Friday, June 18, 2010


ART's The Donkey Show continues through the summer at "Club Oberon", 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge

Admittedly, I'm very late to The Donkey Show party. Though I lived in NYC from '87-'94, and spent the next three years shuttling between Boston and NYC, I never made it down to see the show where it premiered. And last fall, I was "deterred" by associates who pooh-poohed the event as "not really theater".
Boy, did I make a big mistake.
I had seen Best of Both Worlds and was totally taken with the show, and with seeing so many performers I didn't know on the Loeb stage. With a raucous and uplifting score, ranging from Blues to Rock to Gospel, the adaptation of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale was my first taste of "the new" ART.
And when I was ready to drop my need for a stage and an audience separated by the fourth wall and visit Sleep No More, I was too late: all the subsequent performancs were sold out.
But I wasn't about to let the response of some others keep me from The Donkey Show.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is the Shakespeare play I am most intimate with. It was the first play I recall seeing, with my Mom, a production at Cambridge High and Latin School when I was a kid. And then later, as a student at the high school, I played Peter Quince in our director Bob Guest's musical adaptation called Into The Woods (no, not THAT Into the Woods ...), with "book by William Shakespeare". My favorite traditional performance was when Robert Brustein first established the ART. Mark Linn Baker was the Puck of my imagination: thrillingly malicious, enjoying every moment of toying with these foolish mortals. Among that cast was the unforgettable Titania of Carmen DeLavallade, John Bottoms' Bottom, and wonderful character turns by Richard Spore and Max Wright. And when the ART produced the show at the Wilbur Theater downtown, there was my friend/colleague Karen MacDonald, having been embraced by the new company, battling Robert Brustein in armor as Hippolyta to his Theseus.
So, armed with my knowledge of the play and turning a deaf ear to those who huffed "it's not Shakespeare", but buoyed on by the encouragement of so many others who believed I'd enjoy the experience, I got in line at Club Oberon and got my wristband.
The doorman (Steve DeMarco) looked at me, gestured toward my buttoned collar, and said "Another button, my man ... let it breathe!" and I obediently undid a few and walked on in.
And when I did, I walked into a 70's disco extravaganza in full swing! The lights, the music, the disco ball, the Go-Go Boys and other cast members working the crowd, brought me right back to the days of Donna Summer and Disco Inferno. I found myself falling immediately back into "Club Face": looking around the room, taking everyone in without betraying a blaise "seen-it-all, not-looking-at-you" demeanor.
By now everyone knows the premise: Shakespeare's basic plot of mismatched lovers encountering a magical world of fairies and love potions, with the low comedy of the Rustics and their play-within-a-play. As the "story" unfolds to disco anthems of the era, my need to define which character was who, and where the plot was, dropped away, and the parralels resonated more strongly. Once the two Vinnie's began Car Wash, I was hooked with them as the "replacement" for Bottom and the Rustics. The immersion into a disco fantasy was so complete that it carried me right on through the event. The whole evening was enormously clever (and I say clever in the best possible way, with no post-modern attitude).
And, as one who works in Casting and has been directing and acting in theater since childhood, I had what they call today an OMFG moment during the curtain call. Let's just say that a cast of 8, including two different same-sex quartet dance numbers, play the 12 characters in a dazzling feat of double-casting.
I thought the entire young cast was perfectly suited to their roles. Without diminishing any one else's contributions, I have to say that I was blown away by Aly Trasher, Lucille Duncan, and Rachael Hunt, and their versatility. And the Go-Go Boys are totally non-stop Dancing Machines. (Having seen the show twice now, I've seen at least 6 of the dancers who play the four roles: not all of them have to perform their 90 minute dance routine twice a night on Saturdays.)
There has been an undercurrent rumble in the acting community, that this is an all nonunion cast. But from what I know, they're all being paid quite well, are being treated wonderfully and appear to be having the time of their lives.
And on that note, I was thrilled to learn that the above mentioned Aly Trasher will return to the ART this fall, in Diane Paulus's production of Cabaret, in the same space, this time with an Actor's Equity card. I can't help but see a parralel in another actress, embraced between the first and second seasons of a former Artistic Director. Not a bad path to follow ...

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