October 6, 2005
play, too bad it’s over
Man Out well worth a watch but only ran one weekend
Robert Greene firstname.lastname@example.org
Think back to 1978, a
few months after Jim Jones got his followers to drink poisoned
Flavor-Aid, and look west to San Francisco, Calif.
The year before, a guy
named Harvey Milk made history by being the first openly gay person to
be elected to public office in an American city. Milk was voted in as
district supervisor, a position roughly equivalent to a Manchester
alderman. He was shot to death in his office a year later, along with
San Francisco’s mayor at the time, George Moscone. The killer was a
district supervisor named Dan White, a former cop who got off easy
(seven years sentenced with only five served) by claiming the number of
Twinkies he ate made it impossible for him to think straight. White’s
early parole sparked the White Night Riots where nearly 100 people were
Milk’s murder was a
shocking act in that day. Not only was he a pillar of San Francisco’s
gay community but pols just don’t go around gunning down other pols, not
in America. Imagine, what it would be like to learn one of Manchester’s
alderman had taken down Bob Baines and another political rival. It’s
nearly incomprehensible that something like that would happen in today.
Odd Man Out was written
two years ago by Albany, N.Y. playwright Michael John Meade and the
Yellow Taxi show marked its second professional staging. I bet a cookie
that it won’t be its last.
Meade did a good job
with the material, blending an imaginary meeting between Milk and White
in purgatory with scenes and dialogue made up of the pols’ actual words,
quotes and speeches. With the exception of an overly long opening
monologue, Meade’s play moves along quickly and smartly, and contains
many scenes of real power. With a tweak here or there, I can easily
imagine it opening off Broadway.
The Yellow Taxi
production, directed by Martin S. Goeller (who also directed the show’s
first airing in Albany), ran in 14 Court Street Theater’s black-box, a
place oft times reserved for more experimental work. The set was sparse
but it effectively placed the audience in hell and on the streets of San
Francisco at the appropriate times. The lighting design was clean but
overly busy. There were too many changes that didn’t do anything other
than make me say “What the ...?”
The acting, however,
was just on the near side of stellar. Cast in the pivitol role as Harvey
Milk, NYC-based professional actor Jeff Clinkenbeard, breathed new life
into a dead guy, which is not as easy as it sounds. Milk is often
protrayed as a saint but Clinkenbeard, armed with Meade’s strong script,
made him a man of passion, caring and a myriad of faults and flaws.
(Local actor Andrew Hannah did a nice job playing Harvey’s also-dead
partner Jack, who serves as Milk’s voice of reason in the underworld.
Jack apparently killed himself when he realized he would always play
second fiddle to Milk’s political career.) Clinkenbeard messed up a
couple of times in his (overly long) opening speech but succeeded in
showing a Milk who, even in death, acknowleged his mistakes and remained
resolutely amused by his fellow man. Clinkenbeard’s performing career
has included the starring role in his one-man, award-winning show, A
Baptist Boy Trapped In A Jewish Boy’s Body, which received the Manhattan
Association of Cabarets’ Best New Performer award. He also was a writing
assistant on Cheers, apparently.
Equally strong if
occasionally over the top was Boston actor Doug Chilson as Dan White.
Chilson is already familiar to Yellow Taxi audiences as Larry in
Closer, Felix Humble in Humble Boy and Hal in the world premiere of The
Warmth of the Cold. Chilson’s White is not that bright and not as full
of hatred as you might think. He just wants to be loved and live up to
his family’s legacy. Sure, he killed Milk and Moscone but he didn’t
really have anything against them; he just wanted to pay them back for,
as he saw it, ruining his life. (Milk played it “straight” for much of
his early life before coming out of the closet. Meade’s play suggests
that White might also have been closeted and eventually came to resent
Milk because he was succeeding while being “out.”)
The cast was rounded
out by Manchester actor Michelle Saturley, playing White’s wife, Mary
Ann. Saturley works at the Hippo, covering theater and the arts, so I’d
be all balanced and stuff, and downplay her performance. But I won’t.
She was great, too, and I actually got a little misty-eyed when she did
a scene describing what it felt like when her husband told her he killed
Milk. (Nice job, Michelle!)
The only bad part of
Odd Man Out is the fact that the run will be over by the time you read
this. It was a great play but you missed it. Sorry. Whatever their
reasoning, Yellow Taxi charged $15 a ticket for a show that only ran one
weekend. I don’t get that. Sure, there are costs to cover but wouldn’t
charging less for admission over a two-week run fill the coffers? Odd
Man Out is the sort of show that builds by word of mouth. The second
weekend, had there been one, would have been great.
Or maybe Yellow Taxi
just doesn’t have faith it its own product. If so, they were sadly
mistaken and potential audiences missed out.