Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oh, Shaw.

David Staller, who produces The Shaw Project at the living monument to theatrical history, the storied Player's Club, which has Mark Twain's pool cue on the wall in the downstairs bar and pool room, laughed as he introduced the last two plays in the four-year series because these last two offerings -- two one-acts are hardly worthy of his efforts. But complete the series we must!

If I'm not mistaken, I believe he said George Bernard Shaw wrote 85 plays. Imagine that! I'm not even sure, sometimes, if I have 85 songs. (Of course, I tell myself it's much harder to squeeze a full play into a three minute song than to drag it out over three acts.)

The first one, The Gadfly, he explained, was based on some immensely popular potboiler about spies and Russia and cocktail parties and Bishops, and it, he explained, was written to help the author secure a stage copyright (?). Happily, it was as short as it was unintelligible, and the playing was hilarious. The Broadway actors (Jim Brochu, Mara Davi, Josh Griseti, Simon Jones, Sean Dugan, Victor Slezak, Donna Lynne Champlin) did it with verve and high camp -- Jim doing his faux-Maggie Smith impression as "the countess" who insists that subversive activity is so rife in the town that the only way to do anything in secret is to do it at a cocktail party at the top of one's voice.

This was followed by his last play, an unfinished piece called "Why She Would Not." Since we never would discover "why she would not," much less "what" she would not, David had five different playwrights write their own comic endings. (Playwrights Israel Horovitz, David Cote, Michael Feingold, Jeremy McCarter and Robert Simonson.)

The dining room/performance area was packed to the gills for this final show, and Jim felt very honored to have been asked to participate. We, the audience, cheered and jeered and played along. Then, once most everyone had gone away, we retreated to the bar area and looked around at the caricatures and paintings of all the old actors who have since long left us -- and I sat there wondering what it must have been like, a century ago, to hang out with Mark Twain and Edwin Booth.

When Jim was a young actor in the early 70s, this is where he met Jimmy Cagney, and introduced friends to Joan Crawford. Up in the parlor and the dining room, tall paintings of actors I've never heard, dressed out in their role-playing finest -- usually Shakespearean -- costume and almost seem to speak to each other, like a thespian Harry Potter novel.

The stories these walls could tell...

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