Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Review: Bill of (W)Rights

RTE, the Renegade Theatre Experiment, opened their production Friday night of this team-written play which is designed to shock, educate and provoke Deep Thought about what is happening to the Bill of Rights these days.

With one exception, the cast is outstanding. The directing (by Susannah Greenwood) defies classification because the way the show was presented also defies classification. Part of the "Experiment" was to shake things up a bit by not having all of the audience see all of the show in the same order, or in the same room. After the first couple of scenes, the audience is split in half, with half remaining in the theater and the other half herded into a small room in the theater annex, a rehearsal hall, I think. We also saw scenes in an outdoor courtyard (which is a poor choice on windy and chilly fall nights), the hallway outside the main auditorium, and the Green Room.

The general idea of each scene was to take one of the 10 amendments and show how it has eroded in our society, or could under the wrong circumstances. Except for the opening and closing scenes, which were more general.

The opening scene starts with the cast shouting "fire". The theater wasn't all that crowded, and the layout of the auditorium is such that had there been an actual fire, we would have known it, so the point fell flat. There were a few times when the playwrights missed the mark  by either using tired old arguments or by making a scene more complex than it had to be to prove the point.

I'll be honest and say that one reason I went was I was told there would be nudity onstage. There was, on the part of the very attractive Alika Spencer in the opening scene, but it didn't serve any purpose that I could tell. I suppose the fact that she had a swastika tattooed where one might ordinarily expect to find pubic hair may have been some sort of free expression statement, but she had arrived onstage in an Nazi Chick outfit, and obviously was representing that sector, so having her strip struck me as gratuitous.

Also, nobody else got naked, which was disappointing, and made Alika's nudity even more out of place. Perhaps if, during that opening scene,  the whole cast stripped...

The set is a simple group of flats on which have been pasted a collage of pictures of famous people, mostly political, with a few pictures of events. The one I liked most was the protester carrying a sign which said "Practice Compassionate Impeachment". Three cheers for the sound system in the Hoover Theater, it is clear as crystal and expertly used by sound designer Ron Zuccaro. The program doesn't say who was on the light and sound boards, but those folks deserve a pat on the back as well.

As I said, the cast is mostly outstanding. Everyone played multiple roles, most had to carry at least one scene as the main character, and as can happen with a play written by committee, the lines are often not easy to remember. This play is not honed as finely as the playwrights could have done, not all the scenes are linear - some of them ramble around, and there's a feeling of "oh, we should add something about xxx, while we're on the subject".  I have in mind the scene done in the courtyard, superbly played by Jet Chhay (yes, there are two h's) as a recently paroled young man who has come to "worship" with the priest who had taught him a new and unusual way to take the sacraments. Something which involved the unzipping of the priest's pants. One might say the scene meanders a lot before coming to the ..uh.. point. The now-defrocked priest is played by the amazing Jeff Swan. More on him later.

A couple of scenes I really enjoyed :

The one on the 5th Amendment, in which the daughter (Molly Gazay) pressures her mother's lover (Jack Starr) into telling mom (Alika) the phone number of the woman with whom he is cheating on her. Tightly written, well-acted, and it made me go "hmmm..." until I realized that the court of the dinner table is not necessarily under the jurisdiction of the Bill.

I'm not sure if it was meant to illustrate cruel and unusual punishment or illegal search and seizure, but Howard Miller was way too convincing as a man who was raped by a policeman, and experiences flashbacks and just goes numb as a result. The writing in this one is truly experimental, taking us from flashback to real life by a lighting effect and having the policeman's voice come in over the audio system (we never see the policeman, just Howard, in these flashbacks). This is a scene where a naked actor might have made some sense, but I actually liked it better the way they presented it. Several of Howard's friends in the audience, however, might have enjoyed seeing all of him.

Howard has another powerful scene as the stern and overbearing father of a Goth teenager (Molly Gazay) who is about to appear in court, but the lawyer dad has hired (Victoria Mejia?) has come up with a deal to settle out of court. Goth chick blows a gasket, and the confrontation with Dad is probably being played in thousands of homes/hallways/parking lots/malls every day. However, I'm not sure which amendment this skit illustrates.

One scene I thought was way over the top was the one which tried to address the amendment forbidding forcing citizens to board soldiers. They took the Homeland Security thing and cleverly assigned two heavily-armed soldiers (Jack and Jeff) to keep an attractive young female citizen (Victoria) "secure" by staying in her house and going with her everywhere. But the conclusion they take this to is not so logical.  

Let's go from scenes to actors. I mentioned Jeff Swan earlier. Jeff had more lines than any three other actors in this performance. He's cast as The Rational Man in the opening and closing scenes, and the playwrights ran off at the pen way too much, and he bore the brunt of that. But he had it nailed, and the same is true of all the scenes he was in. Jack Starr was type cast as the political version of He Hate Me, he got to play the bad guy in all his scenes, and he is very good at it. Letha Remington stole my heart. She was spot-on in all her scenes, and on top of that is just plain hot. She can play opposite me any time. Christine Schisano and Phil Talsky had less stage time than most, but both of them reinforced my quip that "there are no small actors, just small parts". The only disappointment was Jagjit Choudhary, whose thick accent was difficult to understand, and a monotone delivery, coupled with wooden movement made me wonder why he was cast.

Despite my dings and jabs, I think this show well worth seeing, and recommend it.

Bill of (W)Rights continues through -
well isn't that special: They don't say in the program, I'll have to look on the web site, which also is not in the program. Oh. Here it is on my faves list.
September 23 at
Historic Hoover Theater
1635 Park Avenue
San José , CA 95126

All performances begin at 8pm except Sunday.
Sunday performances begin at 2pm.

Tags: review

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