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Volume 24, Number 10 — November 2017

REVIEW: What a Long Strange Trip the Audience Takes...


"If you have seen the poster art, you might have gotten the idea that the play contains nudity or simulated sex. It does neither, full-frontal or otherwise." — Robert McKinney, reviewer

...in 'Revolutions' at Barter Theatre

By ROBERT McKINNEY | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | June 07, 2010

*** Review appeared in Bristol Herald Courier on Thursday, June 3. ***

The Barter Theatre has a long history of premiering the work of edge-testing playwrights, including Tennessee Williams, so that audiences here are often the first to see plays that frequently go on to become national and international hits.

Not only does this give us the opportunity to see and more often than not help shape new works, it also allows the playwright to test his creation against an audience that is arguably much more sophisticated than that to be found in nearly all regional theaters.

In addition, the writer also has the advantage of highly capable professional actors, a technical staff second to none and a Shangri-La of sorts aka Southwest Virginia where he can work relatively unbothered by big city annoyances and can, in the words of Sherwood Anderson, "get a good plate of gravy and biscuits at any house he chooses to visit."

The most recent example of this is Barter Stage II's production of "Revolutions" by Richard Alfieri with direction by Arthur Allan Seidelman.

Alfieri has stacks of awards to his credit, and several of his shows, including "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," which played at Barter last season, have gone on to become Broadway and international hits. Seidelman has even more awards, including two Emmy's.

"Revolutions" is designed to blow your mind and it will.

Ty Saybrook (Mike Ostroski), Maddie Marston (Amy Baldwin) and Nick Greenberg (Dan Folino) are three people whose lives were inextricably intertwined at Yale during what is normally referred to as "The Sixties," which was roughly 1964 through 1976. Every year, they reunite in a fourth-story room in a rather seedy, long-ago-demolished hotel in New Haven, Conn., and take turns recreating the scripts of their lives.

The play reminds me of Sisyphus who, you remember, angered the gods and was condemned to roll a gigantic rock up a mountain over and over for eternity because the rock always rolled back down every time he got it to the top.

In "Revolutions," however, Ty, Maddie and Nick, metaphorically chained together by their intertwined past, are Sisyphus collectively, but, unlike the Grecian unfortunate, they get to take turns dictating what the rock's script will be. Also, unlike poor Sisyphus, any one of them can quit rolling the rock any time, but the alternative is spiritual oblivion, which none of them really wants because, well, because they're already physically dead.

Confused yet? It gets even weirder.

As the present reunion runs its course, we learn that the threesome is united by far more than just the music of The Rolling Stones, shared doobies and memories make that nightmares of campus protests. Everybody, it seems, has bedded everybody else at one time or another, therefore Maddie's aborted fetus could have been fathered either by Nick, who is or was gay but who slept with Maddie, or by Ty, who isn't or wasn't gay, but who slept also with Nick at least once. But probably didn't inhale.

Told you it gets weird.

This is definitely not a happy, bouncy Village People, tie-dyed sort of '60s play, although it manages to be extremely funny in places, believe it or not, but it is bitingly brutal in others.

Even if you weren't young and in college during "The Sixties," you will find much to think about in "Revolutions." If you were, as was I, this play brings up a host of memories, but more than memories, it forces one to ask "What if?"

What if I had done this instead of that, if I had gone there instead of here, if I had not been sidetracked from those dreams that I once had? And did "The Sixties" generation, with all of our good intentions and illusions, really make any kind of a difference at all? Should we have just hung out more at the College Inn drinking cheap beer and rooting for the Mountaineers?

We protested war, but war rages on; we marched for equal rights, but rights are still far from equal; we were going to save the planet, but, even as I write this four decades later, crude oil is destroying the Gulf of Mexico. In the movie "They Might Be Giants," the character played by George C. Scott describes himself as a man gone crazy because he cared too much. Did we care too much, so much too much that we quit caring at all?

Not a comedy, not a true drama, not really a tragedy and not even a "slice of life" type play, "Revolutions" may leave you wondering, may leave you depressed or may prompt you to sell everything you own, buy a new Harley-Davidson Road King and go looking for yourself hitchhiking somewhere beside a blue highway just east of Taos, N.M.

The acting is, of course, amazing, especially the rapid-fire back and forth. The set is stark, and the sound, lighting and all the rest right off the top shelf.

A couple of important notes are in order: This play contains a lot of language described in the playbill as "adult" although I would describe it more as infantile, the sort of profanity favored by lexicologically-challenged pre-pubescents. Screaming the "f" word might have gotten attention when Nixon was president; now it just makes one appear stupid.

Secondly, there are flashing strobe lights and the sound of off-stage gunfire.

Finally, if you have seen the poster art for this play you might have gotten the idea that it contains nudity or simulated sex. It does neither, full-frontal or otherwise.

"Revolutions" is most emphatically not for everyone, especially if you don't care all that much about plays that force you to confront your past decisions.

For something that is equally adult fare, but not so in your face, I suggest "Tuesdays with Morrie," which is running in rep with "Revolutions."

Across the street is "Annie," which I haven't seen yet, but that is always a sure-fire family-friendly musical extravaganza.

And, the Barter has scheduled an Elvis impersonator, but you'll have to wait on that until late August.

"Revolutions" plays through Aug. 14.

- For dates, times and reservations, call (276) 628-3991.

THERE'S MORE:

— What did it take to create the poster? Click HERE.

A! ExtraTopics: Review, Theatre