Vietnam and Victoriana

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  November 19, 2007

On the face of it, Streamers is a realistic work, if one in the Martin Scorsese/Quentin Tarantino vein. But the metaphor is key. As has been noted, none of the characters has been dealt a ’chute that opens; they’re all in free fall precipitated by social ills, a senseless war, an abusive military, fear of the unknown and the Other. As for the sergeants, they are the useless macho dads of the career army, turned drunk and flaccid and clownishly warlike. Cokes’s melancholy coda, in which he caps a rambling anecdote about an exploding “gook” with a rendering of “Beautiful Streamer” in imitation Korean, confers on the play a bleak profundity on whose vast, combative horizon the barracks bloodshed seems but a dot.

Ellis’s staging is simple yet nuanced, quick-trigger anger and a troubling uneasiness mixed into the masculine camaraderie. Brad Fleischer plays Billy, the upstanding if uptight college boy pushed to extremes that disgust him, as more latent homosexual than secure straight man irked by Richie’s teasing advances. Hale Appleman captures the insecurity in the irrepressibly provocative Richie. J.D. Williams is the cool if gung-ho Roger, determined to do his duty, however pointless. And John Sharian is the primally sodden Rooney. But the production hinges on the Brian Dennehy–like Larry Clarke, whose moribund Cokes drifts toward a soggy compassion, and Ato Essandoh, whose loose-cannon Carlyle inspires both pity and terror, pushing Rabe’s melodrama in the direction of tragedy.

Victorian melodrama partners with Victorian music hall in THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD (at the Calderwood Pavilion through December 15) to perform a lively jig on the grave of Charles Dickens. Said grave is the floorboard for this dance, since Dickens’s expiring before he’d completed the novel of the title provides the Tony-winning 1985 musical by “The Piña Colada Song” tunesmith Rupert Holmes its gimmick: as with Shear Madness, the audience gets to solve the mystery. This is facilitated by an elaborate voting process that suspends act two but that’s just the final instance of audience inclusion that begins, in the energetic SpeakEasy Stage Company revival, with a protracted meet-and-greet by costumed actors sashaying through the house to press flesh, make lewd insinuations, and explain to the spectators their upcoming democratic duty. At long last, it’s on with the show, which is accurately described by the Chairman, a sort of Victorian MC, as a “musicale with dramatic interludes.”

The Mystery of Edwin Drood has its fans, and by the sound of it many of them were in the opening-afternoon audience here. Certainly composer-lyricist-librettist Holmes is to be credited for supplying such a slew of endings (using mostly the same music). But this show has always struck me as tiresome and pushy: the actors have to work so hard to sell it, it might as well be snake oil. The Dickens plot is laboriously winked at and seems to deserve that, with its array of suspicious characters, any one of whom might be responsible for the title character’s disappearance on a stormy Christmas Eve at the end of act one. But channeling Dickens is not the point of the show, which is more interested in reveling in the raucous traditions of the 19th-century music hall and the British pantomimes that charmed Holmes as a young boy living in England.

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