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July 19, 1979 - Image 7

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1979-07-19

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, July 19, 1979-Page 7
O'Neill rides a roller coaster

The Professional Theatre Program
publicity notes call Ah Wilderness! a
"sunny, uncomplicated comedy of
adolescence and peaceful middle age."
That description makes the play sound
a bit fluffier and less substantial than it
is. The O'Neill comedy fits into the
O'Neill repertoire in a manner
reminiscent of the way the ancient
Greeks structured their works:
Playwrights of the Golden Age would
write a trilogy of tragedies, and then
append a comedy that would mock the
very pathetic situations and characters
for which the previous plays had
fostered sympathy.
When David Manis, as Wilderness'
Ah, Wilderness
Eugene O'Neill
Power Cener
July 15, 19, 21, and August t -

17-year-old protagonist Richard Miller,
self-importantly calls himself a
pessimist, the audience is moved to
laughter. His blustering self-indulgence
up to that point makes his claim
Pessimism is no laughing matter in
any other O'Neill work. It is, perhaps,
the tool that makes The Iceman
Cometh, for example, such a
devastatingly dismaying play. Here,
though, O'Neill dangles the theme, nips
at it delicately with words and action, in
short turns his hiero's despair into a
comic device. Other themes that
sustain the drama of later works by the
playwright, like rebellion and older
characters' yearning for their youth,
are given similarly wistful, at times
joyous treatment.
WE LEARN early on of Manis' bud-
ding intellectuality. He has taken to
reading the works of Ibsen and Omar
Khayyam, and has been poring over
Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading
Gaol," which he revealingly calls "The
Ballad of Reading Ga-ole," rather than
the correct "jail."
Along with his cerebral growth,
Richard's rlnantic inclinations have
been flowering. It seems that Muriel
McComber (Lorel Janiszewski), a local
merchant's daughter, has been
receiving somewhat explicit letters
from our hero, despite her limited

years and acute innocence. It is
Richard's on-again-off-again romance
with McComber that provides the focus
of the play, or rather, one of its two foci.
David Manis is treading new ground
here, as his previous roles have either
been farcicil-deliciously so-or, in the
case of Richard II's Bolingbroke, ut-
terly straight. At times, Manis looks to
be struggling to sustain his "through
line," or underlying motivation, but in
general, his is a thoughtful, veracious
portrayal of the young gallant.
Wilderness' other subject matter is
the goings-on at the Miller house. Leo
McNamara, in the best of his three Rep
roles, plays Richard's father Nat as a
gentle and sensitive Solomon,
gracefully understating his love for
wife and son. He builds one of the most
touching moments of the season with
his flustered manner in his birds-and-
bees chat with Manis, and his explosion
at 'Muriel's father (Loren Bass) is at
once well-controlled and truly rousing.
TERRY CAZA takes his mugging act
as the boozing Uncle Sid to staggering
extremes, but generally, the residents
of the Miller residence are felicitously
cast and work quite well together. The
long scene around the dinner table in
the second scene has an outstandingly
domestic feel to it, with the clattering
plates and rambling conversation
steering nobly clear of theatricality.
Gary Musante's deft lighting design

Nat Miller .........
E s e . ..........
Arthur .. ... . ..
Richard .....
Sid Davis..........
Lily Miller .........
Muriel McComber.
Belle :.............

...Leo McNamara
u...on Hutquist
.David Manis
.Kathryn Long
Lorel Janiszewski
Georgette Fleischer

Steve Reynolds, director; Gary Musante,
lighting; Anne Mueller, ets: Cheryl
Perkins, crue

from the start. Pinspots and back
lighting might have been used to far
better effect.
The scene is dragged down further
when Belle, whose lines make it perfec-
tly obvious that O'Neill wanted her
played as a low-born tramp, begins
droning them instead in a manner that
at times makes her seem a condescen-
ding college girl, at others a society
matron, but never the base slut she
ought to-nay must be to contrast with
the wholesome serenity of the Miller's
Yet another plunge occurs when
Manis leaves Fleischer and barkeep
Michael Morrissey, the dregs of the
Repertory company, alone on stage to
drive the action earnestly ever closer to
complete catastrophe. The lights, at
long last, dim, and disaster is averted.
FROM THE relatively high peak of
the dinner sequence, down to the sub-
terranean depths of the Fleischer
massacre, the roller coaster glides
madly along its way. It is to Reynolds'
credit that the ride makes a turn in the
only direction it could take (short of
grinding to a halt), and makes the long
climb through the following two scenes,
on up to the heights of the father-to-son
discourse, and the exquisite and long-
awaited rendezvous between the young
With the clandestine assignation,
wherein the lovers fight a bit, argue a
lot, and sigh a little, all in the space of a
quarter-hour, O'Neill summarizes the
dawn of emotional adulthood as well,
perhaps, as any American playwright
ever has. The actors handle the text
gently and sweetly, and they are
sublimely well-tuned to each others'
apparent thoughts and desires.
Ah, Wilderness, save its one uncon-
scionably awful episode, is a satisfying,
sturdy treatment of a tricky text. Parts
of it, in fact, are damned close to per-
5th Avenueat Libert St. 761.9700
Formerly Fifth Forum Theater

