Device Squads

Currently on View: Puppets, Politics, Pianologue, and Peonage

Right-angled but never rigid in its logic, Diana of Dobson's (Mint Theater) is another tasty sprig in the Mint's growing patch of rediscoveries. A 1908 comedy by the British feminist Cicely Hamilton (1872-1958), ithasn't been played here since its original unveiling, and deserves more notice. Though demonstrably indebted to Shaw and Granville Barker, it has a feisty charm of its own, and may even have repaid the debt by influencing both Misalliance and The Madras House, which postdate it.

Hamilton's heroine, the impoverished orphan daughter of a country doctor, is trapped in the grinding peonage of pre-union sales clerks until a tiny legacy allows her a month's escape: She goes to a Swiss resort, where her outspokenness charms both a peer's debt-ridden younger son and a haberdashery magnate from one of whose chain stores she's been fired. Refusing to marry either, she reveals the shocking truth of her low-class status and flees back to London—where one of the two men duly proves both his love and his willingness to work, just in time to rescue her from starvation on the Thames embankment. This urban Cinderella story bursts with Laborite morals, which Hamilton doesn't hesitate to draw, complete with statistics, but she does her drawing with the elegant hand of a skilled sketch artist, speedily and cleanly, displaying both compassion and humor. The whole picture's there in her swift strokes, needing only to be brought to life. Unhappily, as often happens at the Mint, most of the actors aren't up to the task of animating it, and Eleanor Reissa's direction seems compelled to signal the show's comic identity constantly, with broad overacting and heavy gesticulation, from which only Maitreya Friedman as a sickly shop girl and Glynis Bell as a scheming dowager escape into relatively human performances. Luckily, Hamilton's play is so intriguing that the disappointment is easily outweighed by the sense of discovery.

Communications From a Cockroach: blast from the pest
photo: Richard Termine
Communications From a Cockroach: blast from the pest

George Gershwin was a miserable, lonely, underappreciated man, who always got rotten reviews and was shunned by millions for being a Jew. And if you believe any of that, you probably deserve to sit through Hershey Felder's George Gershwin Alone (Helen Hayes Theatre), in which Felder plays the piano competently, acts uncomfortably, and sings with a piquant lack of accuracy as to pitch. He also manages to get a goodish number of facts wrong and to scant some of the more interesting aspects of Gershwin's output. It would all be easier to take if he didn't spend the evening turning Gershwin into a Gloomy Gus out of a German Expressionist movie. As writer and actor, Felder commits the cardinal error: playing the end at the beginning. Imagine the depressive Gershwin would have been if he'd known he was going to die at age 39, and you can imagine this show.

Blast! (Broadway Theatre), an evening of choreographed routines for a largely male drum and bugle corps, is essentially a piece of softcore gay porn: lines of fresh-faced, hunky young men in body shirts and tight pants gyrating in rhythm and swivelling their brass instruments—as a riposte to downtown's Naked Boys Singing!, a sort of Clothed Boys Blowing. The gay element is prevalent in the music, which samples Barber's Medea, a bit of Bernstein, and two works by Copland (including a chunk of Appalachian Spring—the evening's also an homage to Martha Graham, who commissioned both that and the Barber). For a finale, the cast marches out to meet you in the lobby, where fast talkers can chat them up for possible future dates. They probably need your money, too: This reprehensible enterprise is carried on as non-union peonage, with the performers, who function simultaneously as cast and onstage orchestra, making less in eight performances than I will for writing this one article—and my paper's not famous for its munificence. I think it's time they played the hit tune from the end of Waiting for Lefty.

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