A new musical and a multi-layered drama open at Barrington Stage Company
PITTSFIELD — The inspiration for "Broadway Bounty Hunter" may be the blaxploitation and martial arts movies of the 1970s — think "Shaft," "Foxy Brown," "Super Fly," "Enter the Dragon" — but its soul and substance belong to Broadway.
The musical — the latest project of Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab — is chock-a-block with inside Broadway jokes. But, notwithstanding the show's freewheeling spirit — especially in the fitful, at times cluttered and clunky world premiere production that opened over the weekend at Barrington Stage's intimate St. Germain Stage — there are things the show's creators want to note, slyly, about ageism in the workplace, particularly stage and film, and how theater artists make their way, find their place, against tough odds.
The show's creators — Joe Iconis (music, lyrics and book), Lance Rubin (book) and Jason SweetTooth Williams (book) — understand the value of absurdity as a way of making a point on stage about absurdity in life. So, they have built a story about a down-on-her-luck actress of a certain age named Annie who shows up at auditions with a headshot that is easily 15 or 20 years old.
She can't get the roles she desires and she doesn't desire the roles she can get. The fates intervene when a martial arts master named Shiro Jin (Scott Watanabe) drops into her life, gives her a crash course in kung-fu and, accompanied by a tough, skeptical martial arts master named Lazarus (Alan H. Green in a vaguely defined performance that hits as much as it misses), is sent off as a bounty hunter to the jungles of South America to bring back a drug lord (a gleefully over-the-top Jeff McCarthy), who has devised a scheme to hook Broadway's young performers on Fierce, a high-energy narcotic that will give Broadway's gypsies the energy to perform 15 shows a week rather than the typical eight.
"Broadway Bounty Hunter" has been created for and around the talents of Annie Golden, a New York stage and film actress who, in her mid-60s, is enjoying success for her role as a partial mute on the hugely popular Netflix series, "Orange is the New Black."
Golden is front and center here, a position with which she seems a bit ill-at-ease. Her performance is tight and a bit uncertain and self-conscious in ways that go beyond stage Annie's occasional disorientation and bewilderment. In a vehicle that needs a firm anchor at its center, Golden is present but not a presence.
There is a certain heaviness of being here. At only two hours, with intermission, the production often feels long. The show also is pitched at an unrelenting grinding high volume that was matched at the opening by overly enthusiastic laughter, cheers and hollers largely from the rear of the audience through much of the first act.
Iconis' score catches the lilt and spirit of those '70s soundtracks but also is burdened by the length of some monologues in song, arias in a sense, that could each use some trimming, especially one by Lazarus and another near the beginning by Annie.
Subtlety and nuance are not part "Broadway Bounty Hunter's" aesthetic DNA but there is room for finesse and sly tongue-in-cheek wit, which flourish in joyous abundance in McCarthy's portrayal of the dastardly Mac Roundtree — a savvy performance that gets the distinction between broad and excess.
Watanabe also is in firm comedic control as Shiro Jin, the kung-fu master who supervises Annie's training and subsequent impossible-seeming mission.
Part of Annie's personal mission in "Broadway Bounty Hunetr" is to find her own signature move. While character Annie finds what she is truly looking for, "Broadway Bounty Hunter" and actress Annie are still searching.
'Tribes' on the Mainstage
PITTSFIELD >> The clutter on Barrington Stage Company's Boyd-Quinson Mainstage is of a decidedly different kind than the clutter on the smaller St. Germain Stage.
In Nina Raine's "Tribes" — which opened on the mainstage over the weekend in an ably acted and directed production — the clutter has to do, largely, with the dysfunctional family that, at the play's opening, is finishing supper in their North London home (evocatively designed by John McDermott).
This is a barely held together crazy quilt of a family, led by its doctrinaire patriarch, Christopher (a suitably curmudgeonly G. David Johnson), who, when he is not teaching himself Chinese, "writes books"; his wife, Beth (a credible, at times moving, Deirdre Madisan), who is trying to write a detective novel while trying to hold on to the reins of her family in the face of formidable obstacles; his daughter, Ruth (Justine Salata), who fancies herself a singer, an operatic one at that; and his sons — Daniel (Miles G. Jackson) who is writing a thesis while recovering from the break-up of a relationship, and Billy (an absorbing Joshua Castille), who was born deaf but was insistently trained to lip-read by Beth and Christopher so he can, they argue, operate in the world in a manner that is not exclusionary and self-defining.
"Making deafness the center of your identity is the beginning of the end," Christopher grumbles at one point, having only moments earlier characterized the deaf as "the f------ Muslims of the handicapped world."
The siblings have been out of the house for some time and now, for a variety of reasons, have come home to their tribe, their family. For Daniel, it is an especially important coming home. His bond with Billy is strong. When Billy forms a romantic relationship with an engaging, attractive, witty young woman named Sylvia (a luminous creation by Eli Pauley), it further undermines Daniel's already shaken self-confidence, especially when Billy and Sylvia move in together in a place of their own.
The real shock wave comes when Billy announces to his family that he has decided to stop speaking in favor of signing. He tells them of his decision in a family meeting in which he signs and Sylvia — who was born hearing to deaf parents but is now going irretrievably deaf — interprets.
He's made the decision, he tells them through Sylvia, because he's found a place he belongs in the company of signers.
All along, he says, "I've had to fit in with you. I've waited. I've and waited. I keep thinking, I'll wait and you'll come to me, but you never do. You can't be bothered."
In a community of signers, "I fit. I belong with them. When I leave, I'm alone again. I'm not hearing so don't pretend I am."
It's not that the family couldn't be bothered, Christopher counters. Billy was taught to lip-read and speak "out of principle. We didn't want to make you part of a minority world," his father responds, testily. "I find this urge to conform deeply, deeply depressing ..."
"Will you shut up and listen to what Billy has to say?" Beth interjects. And that is the crux of "Tribes" — communication; words; language; not only listening but hearing what is said. "Tribes" also is about identity — the ways in which we operate in and out of the various tribes — family; others with whom one finds commonality.
The problems here, however, have more to do with Raine than with the performances on the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage under Jenn Thompson's direction. Raine's symbolism is thickly applied. She takes on more issues than she can comfortably handle as "Tribe's" dramatic focus routinely from one character to the next; from one set of troubled relationships to another and back again, ending on a note of schmaltz that is beyond words.
What: "Broadway Bounty Hunter." Music and lyrics by Joe Iconis. Book by Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin and Jason SweetTooth Williams. Directed by Julianne Boyd; choreographed by Jeffrey Page; musical direction, Joel Waggoner
With (partial): Annie Golden, Alan H. Green, Jeff McCarthy, Scott Watanabe
Who: Barrington Stage Company Musical Theater Lab
Where: St. Germain Stage, Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield
When: Closes Sept. 4. Evenings — Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30. Matinees — Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 3
Running time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
Tickets: $46-$20. 413-236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; in person at box office — Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St.
What: "Tribes" by Nina Raine. Directed by Jenn Thompson
With: Miles G. Jackson, Dierdre Madigan, Justine Salata, C. David Johnson, Joshua Castille, Eli Pauley
Who: Barrington Stage Company
Where: Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield
When: Closes Sept. 3. Evenings — Tuesday and Wednesday at 7; Thursday through Saturday at 8. Matinees — Wednesday and Friday at 2; Sunday at 5
Running time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
How: 413-236-8888; barringtonstageco.org; in person at box office — Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.