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October 11, 1980 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1980-10-11

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"ARTS;
The Michigan Daily Saturday, October 11, 1980 Page 5
r 'KENNEDY'S CHILDREN'
The question of survival

Got.To Say?
SAY IT IN THE

By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
You certainly can't accuse the Can-
rbury Stage Company of playing it
safe. Ann Arbor's newest theatrical
group has jumped from the domestic
needles and thorns of Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf straight into the
sprawling social tract of Robert
Patrick's Kennedy's Children; a drama
which aspires to nothing less than a

and destroy the creative momentum of
his art. Rona is a walking composite of
the entire protest era, an embattled,
beaded veteran of every sit-in, every
march, every anti-war demonstration
that was ever staged; but now, doub-
ting that it all made any difference in
the scheme of things, she has retreated
to consolation in sex and - you guessed
it - drugs. Carla, tall and beautiful, is

In the Canterbury Loft production of Robert Patrick's Kennedy's Children,
(left to right) Gail Reisman, Richard Fleming, Neil Bradley, Charles
Jackson, Gail Vasku and Catrina Ganey portray a variety of 1960's "types"
who deliver monologues surveying the wreckage of their traumatic decade.
The play will be performed tonight and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. at the Loft, 332 S.
State.

corruption and withering *of the
creative spirit-is an eternal curse, not
strictly endemic to the times in
question. Carla's character is never
worked out satisfactorily; her reasons
for craving sex-goddesship are never
made clear, nor is the explanation for
her abject failure at achieving her
goal. Marilyn Monroe was quintessen-
tial 50's, an icon from another time -
Carla's presence seems of no relevance
to the rest of Kennedy's Children other
than that of being caught in a time
warp.
SUCH LITERARY deficiencies are
certainly no reflection upon the Canter-
bury Stage Company, who give the play
a better production than it perhaps
deserves. The acting, with one excep-
tion, is memorable. Catrina Alexander
Ganey's portrayal of Wanda is a
genuine revelation, transforming
Pratrick's well-meaning, nostalgic
wimp into a ferocious, embittered
woman, raging at the capricious whims
of fate that changed the direction of a
decade. Under Ganey's guidance,
Wanda's rather foolish Kennedy
reminiscences are transformed into
prideful weapons, safety valves
through which to escape her own socio-
economic entrapment. Ganey gives a
volcano of a performance,-howling out
her protagonist's frustration over what
might have been.
No less fine is Charles Anthony
Jackson as Mark, the junkie G.I.
Jackson gives a gorgeously controlled,
menacing performance as an ingenious
young man driven relentlessly into in-
sanity by a war lacking intellectual or
emotional logic. Jackson delivers his
lines with the slow, careful articulation
of one who has grasped the total logic
of a concept, even if the concept itself is
totally mad; the actor masters the
coiled, paranoid furtiveness of
schizophrenic distortion in a perfor-
mance agonized and truly menacing.
RICHARD FLEMING is initially a bit
jarring as Spargeer - his early lines
seem played strictly for bland, absur-
dist humor, lacking the driving, mur-
derous bite his character would seem to
demand. Yet when Fleming's story
suddenly turns deadly serious, the
transitionali effect is very nearly
traumatizing-you feel you've been at-
tacked by a cattle prod. From that point
on, Fleming's is a driven, haunted per-
formance, doing eloquent justice to
what amounts to the playwright's per-
sonal bag of memories. As Nora, Gail
Lee Reisman occasionally falls prey to
redundant grooves in her delivery, but
overall gives a fine, pdignant portrayal
of youthful exuberance turned to
squalid disillusionment.
Only Gail Vasku runs into problems
as Carla, yet the character is so
murkily written that the primary fault
would seem to lie with the author
rather than actress. As it stands, Vasku
never even begins to approximate the'
charismatic idol of Carla's dreams,
delivering her lines in a kind of folksy

approximation of Madge the
manicurist. Yet Vasku surely rates
some credit merely for surviving with a
character whose motives make no sen-
se and whose presence in the play
makes even less.
CO-DIRECTORS James Danek and
William Sharpe have done a superb job
of staging and pacing Kennedy's
Children, coaxing their actors into
brisk, vibrant recitations when a slower
beat might have ground this wordy
work to a dead halt. Their set is the
quintessence of barroom griminess,
blending a wrap-around style with the
slightly dank surroundings of the Can-
terbury Loft itself. The play is in-
troduced by an absolutely wrenching
slide-show collage blending images of
the Kennedys in life and in death with
assorted musical sounds of the time.
It must be said that for all its faults,
Kennedy's Children seems alarmingly
more relevant today than at its Strat-
ford, Ont. premiere of five years ago. In
1975 social-political apocalypse seemed
a distant, lurking possibility; in these
unravelling days of October 1980,
Patrick's doomsday pessimism is
beginning to feel palpably close.
In the play's final speech, Wanda
tearfully muses on John Kennedy:
"There's no one like that now, they
can't even imagine anyone like that,
they're used to the idea that the world is
just a swamp of violence and crooked
politics and unexpected death and
ugliness everywhere. They can't un-
derstand that there was a time, a space
of several years, when everyone loved
someone, someone bigger and better
than other people." Think about it, then
take a look at this year's presidential
race. In the fast-flickering light of these
melancholy times, Patrick's words
have acquired a menace unforseen
even by the playwright's original con-
cept. Shed a tear for JFK.
The German Workers' Party was
founded in Munich in 1920. At first, it
was considered an insignificant
political group. Within one year,
however, Adolf Hitler took over the par-
ty leadership and laid the foundation
for the Nazi Party. Under Hitler's
leadership the group changed its name
to the National Socialist German
Workers' Party.

