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April 12, 1980 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-04-12

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'Page to Stage'-
studen t plays click

Civic 'Crucible'

The Michigan Daily-Saturday, April 12, 1980-Page 5
a stunner

By DENNIS HARVEY
Fromn Page to Stage has an air of
flawed excitement and interest
about it, heightened by the,fact that
one goes in with comparatively
dismal expectations-the production
is a collection of brief original skits
and short plays by Residential
College students. They've directed,
acted, and designed the lighting and
sets for each scene, along with
writing them. To be sure, there are
moments of pretentiousness and
immaturity in the works, and the
performances sometimes underline
themselves in that unfortunate and
familiar form of artificial drama-
class playacting
Still, what comes through the
rough surface is often fresh, en-
thusiastic and promising. The R.C.
} Play Workshop (the 24-member
group whose first production this is)
lacks, predictably, assurance and a
practiced sense of where to stop
before clever ideas t:urn static. But
there isn't a moment in From Page
to Stage that doesn't at least reach
'l"t for something halfway in-
teresun with ambition and flashing
integrity; the evening doesn't
always succeed, mt it's never dull.
EACH OF the performances (at
the RC Auditorium, running through
Sunday evening) consists of six or
seven fairly short scenes, of about
ten minutes in length each, and a
longer presentation. Thursday
night's extended piece (to be
repeated tnight) is "Gambit" by
Joanne Rielly, a whirling and
notably amusing pastiche of absur-
dist bits capped by a neatly bizzare
explanation. The central character
Toni's (Robin Wright) nightmarish
fantasy of being faced with actors
acting out scenes from her dismal
past existence isn't just a hokey
forum for some entertaining ab-
stractionism, but rather a picture of
her state of mine during her slowed-
down last moments of life as a
suicide.
Reilly uses this premise wittily,
bringing it forward as a final, ironic
i twist to add a somber note to the ec-
centricities that have gone on
before. Toni sits alone in her
presumably drab apartment,
droning on with a deadpan and funny
interior monologue of banal despair
and angst ("Early Childhood. I
remember the day I wet my pan-
ts . . .") Then a stage director inex-
plicably invades this setting,
bringing on a succession of actors to
portray Toni and various influential
people at different stages of her
life-all of them dank.
FORTUNATELY, all of this what-
is-illusion what-is-reality stuff is
treated satirically, though the
Philosophy 101 issues still drum up
their annual - quota of spacey
fascination, and there are sections of
genuine dramatic power. When Toni
returns to the crib and recalls wit-
nessing an upsetting fight between
her father and mother as a baby, the
frightening tensions of the at-
mosphere are just right. As the
mother, Gerardette Mazura has the
perfect neurotic eyes and racked
manner to embody the fears of a
woman hesitantly withdrawing from
a browbeaten state of marriage.
When Toni asks the director for a
relief from these past miseries, for
some romance and fiction, a top-
hatted dancer emerges to sweep her
into the midst of lunatic Busby

