Can You Hear Their Voices?
A Peculiar Works Project
Yes, a Depression-era drama, based on true events, performed in an empty storefront near the NYU campus. Forty seats on knock-together risers, struggling air-conditioning, the actors had to jostle for position to use the single bathroom with the patrons just prior to the performance.
I have read agitprop theater from this era and was expecting a very dry piece of work. They were all so obvious - and polite - back in those days.
Farmer: How can we eat when the drought has destroyed all of our crops?I mean, how can you have interesting political discourse when no one can refer to Nazis?
Senator: The American people will never agree to a dole.
Well, first of all, I was wrong about the play, in places it really is funny, and moving. And though you are led to the expectation that there really will be some kind of minor revolution at the end, the ending is much more realistic, personal, and leaves you wondering what will happen? As if to say to the audience, here we are, where do we go from here?
Modern technology has made it possible for small companies like this one to project video images on the wall to cover for what in the olden days were long and awkward to watch set changes. And the videos were of great period film, sometimes with captions. Even better, the trio playing live (piano, clarinet and bass) were a real swell ensemble, I would have been happy to hear them continue after the 60-minute show was over.
The Times made a bit of a stink over the use of cross-gendered and other forms of non-traditional casting. At the beginning I had to agree ... during the serious opening segments portraying the farmers and workers in their crisis, it was confusing to see a much older man with a salt and pepper mustache playing a kid (is he retarded?) and a young woman playing his brother. Women in suits playing men without any irony suggests high school productions where you just can't get enough boys to audition.
However, as the play went on, and moved into high gear with these hilarious scenes of high society girls and men being their decadent selves - doing period dances (oh! those early 30s dance moves!) with women in tuxedos and tall, bald guys in dressed, "necking" on the stairs (I found the repeated use of the word "neck" to be scandalous) these decisions made more sense. My date for the evening remarked how it really made the ensemble feel like a company that works together and takes on all responsibilities together. And I'm all for that.