Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Theater Review.

This Summer saw a great drama unfold at the Little Theater of The Rockies which celebrates it's 75th Anniversary. The play "I Cup" which was based on a never published David Mamet, Tony Kushner collaboration was written and performed by The UNC School of Performing and Visual Arts, and was a monumental undertaking spanning decades. In the lead role lies the seemingly benign and flamboyant Vance Fulkerson. A toupee'd and lifted Musical Theater professor with dreams of establishing a Musical Theater powerhouse in the middle of farm country. With his hilarious anecdotes and unorthodox teaching style ( At one point he has a whole class braying like donkeys and eating invisible apples) Fulkerson quickly establishes himself as the quirkiest in a quirky department.

The first act has some solid performances with Tom McNally as the department chair, who hilariously battles ailments, and personal matters while playing Willy Loman in the play within the play. Also of note are the odd couple of Mary Martin and Heather Hollingsworth who bring some order and more wacky fun accordingly to the frenetic hilarious pace of the first act, and a cameo by Paul Mocovack who is lovably and clearly out of place in the confines of a small town. All the while a continuous parade of handsome young men come in and out of the rascally Fulkerson's office.

It is interesting to note the speed and hilarity of the first act and how they are used by writer/director Vance Fulkerson to draw attention from more sinister happenings. All the while the unseen Dr. Skinner is hot on his trail, Fulkerson manages to distract through incredible acts of stagecraft and powerful audience manipulation. But the chorus of young men is difficult to ignore, and by the end of the first act it is clear that there are severe cracks beginning to appear in the plot and believability of his acting.

The second act takes a dark turn almost immediately. The supporting characters have grown more serious, and so too has the world. Post 9/11 Greeley sees roles reversed with Mary Martin (Now Schuttler) bringing academic credibility with her PhD. Gone are Mockovack and Hollingsworth and their constant comedic presences, replaced by John Leonard and Monty Black who do an honorable job at keeping humor in the slow descent to hell, though in more of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern manner rather than the Punch and Judy antics of Hollingsworth and Mockovack. McNally has been replaced by the able but noticeably absent David Grapes, and the omnipresent Dr. Skinner has retired, allowing Fulkerson to have complete vulgar control of the mess that is to ensue.

This is where what a once promising play takes a nosedive into a canyon in a great flaming ball of shit, from which the show never really recovers. The discovery of a hidden camera (Talk about a deus ex Machina) by one of the dozens of interchangeable young men who had paraded in and out of Fulkerson's home, inside his bathroom marks the very low starting point of the whole nasty business. Evidently filming urinating men is somehow erotic, though i fail to even remotely understand this. Unbelievably, the litany of cliched sexual misconducts continues, all leading to the inevitable discovery of kiddie porn inside a vault. The unoriginality of this development aside, you would think that this subject matter would be treated with some sort of respect or shame by Fulkerson, who has now been apprehended by the police. Rather than attempt to salvage some decency or give some credulity to an already awful story, Fulkerson, who was perfectly at home playing the rascal in the first act, casts himself into the role of benevolent pornographer. Filming willing participants to raise money for his ailing mother. Un-fucking-believable. Fulkerson's, pleasantly hammy shenanigans in the first act are now completely forgotten and he proves himself a wretch. With hidden cameras, child pornography, abuse of power, manipulation, hair pieces, botox, cave hideouts (I don't want to give everything away) , and the ever present shrill sounds of his musical theater "technique", Vance Fulkerson managed to take a promise of broadway and education and turn it into a fastidious, tacky soap opera in the worst traditions of community theater.

To subject an audience, students, faculty, friends and family to this terrible, terrible grotesque circus is criminal. I am sorry I had to be a part of it. I am sorry that terms like "sexual exploitation of children" ended up smearing themselves all over my cherished memories. In the end, Fulkerson's terrible performance and show underscore what i had suspected all along. That there was little artistic sensibility in this man's life-play. Just tacky horniness underscored by the great American songbook and barely disguised by academia. Run away from this spectacle. Do not look back and do not try to make any sense of it. It is as pedestrian as theater gets.

Please join me next week as i review The Bush Presidency as performed by The Country Dinner Playhouse.

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