Berkeley camp, singing "A Pretty
Girl is Like a Melody" with two in-
sipidly grinning chorines in support.
"Gambit" is terribly aware of its
medium, like many avant-garde
pieces that go a little too far for their
own good, and it's hardly
original-during Thursday's per-
formance, one audience member
caught on too quickly and grumbled,
"Oh, one of those all-in-the-mind
things." But it's also funny and
skilled, a likeable barrage of inven-
tiveness and wierdness.
THURSDAY NIGHT'S shorter of-
ferings were a mixed bag of
blackouts and heavier drama con-
cepts, variable but always in-
triguing./ The opener, Jeff Wine's
"At The Theatre," centers comfor-
tably if a little too eagerly around
the comedy of embarrassment: sit-
ting in an on-stage theatre facing the
audience, waiting for an imaginary
play to begin, a man humiliates his
date by asking for sexual favors in
the most obliviously indelicate and
obnoxiously loud way possible.
Drew Allison's "Cold Water
Wash" offers an adventurous set-up
in its confrontation between a
National Guardsman (Michael
Morrissey) and a militant young
resident (Tracey Rowens) whose
slum neighborhood has been turned
into a police state by a nervous
government. This situation has
possibilities that hold the interest,
but character development is sket-
chy and the actors are 'rather
wooden mouthpieces for their
arguments.
Allison's "The Balance Point" is
even more ambitious, and thus even
more obvious in its failings, yet it
has considerable power. A 17-year-
old hitshot (Morrissey) and his
bedridden grandmother (Julie Fink)
alternate with interior monologues;
the former is full of excitement for
the New Year's Eve party he's going
to, and the latter -has only acute
loneliness and sad remembrances to
look forward to. Fink was not quite
able to communicate agedness in
her physical presence, but her con-
viction and Morrissey's self-
deprecating comic timing made the
scene moving in spite of its slightly
heavy air of despairing
theatricality.
POSSIBLY the most affecting
sketch of the evening is"The Tide"
by Tom Robinson, a delicately ob-
served interlude between two
brothers who've been commercially
fishing together for 14 years. One of
them (Howard Andress) arrives
with some difficulty at the
knowledge that he has to move on,
experience more of life before his
youth is gone, to the disbelief of his
brother (Philip Tannenbaum).
Their groping attempt to come to
terms with his desire is broken up at
the end by something out of an all-
too-convincing nightmare-a
mother (played with earth-shaking
ferocity by Mary King) who orders
the "boys" out to make some money
with more castrating-bitch aplomb
than has been seen since Joan
Crawford stopped making movies.
Andress, whose light, easy, natural
style on the stage is a frequent relief
among the strenuous acting of many
of the other company members,
See STUDENT, Page8

By JOSHUA M. PECK
There is a growing body of American
and European drama that seems to get
handed around from amateur company
to civic theater to high school, all
around the country. Some of Tennessee
William's and Eugene O'Neill's
"smaller" works fall into this category,
as do some of Shaw's less complicated
plays, a few of Thornton Wilder's,and
such Americana as Sunrise at Cam-
pobello. All are fairly well crafted,
some extraordinarily well, and all are
frequently performed.
Arthus Miller's Death of a Salesman
and The Crucible are two more that fit
into this class of popular dramas. The
latter of these in particular displays a
quality that invites a certain, admit-
tedly far-fetched, comparison.
The plays can be likened to a living
room full to the point of being cluttered
with furniture, lamps, and carpets. The
audience is restricted to looking at the
furniture from one angle, and unless in-
teresting occupants (that's right, ac-
tors) fill the room, the onlookers might
soon tire of gaping.
MOST AMATEUR companies strive
to make that furniture more in-
teresting, by showing genuine and
believable characters to be living and
lounging in it. Sometimes (as long-time
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre patrons well
know) the actors can inhabit the same
room with the furniture for hours
without ever settling decorously into it.
In the current production of The
Crucible at Mendelssohn Theatre,
Civic's actors are comfortable in
Miller's armchairs and cushions. At
times the performers look to be
downright cozy. What's especially
striking and surprising about the
production is that Civic's players
sometimes go beyond merely letting
the divans prop them up; they reach in-
to the realm of the professional theater
by turning elements of Miller's sofas
around, showing new aspects of them to
the audience, and in fact shedding new
light on them.
This exceeding the bounds of mere
competence is almost entirely at the
hands of William Cross, a consistently
excellent performer sagely cast in the
leading role of John Proctor.
The Crucible, unlike most of the other
plays mentioned, is not set in the day in
which it was written. It addresses itself
to the witch trials of the late 17th Cen-
tury in Salem, Massachusetts. It was no

secret when the play opened that its
real target was another period in
American history, one whose main con-
cern was only metaphorically termed
"witch-hunting." The years of red-
baiting fever under Senator Joe McCar-
thy and the House Un-American Ac-
tivities Committee are the analog.
THE PLAY TELLS the story of a
gr->up of adolescent girls who gradually
manage to persuade themselves and

