Jan/Feb 2001 Humor/Satire

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

by Craig Butler

What possible explanation can there be for the travesty which is currently onstage at the Mt. Allenberg Center for the Performing and Culinary Arts? None that I know of, and I am one who is well-versed in the art of explaining the inexplicable. (If anyone doubts this, I refer him to my cogent review of the recent "The Scarlet Letter On Ice.")

The "work" (and I use the term loosely, although it was definitely a chore for ME to sit through it) currently on display is produced by one of the Center's more lamentable sub-tenants, the Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Players, or IBTWP as they are known for short. (Would that they paid as much attention to shortening the length of their productions as they do to shortening their title.) In their three-some-odd years of existence (if something which exhibits such limited intelligence can truly be said to exist), IBTWP has inflicted upon the unsuspecting public such monstrosities as an all-pantomimed SALUTE TO BILLY SHAKESPEARE, a rap version of THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES with the unfortunate title THE CRIB O' THE WACKED OUT RIBS, and THE EMPEROR STRIKES BACK, which claimed to be a space-age sequel to THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES. In that last named production, Markie Malone's performance as The Innocent Little Lad Who Speaketh True made such an impression upon me that I went home and immediately drafted legislation making "public display of terminal cuteness" sufficient grounds for capital punishment. Regrettably, state Senator Ferryl Jablonskit refused to introduce my bill, an act of cowardice which he will regret come election day.

As execrable as these past calamities were, they still did not prepare me for the current offering. Gullible as I am, na´ve as I am, cockeyedly optimistic as I am, I actually went into this one thinking, "Perhaps this will be a pleasant surprise. It is HANSEL AND GRETEL after all."

Oh, no. No, no, no, no. If this state had a good truth-in-advertising law (which it never will as long as we elect officials the calibre of Ferryl Jablonskit), I would be suing the marketing department at IBTWP up one side and down the other this minute. I know HANSEL AND GRETEL, and let me tell you, this is not HANSEL AND GRETEL.

Oh, the superficialities are there. Brother, sister, craven father, evil stepmother. Starvation, bread crumb paths, gingerbread house, witch. Oven, chicken bone (turkey in some versions, a much better choice.) But there the similarity ends.

The beauty and simplicity of the original has been replaced with a sheen of social correctness which is as appalling as it is predictable. For example, rather than the stepmother disposing of the children because she is base and selfish, in this version we discover that the stepmother has been kidnapped and replaced by her evil twin sister, who has always harbored a grudge against her. Similarly the father excuses away his compliance with the twin sister's evil machinations by stating that "Before now, I have always been afraid of disagreeing with women, afraid they would abandon me as did my own mother when I was mere a kinderling. But from today I say, 'Never again! No, never again!'"

Even the witch gets rehabilitated, and what possible fun is there in that? It turns out that she didn't become evil until the burgermeister of their village entered into a trade agreement with the burgermeister of another village, with the result that the bakery at which the witch was employed closed up shop and went to "the land where they knead for next to nothing." And since she doesn't die -- Gretel does not push her into the oven but merely puts hot coals down her pants, after first stating that "Of course, I wouldn't do this if my own life were not in danger -- and if I were not wearing these fireproof gloves!" -- the witch gets to hear the happy news that "a leaner and more efficient bakery is opening which is looking for experienced, productive laborers."

There is more, but my head aches too severely to continue. As for the performances, writing about them would force me to mentally recreate them, and this I fear might drive me to commit acts of mayhem which, while they would do the community at large a great service, would result in my own permanent incarceration.

I suppose I should be grateful that this production is technically "traditional," rather than, say, one re-set in Malibu, or in which some unregenerate Brecht-ophile director forces the birds of the forest to tell the audience that the witch wishing to eat Hansel is no worse than the Rich in our own Society feasting upon the Poor. But I must admit I find it increasingly difficult to be thankful for small favors these days.

Perhaps eight years is too long for any man to be drama critic for a community such as Mt. Allenberg, which seems to attract only fifth-rate touring shows (did you SEE that abysmal bus-and-truck of CHARLEY'S AUNT with G. Gordon Liddy? No, of course not. One wouldn't unless one was "paid" to, and those quotes around "paid" are exceedingly intentional) and tenth-rate community theatre productions (someone MUST tell the St. Ignatius Players that God originally intended to give the world an eleventh commandment -- "Thou shalt not cast a 300-pound monk with no hair, bad skin and a pronounced tendency to spit whenever he sings as the romantic lead in GUYS AND DOLLS" -- but changed His mind because He assumed surely such a thing would be obvious to all and sundry. Apparently even He in His wisdom did not count on sundry being taken to that level attained at St. Ignatius).

Eight years of this dreck! Even those Biblical famines only lasted seven -- and by the way, the food at our local dinner theater is enough to make one wish for a famine. The only reason one ever eats dinner there in the first place is that scrounging around on one's plate for a piece of meat-like by-product gives one an excuse to take one's eyes off of the horrors onstage for a few moments, and because if one crunches on the celery loud enough, one can almost drown out the histrionics that Narla Benston, the resident diva, brings to every single part. (Her performance in the title role in MAME actually made me regret living in a state with such stringent gun control laws.)

Oh why did I not heed my mother's advice and become a sword swallower? Granted, my habitually swollen glands would make swallowing anything thicker than a foil excruciatingly painful and lead to an early death. But that would still be preferable to sitting through another Methodist Summer Youth Camp production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in which Tevye's voice keeps cracking during "If I Were a Rich Man" and in which the young lovers cannot stop giggling whenever they are called upon to deliver a passionate kiss.

Ah, well.

Next week: I review the Mt. Allenberg Marionettes' production of THE CRUCIBLE and Danny Bonaduce and Boy George in MY FAIR LADY. Probably from an oxygen tent.


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