Party Come Here at Williamstown Theatre Festival
Ersatz Jewish Musical Comedy Bounces between Manhattan and Rio
By: Charles Giuliano - Jul 28, 2007
Party Come Here
Book by Daniel Goldfarb. Music and Lyrics by David Kirshenbaum. Directed by Christopher Ashley. Sets, G.W. Mercier, Costumes. David C. Woolard. Lights, Howell Binkley. Sound Jim van Bergen. Orchestrator, Lynne Shankel. Vocal Arranger, Carmel Dean. Production Stage Manager, Gail Eve Malatesta. Production Manager, Michael Wade. Casting, Laurea Schutzel, Tara Rubin Casting. Choreographer, Dan Knechtges. Musical Director, Vadim Feichtner. Cast: Hunter Foster (Jack), Malcolm Gets (Orlando), Adam Heller (Wood), Kaitilin Hopkins (Liberty), Kate Reinders (Kate), Volere (Chauntee Schuler), (Ensemble) Jordan Barbour, Clifton Alphonzo Duncan, Kate Roberts, Sarah Turner. Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 25- August 5. http://www.wtfestival.org
During the intermission for the new musical "Party Come Here" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through August 5 we were standing outside for a breath of air when three women exited briskly spewing off a harsh review of the first act. One woman was particularly sharp but added that "Everyone's a critic." I replied that "Actually, I'm a critic." To which she implored me to write a bad review. This prompted me to ask another critic, the critic's critic, Astrid, what she thought so far? She liked it but found it to be a "mumbo jumbo."
Exactly. She has a way of getting right to the point. We returned to our seats wondering how many vacancies there would be in the second act of a sold out house. It seems everyone loves a new musical. Or wants really, really hard to love a new musical which seems to be the case here. The play is at best a work in progress that tracks the on again, off again, romance and botched marriage of Jack, his divorced parents from hell, and his pretty little air headed fiancÃ© Kate. The action ricochets from the Manhattan living room of his bitch of a mother Kate who we learn has multi tasked as a former Olympic skier, chef in a four star restaurant, and atrociously scheming, smothering botched up controlling Mom. She suggests that Jack at least try to contact and invite his long lost father Wood who abandoned the family in his infancy (apparently inspired by Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead") to pursue the life of a hedonist in Rio. There is a long distance mix up and Wood, who is too busy watching and responding to a soccer game, appears to tell his son to get lost.
Jack is an aspiring magician who can't turn a trick. Legerdemain is not his strong suit. Even when he manages to conjure up an engagement ring Kate laughs at his inept delivery but, what the heck, accepts anyway. It seems that compared to her past lovers who screwed her and screwed her over, Jack, while relatively unendowed (there are running gags about his cute little member) is a really sweet nice guy. There is a lot of explicit sex talk in this play.
There is a botched wedding which Kate cancels just before the I Do's protesting that she loves Jack but this is just not her vision of a romantic ceremony. She fixes on the idea of an escape to Rio (it is dreary winter in New York but gorgeous summer in Brazil) there to meet with Jack's Dad. So, in a bit of mish mash we find ourselves in a dizzy spin from chilly New York, where it is always snowing on Liberty his frost queen Mom, to Rio where his Dad has a hissy fit when he runs short on limes for cocktails. Go figure.
Poor Jack, what a pathetic little twerp. He just wants a bit of magic and the eternal love of a girl who is just beyond his reach but whose whining whims and demands twist and turn him every bit as much as those of his Mom. In addition to that cute little penis Jack seems to have no stones. No wonder that in a plot twist Kate later throws herself on Jack's dad who appears to have no shortage of chutzpah. Oh yes, Jack has a Jewish father and WASP mother. The plot thickens.
On the beach Jack encounters and becomes ensnared by the 500 year old Marrano, Orlando. He is a Sephardic Jew who was forced to accept baptism and then got exiled to Portugal before being deported to Brazil. He had been hiding in a cave all this time to avoid a certain and brutal execution. The Marranos were despised both by Jews for converting to Christianity (although many secretly kept their faith for generations) and by Christians because of their Jewish heritage. When Jack is lured into the cave by Orlando (he was dispatched to the beach to buy limes for Wood's cocktails) he eventually learns that he too is a Maranno. Which is to say, a lost soul and wuss with no real identity and an emasculated persona. In one of the most mind boggling and remarkable songs of this at times provocative and edgy but mostly wild and crazy mixed up play Orlando conveys to Jack why "Everyone Hates" (the Jews). But Orlando's knowledge stops some 500 years ago so Jack responds with an update including the Holocaust and Mel Gibson.
Why am I laughing I wondered? Is it really funny that these characters are singing a duet about hating Jews? To what extent does this attempt at comedy just build on the door opened by "The Producers?" Is "Everyone Hates" just an update of "Springtime for Hitler?" Of course the caveat and disclaimer here is that these are musicals about anti Semitism written by Jews. So Jews can makes jokes about the Holocaust but it is verboten for the goyem to go there. It's like the black comics who spew out "nigger" but the word is off limits to everyone else. There is something I just don't get about this.
The Jewish thing, and Jack's denial of his heritage, is further emphasized in the casting, sets and costumes of this confusing mish mash play. Adam Heller's Wood, Jack's Dad, is a self absorbed, tasteless, materialistic, runty, nebbishy Jew straight out of central casting. He is every bit as much a racial stereotype as Kaitilin Hopkins', up tight, controlling, ball busting, WASP Mom, Liberty. To push the imagery over the edge David C. Woolard has dressed Wood in a gold lame, leisure suit with matching gold running shoes. His house in Rio is also solid gold in a set by G. W. Mercier. Jews it seems wallow in gold. Duh. This is funny?
The other conspicuous clichÃ© is that Wood's trophy wife is a tall, tautly fit and trim, gorgeous woman of color perched on legs that don't quit. You know, that Brazil thing. Thongs on the beach. The Girl from Ipanima. Carnival. Dance till you drop. Wood is often on the exercise bike trying to stay fit the better to schtoop the gorgeous Valere. But she appears to be a poor girl who constantly prays to Jesus (that enormous statue of Christ seen from her window and a motif in the set design). While Chauntee Schuler's Volere is easy on the eyes her singing and acting is oddly enervating. She is by far the most physically attractive performer on stage but ironically the least compelling.
Despite the obvious mish mash of the cavorting and careening culture clash of the New York/ Rio juxtapositions there is still a lot to like about this play and its energetic production. Hunter Foster's performance is at times poignant and compelling. We feel for this lost soul struggling to find his identity and develop his manhood. What a wimp. His fiancÃ© is in the sack with his Dad. How bad is that? Oi vey what a putz Adam Heller is as Wood. But he is surprisingly light on his feet and can belt out a tune. Vat a mensch. Malcolm Gets was just wonderful as the marooned Marrano. Kate Reinders was adequately perky as the opportunistic slut of a finance. But Kaitlin Hopkins was just fabulously terrible, the wicked witch as Liberty. It was just hilarious that she arrived in Rio with her own little snowfall and a ski pole as a prop.
So yes, at best, this was an amusing and diverting evening of theatre. The WTF is much to be applauded for presenting new works. There is an admirable effort at risk taking that truly makes this a Festival in the best sense of the word. But I would prefer to see them try to be more avant-garde in choosing new works. Plays like this are best described as experimental, works in progress, or Broadway bound. All of which is too mainstream for my taste. I come to the theatre to be challenged and enlightened, not just entertained. Theatre at its best is an arena for ideas. WTF needs to try harder.