain, meets one of the construction workers (Romano) who is putting up a new condominium where she used to live. They have a spirited dialog in which he discloses that he drinks before and on the job and she discloses that her husband died in a construction accident. This piece makes clear the difference, hard to define in abstract terms, between a sketch and a one-act play: it's a play, and the other pieces are sketches. That Howes and Romano showed more accomplishment as actors than most of the others in the company certainly helped, but this play (unlike the sketches) has character, conflict, and a hesitant but real resolution, as well as a wide streak of deeply felt emotion.
Hotdog is an interview by Lila Dove, reporter (Crittenden), with Jack Packman, hot dog hero (Koenig). The substantial but not obese Packman has set the record of 50-1/2 Nathan's hot dogs eaten at Coney Island (actually set by a skinny Japanese man, Takeru Kobayashi, but that would be a different play). The sketch also involves appearances by Packman's dog, Chase (Romano) and a Peapod Man (Harding), who runs through the scene toward the end singing a peapod jingle. This piece attempts to entwine Packman's career with a budding love story. Koenig showed -- in this sketch and others -- that the heart of acting is reacting, as he didn't appear to be listening to his scene partner (an unfortunate side-effect was cue trouble). Crittenden, in turn, showed strange transitions -- prompted in part by lines that didn't read well on stage, All in all, this was a case study of a sketch gone wrong.
Flotsam of Love pits a feisty widow, Daisie Belle (the delightful Christine Kelley Karel), against a dismal man, Elijah (Romano), found in the New York Times personal ads, on the day they intend to go to City Hall to get married. There was some humor in the mismatch, which erupts when Daisie Belle finally realizes that Elijah is too cheap for her and throws him out of the house. That a woman with as much on the ball as Daisie Belle would waste her time on such a dimbulb as Elijaha is an unlikely premise for more than a sketch, but it could be developed if Elijah had some redeeming qualities. Instead, he was played as a stereotype tightwad Jew. Harding glowed as the grocery boy, Smitty, who shows up Elijah with grace and generosity. Koenig glowered in the thankless role of the self-centered son (which could quite easily be cut). Of the sketches this is the one with the most meat crying out to be put on bones: all the elements are here for a play, but the chemical reaction fizzles because of how they are mixed.
Body Politic is a fantasy sketch with Saturnia, Queen of Saturn (Crittendon); Bosco, her Prime Minister (Harding); and George W. Bush (Lash in a reprise role). It tended to meander, though with amusing interpolations from Saturnia and Bosco, but coming at the end of a 140-minute evening its point wasn't clear enough to register as more than another attack on Bush.
These pieces -- not surprisingly, considering the background of their author, who has worked on both sides of the Atlantic -- have a very European flavor, both in the use of poetic language (which often gets in the way of the dramatic action) and in the creation of Absurdist images. At the same time, they are cast in the form of Saturday Night Live sketches, and the language and form frequently collide. A less-ambitious evening might use fewer pieces (and fewer set pieces and props, for that matter, as the physical production overflowed the small stage). (Fewer pieces would also have a beneficial effect on audience attention span, as would tighter pacing.) While Miller's interest appears to lie in the razzle-dazzle of Absurdism and related European movements, the more realistic pieces (Hamburger and Flotsam of Love) seem to show more dramatic potential. There's a vein here, of drama and real comedy, that could be profitably mined.
Return to Volume Ten, Number Nine Index
Return to Volume Ten Index
Return to Home Page
Copyright 2003 John Chatterton