The Tale of the Good Whistleblower of Chaillot's Caucasian Mother...
nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
June 16, 2009
If Charles Busch were to attempt to write a socially conscious screed about class war, the first draft would probably resemble Stan Richardson's script of The Tale of the Good Whistleblower of Chaillot's Caucasian Mother and Her Other Children of a Lesser Marriage Chalk Circle (hereafter referred to as "the show"). The show, as the title suggests, is a mashup of classic and contemporary theatre memes, stealing bits and thematic conventions from Brecht, Hugo, Giraudoux, and many others. On paper it sounds like a hilarious and enlightening evening of theatre. In execution, it falls short of the mark.
The show is set a few months before Obama is to take office; at rise the family, friends, and sexual partners of a young man named John are all gathered at his parents' home. John has attempted suicide and is in critical condition in the hospital. John's mother has invited Reverend Cindy over to tell everyone a story to pass the time. After a brief argument with her guitar, the Rev. relates the tale of Dennis Courage, a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Paris during the Belle Epoch. Dennis has been price-gouging the poor for medicine they desperately need in order to finance the non-essential drugs habit of the rich, who pay on credit or with political favors. Enter a triumvirate of gods, who have chosen Courage to be their Good Person, a paragon of honesty that will influence the populace to choose right and good, and in turn send more souls to heaven, which is currently woefully underpopulated. Dennis is assassinated for blowing the whistle on his own company, which sparks a class war and the story shifts to his mother, Mame Courage. A shiftless, self-interested woman, Mame must take up the mantle of her son but instead pushes a cart across war-torn Europe with her three unwashed mute triplets Oopse, Krapp, and Fuckk.
Richardson's script is the first product of Theatre Askew's Drafting Table program, aimed at producing and workshopping new plays. It is packed with good ideas, but they are all clamoring over one another to be heard so that the end result is a cacophony. The plot is complicated at best; and coupled with the frenzied direction of Jason Jacobs, a lot of the humor and any deeper message gets lost among the fray and the result is an unbalanced evening of theatre.
The talented cast does their best with the new script; in particular Joanna Parson is a riot as Reverend Cindy, the quasi-spiritual schizoid storyteller, and the trio of Matt Steiner, Sara Alvarez, and Brandon Uranowitz deserve huge mention for the cavalcade of characters they portray, jumping between gods, messengers, and the three gleefully fascistic triplets who speak huge chunks of text in near perfect unison. At times the cast seemed overloaded; an armada of props, musical numbers, and quick changes isn't the easiest thing to manage, especially if the text is as dense it is in this show.
Richardson & Company are to be commended for wanting to take on the health care crisis and other current social ills, but unfortunately this show as it stands is too complicated to really connect with the audience. As this is the debut workshop of the piece, there will surely be revisions and I look forward to seeing a revised and more focused production in the future.