at just about every moral issue wrap-
ped up in the McCarthy years. Abigail
shows us the way the anti-Communist
fever was opportunistically used by
those with an axe to grind. Desperate
for the love of John Proctor, she names
Proctor's wife Elizabeth early on as one
tainted by the Devil..
The Proctors' marriage, rent asun-
der by the ostensibly Christian court, is
tested in what Miller clearly believes to
be unconscionably cruel fashion by the
inquisition. In the production's
strongest scene, Elizabeth, delicately
and evocatively played by Sandra Hud-
son, is forced to choose between saving
John's life by publicly accusing him of
lechery, and lying to protect his
reputation.
Bob Starring, in yet another com-
manding performance, plays the of-
ficial who presides over the witch
trials. His lines concerning the trials'
philosophy are perhaps the most
poignant and powerful analogs to the
sentiments of McCarthy days. "A per-

son is either with this court, or he be
counted against it," Starring barks.
For all the script's strengths, and
those of the cast, there are ample.
weaknesses as well. Marian Miner,
Christopher Flynn, and Robert
Seeman, all in importat roles, are
weak to the point of flaccidity. And Ed
Lesher, who seems to show up in every
Civic show, engages in more bombastic
gesticulation and vocalization than
ever, with the ultimate effect of
delivering a sorely misplaced Morey
Amsterdam imitation.
But The Crucible overall is worth-
while a venture as last summer's
delightful The Madwoman of
Chaillot-and for approximately the
same reasons. In Chaillot, leading lady.
Claribel Baird pulled the whole en-
deavor through its weak spots. Here
William Cross does the job. Achingly
bewildered by a moral dilemma too
painful to face, he faces it anyway, with
magnificent style that ennobles and ex-
pands the meaning of courage.

TS
----
the adults in their lives that they have
fallen prey to the spells and incan-
tations of a large cadre of witches and
wizards, some of whom are regarded as
Salem's most respectable citizens.
The fear and superstition of the town-
speople allow the fantastic accusations
of the girls more credence than they
might otherwise win (get the referen-
ce?), and finally, even the rigidly
moralistic Proctor and his wife find
themselves in prison.
The strongest personality among the
teen-aged finger-pointers is Abigail
Williams, here played with disarming
strength by Pioneer High School
student Alison Maker. The actress'
manner is a bit overdramatic in her fir-
st scene-at one point,.she clasps her
neck at the mention of a scaffold-but
as her character's malevolence and
trickery grows, so does her performan-
ce.
One serious difficulty that afflicts
Maker to a large extent, and others in
the cast as well, is director Willie
Morgan's decision to play the witch-
craft accusations as a black and white
issue. When Maker first begins to spout
the names of the Devil's friends, she
alternately rolls and shifts her eyes
about, as if to ensure that everyone in
the audience knows Abigail is
knowingly committing slander. The
play would boast a larger measure of
intrigue if there were some doubt as to
whether the girls believe what they are
saying.
THROUGH ANALOGY, Miller gets

7-*% CINEMA Ij

*I

JONAH WHO WILL BE
25 IN THE YEAR 2000.. .
(ALAIN TANNER, 1976)
Funny, far-reaching comedy about eight survivors of the late 60's whose
paths cross briefly while searching for a common purpose inside "the whale
of history." A dramatic tragi-comedy in political science-fiction, with a rich
concoction of color, black and white, songs, skits, economics, dreams;
speeches and sexual experimentation. (1 ,0m.) French with English
subtitles.
ANGELL HALL 7 & 9 $1.50

T

Tomorrow: THE FIRE WITHIN (MahIe)

(

TONIGHT TERRENCE MALICK'S
DAYS OF

HEAVEN

Set in the wheatfields of the Texas Panhandle, the story of a
woman torn between two men is narrated by a sharp, street-
wise girl. RICHARD GERE plays the man who asks BROOKE
ADAMS to share her love with another so they can live the easy
life, not realizing the depth of his own feelings.
Shows at 7:00 8 9:05-$ 1.50
Sunday: CHINATOWN
CINEMA GUILD AT OLD A & D AUD.
(We like films there)

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