Hippo Manchester
October 6, 2005

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Great play, too bad it’s over

Odd Man Out well worth a watch but only ran one weekend

By Robert Greene    rgreene@hippopress.com

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 injured.

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.