If the end of the world were tomorrow, there’s no one I’d rather have shuffle me off to Buffalo and back than Mandy Patinkin (in his A.R.T. debut) and Taylor Mac (“The Lily’s Revenge”) as a pair of waterlogged vaudevillians who tap their way ashore after a global deluge. But these two aren’t waiting for GODOT; the show must go on and they commence singing up a storm of their own. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman, the world premiere of THE LAST TWO PEOPLE on EARTH: An APOCALYPTIC VAUDEVILLE finds our vagabonds singing and dancing the whole damp world back into existence– Aborigine-like, and we follow their indigenous showbiz songlines as they riff and re-invent tunes from Irving Berlin to Queen, by way of Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, and Tom Waits, among others. Patinkin’s warm ringing tenor counters Mac’s cooler vocals as they grab the apple and warble their way through the history of mankind in the hopes of begetting a new beginning. With the ease of a couple of show biz veterans, they know exactly what they’re about and what we want. After a fleet, funny 75 minutes, this droll duo poignantly paddles upstage toward the horizon, singing the round we learned as kids, its truth rippling back to us now as a deeply soothing reminder:
“Row, row, row your boat /gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily/life is but a dream…”
At the AMERICAN REPERTORY THEATER through May 31!
Then hurry on over to ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY and prepare to get your blood up and reset your moral compass when you see the New England premiere of THE SUBMISSION by Jeff Talbott. The play’s premise is loaded from the get-go when a playwright (Victor Shopov) submits a play entitled “CALL A SPADE” about a dysfunctional African-American family living in the ghetto– to a prestigious theater festival. When it’s accepted, the playwright who happens to be a young, gay white male named Danny (Victor Shopov) decides the play would be more successful if the producers thought it was written by an African-American woman. So he makes up a name–Shaleeha G’ntamobi–and hires a young black actress named Emilie (Aina Adler) to play her, with a plan to reveal the truth on opening night. Are you with me?
The play immediately starts messing with your head and who you thought you were. The situation grows increasingly tense as the two debate the legitimacy of the maneuver, the deception involved, the bargain they’ve made with each other, and its potential effect on all concerned– participants and audience alike. Then, in the last 45 minutes, the play explodes in your face and causes you to question every thought you ever had about race and gender, what it means to you and the world, whether or not the views you and these characters hold are racist, prejudiced, fair, reasonable, or insidiously intolerant.
Director David J. Miller positions the action right up the middle of the intimate space at the BCA Plaza Black Box, slicing the audience in two; we are caught in the crossfire, riveted to the actors as they bob and weave around these exceptionally well-reasoned, hyper-articulated arguments, recalibrating their positions– her rage, his self-righteousness– the intensity almost unbearable as we see painful issues raised from every angle, until finally the action cuts to the witheringly personal. Shopov and Adler duke it out, never missing a beat, alternating these scenes with those of their love interests on the side lines (Diego Buscaglia and Matthew Fagerberg more than hold their own here.). But the bout between Danny and Emilie is the main event, and though I didn’t see it, I’m sure it was infinitely more potent than anything Mayweather and Pacquiao did in the ring. Shopov and Adler go all twelve rounds and I’m still not sure who won, but the play and this production are without question–a knock out.
See THE SUBMISSION at ZEITGEIST STAGE COMPANY only through May 30!