In the early 1980’s, Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater and others with a similar aesthetic, gave American theater a shot of testosterone it desperately needed at the time. Self-identified as “rock and roll theater”, Steppenwolf’s style was raw and confrontational, its narratives populated by virile, troubled archetypes. The language was rooted in the American lexicon, a poetry of the streets.
The story begins in 1983, when a gala concert is scheduled in honor of Motown’s 25th anniversary. All the big stars will be there, but the very man whose name is synonymous with the legendary label refuses to attend. Embittered and abandoned, Gordy (Brandon Victor Dixon) wants nothing to do with the super-talents he discovered and nurtured, only to watch them seek bigger paydays elsewhere.
Bob Fosse walked to the front of the house, put his hands on the rail, and said, “Now that’s what I call a well prepared audition.” Then he jumped up on stage with me and started giving me his signature bumps and grind moves to try out. I waited three days to hear if I got it. After three days I was a very happy girl.
If you were born in New York and see a set that has been detailed with a rollaway folding cot in the hallway, and a living room view of not only the standard-issue brick wall of the building behind yours, but also the laundry hung out wherever space permits, you know that this is the Bronx, Brooklyn or Manhattan West Side post-war apartment that your parents grew up in, and spent their lives striving to escape.
Except of course Cis isn’t advanced for his age: when his mother married Posket, she eased five years from her age, thus putting her nineteen-year-old son back into the velvet suit and sailor collar of a fourteen-year-old boy. Confusion understandably reigns, not least amongst the music mistress and maidservant who find themselves curiously drawn to the charming little fellow.
Everyone notices Jack’s flamboyant behavior and his sudden preponderance of cash. Jack evades their questions until, finally, he can no longer bear lying to his family. He finally confesses that he and his old-money wife Jenny are splitting up. Oh, and one more thing: Jack has embezzled 27 million dollars from the bank where he works.
All in all, the show is most remarkable for its performances, especially the lead. McClure nimbly captures both Chaplin’s physicality and the contradictory aspects of his personality. He is as cantankerous as he is vulnerable, uncompromising in his pursuit of his own vision even as he aches for approval.
Appearing in a loose-fitting white shirt and tie, black slacks and white shoes, and sporting a scruffy do that was its own hybrid—punk plus low maintenance—she, herself, especially when she tucks her violin into the crook of her neck as if it were her heart—evokes something sculptural and pleasantly exotic. She is Electronica Untamed and also Electronica Informed—by a classical education in music, philosophy and science.
Two of the standouts, Michelle Ramoni’s June and Nancy and Camilla Ammirati’s In the Ebb take place in very different times and places, but they share a common theme. Both stories include searching, imaginative female protagonists who struggle to discover themselves as they question the stability of their marriages.
I love my public, and if I’m walking down the street and someone wants to take a picture with me, I’m happy to do it. After all, they’ve taken the time to come to my show. Gilda Matthews sent me t-shirts that say “Spread the love,” and I think we should, we don’t have to hoard love any more than we’d hoard water; there’s enough for everyone.