Cody danceable but tame

Taking popular music too seriously
can be dangerous. Many performances
and performers simply are not intended
for serious analysis. Their dictum is
"dance and have a good time;" that's

executed exchanges. Cody's on-the-
edge singing and inebriated story
telling should be the focal point of the
evening but are lost in the democracy of
shared lead vocals.

all there is to it. This absence of depth THIS LAID-BACK aproach, however, adds to the homey atmosphere.
may matter to a critic but certainly does not faze the audience in the least. Steve Reynolds, in his fourth local
does not to the partying hoarde. Loud and clamorous, they drink, dance, directing effort, has easily surpassed
So how does one review a Comman- and seem to enjoy themselves immen. all his earlier work. A few of his charac-
der Cody concert? He has led a cam- sely. Every note played is appreciated, ters-Caza, and the ever overactive
paign of healthy muscal hedonism for often quite vocally. The highlights are Bass-could stand a bit of toning down,
more than ten years now, since the days undoubtedly the most familiar songs; but on the whole, Reynolds has
when he occupied a treehouse in front of the immortal "Hot Rod Lincoln," fashioned a smoothly flowing, noble,
a certain fraternity here in town. "Double Cheese and an Order of and faithful production.
Despite nine albums worth of the usual Fries," an appropriately greasy ode to The drastic exception to the evening's
music industry frustrations, Cody is drive-in restaurants. The encore for his artistry is the abominable scene in the
still plowing through old rock and roll first set is a fairly rousing rendition of brothel-tavern, which Richard visits to
riffs and stoned-out country songs in a "Riot in Cell Block No. 9," the perfect drown his troubles after receiving a let-
gravelly voice backed by his minimal vehicle for Cody's novel voice. ter of rejection from Muriel. When the
honky-tonk piano and pleasantly Still, something seems terribly amiss lights come up on Richard, he is seated
drunken stage demeanor. . about the evening's musical offering. across the table from Belle the baud
Cody gained his notoriety. through a (Georgette Fleischer), with a drink in
MONDAY'S performance at Second contradiction; a hippie playing country front of him. Immediately offensive is
Chance marks a comeback of sorts for music. In the day before the "outlaw" the flat that set designer Anne Mueller
the Commander. He has spent the last stance was popularized by Willie evidently hoped would mask the Miller
year or so in relative exile: this Nelson and Waylon Jennings, country house set beyond. It is so skimpy and
basically stems from the artistic and music was the heart of working class narrow that we are distressingly aware
commercial failure of his 1977 album, conformity, the earnest voice of the of the artificiality of the sequence right
"Rock and Roll Again"-a slick, over- semi-urbanized, white South. So where
produced studio effort featuring last did a "long-hair" from Ann Arbor get
year's Ronstadt clone Nicolette Larson off singing a steel guitar-sweetened RESIDENTIAL COLLEGE
on background vocals. With a new band ballad titled "Seeds and Stems Again SUMMER PLAYERS PRESENT
and self-proclaimed new attitude, Cody Blues"? A far cry from "Okie from BERTOLT BRECHT'S
is out to re-establish himself as the Muskogee," to be sure, but Commander
musical king of shit-kicking good times. Cody made it work.
The new band, like the original Lost However, it is now 1979, long hair on
Planet Airmen, is adept at combining a men is an anachronism at best, and we AndLNi ; $
number of styles-country, western find Cody obviously downplaying his I I U
swing, boogie woogie-into a rocking, country influences. Instead he tries
danceable whole. But despite the rockabilly (though his band can't A comedy
band's admirable tightness, its energy distinguish the beat) and uses the for the summer
level is nowhere near the level of phrase "funky rock and roll" every
rowdiness claimed by the Commander time he speaks to the audience. One ILur iiu
and his fans. wonders if Cody, burned out on the L.A. T21
Lead guitarist Bill Kirchen and pedal country rock scene, is searching out a TIDJ4'2 4Jul f 2
steel player Steve Fishnell were more trendier, more profitable direction for r
than adequate, yet do not really cut what is inherently a stylistic mish- E Qtad ud
loose the whole evening. The band as a mash. But then, taking popular music
whole seems to sacrifice the risk of in- too seriously can be dangerous; some Admission $3.00
dividuality'in favor of cautious, well- people are in it only for a good time.


,uugnees $2.50 ti530
evenings $3.50, chltd $.50

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