The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Reformed)
nytheatre.com review by Jon Stancato
August 16, 2007
About 20 minutes into The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Reformed), I glanced down at the program's director's notes and found this:
Why put up a show with only two days of rehearsal? Why the hell not?
I can think of a lot of reasons to create and perform a play in front of an audience (passion, the desire to tell an important story, an experiment, lust for fame or money, a desperate plea for attention, et al) and while some of these make for more captivating theatre than others, at least they all have a point. Even Dadaist performance experiments had a point: pointlessness. Why should an audience care about a production if it is, in itself, meaningless to its creators? And, while I could think of quite a few production concepts that might be enhanced by limiting rehearsals to two days, a meditation on the life and faith of "everyone's favorite revolutionary monk" (as the production dubs Luther in one of its more clever moments) isn't one of them.
Okay: it's entirely possible that a) there is a very good reason why this show was only rehearsed for two days, or b) the show was extensively rehearsed and the director's note was meant in jest. It's also possible that "Why the hell not?" was just the director's shorthand for "It seemed like a worthy experiment." And really, who am I to review the program notes? Let's look at the piece itself.
Well, with an unmemorized narrator (script in hand), lines like "Who wrote this crap anyway?" and "You're not even actors, you're talentless sacks of...", and a narrative which probes no further into the life of Luther than a sixth grade world history textbook, the production simply dismisses itself as much as the notes portend.
'Tis a tricky concept to pull off successfully: an intentionally amateurish pageant about one of the world's greatest thinkers. With enough care, creativity, cunning, and, well, rehearsal, the troupe might have carried the conceit and amused while wearing their irony on their sleeves a la [title of show] or Gutenberg! The Musical. But both of those shows are about "the biz" and, like them or loathe them, the metatheatrics therein can only charm insofar as they offer an inventive insight into said "biz." At the end of the day, I'm really just not convinced that this now-hackneyed bag of tricks can serve the specific story playwright Jarrod Jabre seeks to tell.
As I try to parse through these meta-layers, it's really challenging to evaluate to what degree the acting, direction, and playwriting were cringe-inducingly sloppy and to what degree I was cleverly deceived by their simulation of a theatrical trainwreck. Actors Tom McGuane and Carlo Serna occasionally elicit some well-won titters and some of the lines ("The leity doth protest too much") suggest that Jabre has wit that will perhaps have the opportunity to flourish more in future productions.
Perhaps when the Colonel's Men return to NYC in the future, they'll have the chance to devote a little bit more time into their production and give their members the chance to shine.