Tuesday, September 1, 2015

An Intolerant Vaudeville


An Intolerant Vaudeville
Presented by The Secret Theatre as part of the Unfringed Festival
Written by Wendy Biller, Chris Hawthorne and Sam Viverito
Original music by Ronnie Lawson
Lyrics by Ronnie Lawson, Wendy Biller and Chris Hawthorne
Conceived and directed by Sam Viverito

An Intolerant Vaudeville is a variety show exploring stereotypes and prejudices. It has jugglers and singers and a one-act play, among other acts. They all make for an interesting show.

It begins with one of its best acts, The Juggling Act – “The Fat Lady don’t Sing”. It presents, along with the jugglers and The Fat Lady, The Dwarf and The Transvestite. It has the show’s best song, in which our friends are given predictions at birth: “You’re going to be fat”, or “short”, or “strange”, as the case demands. Fortunately, The Fat Lady does sing, and we’re treated to Robin Lounsbury’s extraordinary voice.

The next act is a parody a job interview. The Interviewee is smart enough to give all the answers The Interviewer wants to hear. It’s not in the theme of the show, but it’s well written we enjoy it a lot. Jesse Manocherian’s performance as The Interviewee is great fun.

A magic act is supposedly scheduled next, but’s quickly aborted when a homeless woman commandeers the stage and sings a song. It’s maudlin, and we’d prefer the magic show.

Next is The Animal Act, one of the complex routines. An Animal Trainer presents a series of minorities as if this were an animal act: The Black Man; The Oriental Woman; The Jew Man; The Church Lady; The Latina Woman; the Homo Man. It’s the act most on point with the show’s theme. “You don’t get to define me” says the Black Man. “That’s how bigotry works” replies the Animal Trainer. It ends in a frenzy of name calling.

In The Quick Change Artist – “A Mother’s Love” a WASPish woman sings a lullaby. Then she hands the baby to the Baby Sitter and changes into a Ku Klux Klan outfit.

The show includes several short songs from a 1947 album called Little Songs on Big Subjects. They foster tolerance, and they’re very entertaining, if very brief. The show is at its best, in fact, when The Quartette sings and dances.

True to vaudeville, the show concludes with a short play, called 12 Angry Schmucks. It’s a riff on the movie 12 Angry Men. God charges jurors with deciding which religion to snuff. It’s tolerably clever, and it’s well acted.

An Intolerant Vaudeville is flawed, uneven. There’s some recorded music, even though there’s a pianist and keyboard on stage. And from time to time the acts fail. Still, the cast is strong and it’s an interesting concept, often well done. It needs to weed the dull spots and expand on its undeniable strengths.
An Intolerant Vaudeville is presented by The Secret Theatre as part of the Unfringed Festival. It’s written by Wendy Biller, Chris Hawthorne and Sam Viverito, with original music by Ronnie Lawson and lyrics by Ronnie Lawson, Wendy Biller and Chris Hawthorne. It’s conceived and directed by Sam Viverito.

Steve Capra
August 2015