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June 18, 1980 - Image 6

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1980-06-18

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Page 6-Wednesday, June 18, 1980-The Michigan Daily

:::. . .........:... . .*** ~. . .. . .. r. . ................ .....~ *.~*
'Motherlode' empties its source
By ANNE GADON with the spiritual and mythological in Beem's approach. The playwright tempts to make the chorus a less cum-
Attic Theatre is to Detroit what devotion of the ancient period. But ra- has drawn a series of surreal, im- bersome body and uses them to invoke
oadway is to New York City, a ther than subtly suggest the link bet- pressionistic episodes that suggest the vivid imagery of work in the copper
ase for the city's maturing talent ween these two eras, Beem superim- harshness of the miners existence and mines.
i u nrnvino and fnr new ,,. i.tha f nrm f io: d ,.. nn th the bitterness behind their struggle as

The.
Off-Br
-showc.
and
playwi
subjec
tradit
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aproving groun u u poses tn ecorm of epicurama on te U ~{4_1117 %IAA A.A V5,
rights handling more obscure miners' story. In one of the play's early effectively as a play dealing more
t matter or deviating from the scenes, a scholar and his student ap- realistically with the issue, such as
ional form. True to their pear in Greek dress and introduce the O'Neill's Hairy Ape. The shifting of the
i.when ms fumero r tr - t- v "' m. time frame between 1913 and 1939 also

raU11V1 W1Cn, 1V1 n V65L1L1C
theatre fare is restricted to light
comedies and frothy musicals, the Attic
is featuring a premier play by Michigan
playwright John Beem, The
Motherlode.
The play revolves around a tragic
event that climaxed a six month strike
by the copper miners in Calumet,
Michigan, in 1913. At a Christmas Eve
party held by the Western Federation of
Miners, 74 people were trampled to
death or suffocated when someone gave
a false alarm the tgwnsfolk
blamed the mine managers and the
local religious zealots who were against
the strike for sounding the alarm, but
the source of the disruption was never
proven.
In The Motherload Beem reopens the
case for scrutiny, this time in 1939. He
uses the device of big city reporters,
who go to Calumet and interview the
witnesses to the event and the town-
speople suspected of triggering the
grisley outcome. The reporters hope to
ultimately discover the source of the
false alarm and bring that individual to
trial.
BEEM ATTEMPTS to make a con-
nection here between American
folklore and Greek tragedy. He
parallels the labor struggle in America

John Beem's 'The Motherlode,' now playing at the Attic Theatre in Detroit
through July 19, is based on the tragic death of 74 persons at a Christmas Eve
party in Calumet, Michigan in 1913. Above, members of the chorus relate
some of their favorite 'dead baby' jokes.
theme. This example of the intellectual adds to the impressionistic perspective
concepts which characterized the of the play.
Greek period is followed by illusions to Beem also has the good fortune to
the House of Atreus and Agamemnon's have Attic veteran James Moran at the
death. Beem also includes a traditional directorial helm of this production. In a
Greek chorus, whose intermittent word, Moran's staging is marvelous.
hissing and moaning serves as more of a- He is constantly in tune with the
distinction than an asset. This link bet- metaphorical implications of Beem's
ween Greek tragedy and our American play. The outline of a body appearing on
heritage is too forced, too overt. It the steps in the first scene invokes the
limits the tragic dimensions of the play, image of a multitude of corpses, vic-
rather than expanding them as the tims of the tragic Christmas party. If
framework suggests. the Greek structure succeeds at all in
There is much to commend, however, Motherlode, it is due to Moran. He at-

IN ADDITION, Moran brings out the
folkloric quality of Beem's piece. The
first scenes of each act give a sense of
the ethnic diversity of copper miners
and of their opinions of each other.
They also contain some marvelous bits
of clowning by chorus members Chris
Goeke and Dan Spahn. However, Beem
has made the transition between the
comic scenes and the rest of the play
too abrupt. The humor seems tacked
on, rather than arising out of a natural
progression of the action. These in-
terludes would be more appropriate in
the middle of the acts instead of
preceding them.
Beem's show features some of the
finest ensemble talent that the Attic
Theater can provide. Each character
seems carefully researched and gives
strength to the image of local color.
Phil Marcus Esser, as the elder repor-
ter haunted by his involvement in the
deaths of the Calumet residents, is not
a skilled enough tragedian to aptly por-
tray the turmoil that fills him with
remorse. He appears more breathless
than tragic. But Glen Allan Pruett gives
a solid performance as the hard-nosed
cub reporter, displaying his ability to
handle a wide emotional range. As a
witness to the Christmas eve incident,
Donna DiSante recreates the fatal
evening with great simplicity that con-
jures up some of the production's most
vivid imagery, and Monika Ziegler
gives a piercing performance as the
religious fanatic determined to destroy
the strike and her son's marriage.
Beem is restricted by his notion that
epic drama can only be created by
using the traditional form of Greek
tragedy. Yet he is not able to use this
format in a manner that brings the play
to a satisfactory conclusion. He raises
the issue of retribution and leaves it
dangling. The Motherlode is a work that
should be applauded for its vivid depic-
tion of the labor struggle but has some
structural aspects that need to be
reworked. But Beem certainly should
not let that fact disturb him. After all,
Sophocles didn't perfect "Oedipus" on
the first draft either.
University
playwrights
win award
The musical production In The Dark,
by 1980 University graduates Scott
Eyerly, William Holab and Andrew
Kurtzman has been named one of the
recipients of the 1980 Marshall Award
in Musical Theatre. This marks the
first time Michigan students have been
honored in the four-year old national
competition.
As in past years, the award
committee elected to divide the $2000
cash prize rather than have just one
winner. The authors of In The Dark
received $1000 for their effort while The
Great American Fool by Martha M.
Moravec and Paul Dedell .of
Brattleboro, Vt. and Simon's Towers
by Elizabeth Surace and Janice Lovoos
of Iso Angeles bth'won5so. '-a , *

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