CLASSIFIEDS
CALL 764-0557

sociological chronology of the entire
1960's. It is one ofthe most problematic
plays in recent American theater-a
rambling, lurching work which con-
tantly threatens to hurdle into muddy
elodrama on the one hand and topical
farce on the other. Yet the Stage Com-
pany has managed to walk a nimble
tightrope over both abysses to pull off a
generally superb production of a much
less-than-perfect play.:
Though diminutive in setting and
cast, Kennedy's Children claims the
historical magnitude of a full-blown
American epic. The play is an extended
multi-soliloquy intoned by five-charac-
ters, each sitting alone in a seedy New
*York bar on Valentine's Day, 1974.
.Oblivious of one another, each of the
five takes turns spinning out the tale of
how his or her respective life evolved
from the beginning of the 60's to the
present, with the assassination of
President Kennedy propounded as the
period's flash point. They speak at the
audiepce, but not really to it-their
reminiscences are more the air of in-
trospective barroom musings, of
*nemories projected out loud.
EACH PROTAGONIST represents (a
bit too conveniently) Patrick's concep-
tion of a symbolic social prototype of
that most turbulant of decades. There's
Wanda, a black substitute teacher and
middle-class Everyperson; Mark, a
Viet Nam vet; Sparger, a product of
New York's largely gay underground
theater: Rona, an ex-hippie-activist;
and Carla, a wouldbe movie star.
Of the five, only Wanda projects some
modest hope for her own future, if not
*America's. The other four are burned-
out shells, martyrs to an era which slid
from idealism into disillusionment. As
they slowly weave their stories around
and through each other, a composite
portrait of an age whose repercussions
may never leave us begins,
presumably, to emerge.,
PATRICK'S CHARACTERS 'softly
twist and turn in their own contem-
*porary hells. Wanda worships the
memory of John Kennedy with almost
necrophilic passion, and more
passively laments her own life of low-
levet jobs and social immobility. Mark
is a deranged, murderous psychotic,
driven mad by the chaotic amorality of
Viet Nam and by the drugs obtainable
there. Sparger, portrayed as a pioneer
of New York experim'ental drama, is.
driven to despair and (again) to drugs
when the phonies and sychophants of
the Big Apple cultural milieu absorb

obsessed with being the next Marilyn
Monroe, becoming love goddess to
millions; yet she finds herself trapped
in the wrong era - a decade in which
dykes and drag queens have become
the noveau objects of adulation and old-
style sex deities are strictly passe.
Patrick's people are mutual victims
in his presumed hypothesis that
America's experiment with idealism
abruptly ended with JFK's murder:
When Camelot died, so did our nation's
soul; andwe plunged into a slow,
cynical collapse of will and spirit - a
fall from grace which has yet to bottom
out. We are all Kennedy's children, but
we are sterile survivors at best.
IT IS ALL very neatly (if not very
originally) schematic, yet Patrick's
work is fraught with difficulties both
structural and philosophic. Kennedy's
Children is strictly a memory play,
physically immobile and static; .its
protagonists are . oblivious to one
another, lost in their own recollections.
Since there is no character interaction,
the drama must rely solely upon those
memories for its propulsive force. Un-
fortunately, it's often difficult to tell
where Patrick is coming from
philosophically. At one moment his
dialogue lyrically rhapsodises over the
60's; at the next it sneeringly,
satirically puts them down.
One attempts in vain to grasp his
gist: was the decade truly a lost
Camelot, slipped from us through a
failure of love, of energy, of courage
symbolized in the shattering blast of an
assassin's bullet? Or was it all a cruel
hoax, idealized and distorted into a
false Olympian myth? Did Kennedy's
death mark the death of a legitimate
dream? If so, why does Patrick give us
Wanda's mawkish over-idealization of
his memory, burlesqued to the point of
farce? Why is Rona a committed
utopist one second, an empty-headed
political groupie the next?
If Patrick is thus trying to say the 60's
were actually an ambivalent,
ideological quagmire, his writing is just
not elegant enough to bring it off. Oc-
casionally he achieves the haunted
lyricism needed for nostalgic intimacy,
yet just as often his dialogue is flat and
cliched. Not all his characters seem to
fit into the symbolic mold: Sparger, the
playwright-actor, seeme to merely
hang on the peripheries of the theme.
Though he is Patrick's
autobiographical alter-ego and tells the
most ghoulish, personalized story in the
quintet, his tragedy - that of the

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