I am pleased to report the “Invalid” is ambulatory in Canton thanks to the efforts of the Many Lights Theatre, a small group whose mission statement in part reads: “Many Lights will produce plays that make a difference to the human mind and spirit and have potential for positive social impact.” The company is located in the First Congregational United Church of Christ a couple blocks off the square. They produce two plays a year and the final show of this season was “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. Two tramps, well played by Douglas Okey and Larry Eskridge, sit by the road and wait for a Mr. Godot. They do not remember why they are waiting, only that they must. It is a metaphor on human existence and the irrationality of life. At times it is very funny. It is the kind of play that stays with the viewer. It was a hit when it premiered in Paris in 1953 and was soon restaged in America with Bert Lahr in one of the leads. No one knew quite what it was when it was decided to produce the play at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami Beach where it was a huge flop.
Parisian sophistication did not translate well to the matinee crowd in sunny Miami. They would have much preferred Players latest sold-out offering, “Hairspray,” an upbeat happy musical set in Baltimore in 1962. The production featured many good performances and voices but at the center was Samantha Dean as the irrepressible Tracy Turnblad who is in love with life and aware of the promise of the moment in what was known as “the golden ‘60s.” The show was produced many times locally, as well it should, because of its score, energy and fun.
I wish I could say the same of Eastlight’s latest offering, the grim and rather dull comedy musical, “Hands on a Hardbody.” It’s the story of a group of Texans who are attempting to win a “ter-uuuck.” Think “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” only on a car lot. Eastlight advertised the production as a regional premiere. What was not mentioned was the show only ran for three weeks on Broadway and was probably a tax write-off for the producers. I went because of the director Charles Killen who is one of our most versatile theater workers as an actor playing everything from Shakespeare to musical comedies. He was set designer for “All My Sons” and director and designer for “The Diary of Anne Frank.” His good efforts on “Hardbody” in casting and staging alas could not save the evening from the inherent weakness in the writing, and I slunk off during the 20-minute intermission. The characters are further examples of the hollowing out of the American dream but for those interested, I suggest listening to fellow Texan James McMurtry’s seven-minute anthem “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” (2004) which is on the Internet and tells the story better in much less time.
Bradley ended its season with “Our Country’s Good,” an ensemble piece set in the penal colony in Australia in 1789. The actors play multiple roles alternating between guards and prisoners. Director Susan Felder did a good job with the student cast and they were all successful in their roles. The acting at Bradley has improved under her direction and I wish her continued success as she will be joining the faculty at the University of Cincinnati in the fall.
The TONY awards will be broadcast on CBS on June 12. This year the hip-hop musical “Hamilton” adapted by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda from Ron Chernow’s biography has set a record for 16 nominations. I encourage viewing the broadcast to see what all the buzz is about because the show is sold out through November. With that kind of popularity I may have to change the name of this column.