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Sex, Sandwiches, & Jad "the Hoople"

Indie theatre everywhere, some of it stone-cold.


"Street Cred" for 500, Alex.

Court House Deli has my vote for best climate-control in the CBD. This sweat-soaked critic found himself in the loving grip of Freon-induced-stupefaction, seated among the cognoscenti at said sandwich-shack on the evil, hell-hot evening of this Friday last. Slavering, the very Polaroid of a satisfied opium-eater, contented fingertips perused clusters of goose-pimples exploding like toy-towns across the dry, salty desert of his tightly woven arms, heavy with waiting for the funny to begin.

A one-night-stand of a show, Love, Sex & Sinus Infections, by local writer/actor David Thornton is supposed to start at 8 o'clock, but in the underground it's understood: timepieces are strictly ornamental. The delay (as announced) has been brought to us courtesy of a last-minute liquor run.

About half-past 8, the lights go down, and an after-hours institution, the rock-and-roll hair-stylist-cum-mono-nom known among scene-makers as "Jad," alone, takes to the stage, strumming an electric guitar furiously and with the measured sloppiness of an overeager folk singer on illegal inhalants.

Original power-ballads nestle snugly between a little Bowie, a little Iggy, and the "ornery one" quickly wins over a skeptical crowd with his fresh, "keep on taking no prisoners" sincerity, coupled with an emo commitment so intrinsically anti-hip that even a balls-out charge toward the big black heart of unbridled egoism becomes absolutely sweet, Jonathan Richman-esque. Cool as the other side of the pillow, to put things plain. Hearing "All the Young Dudes" conjured with blood, sweat, and soul, enhanced by a shimmering Jeff Buckley-inspired falsetto, is (in the oddest way) very satisfying, but like the astronaut said to Chris Ellis, "We have a problem."

The trouble has nothing to do with the performer or the performance. The trouble is meta-mostly post-facto. This column is the "theatre column." It's not "Moment of Truth," the Flyer's weekly sanding of rusty Metal. Sorry enough, though, here we be.

To begin, rather than end or even meld together, an evening of lo-fi theatre with lo-fi rock is, to be sure, a risky move. Let it not reflect badly on the "Jad" -- I'm not opposed to making an audience ill-at-ease. Still, opening acts should, in the best and truest spirit of good times and good rocking, remain an optional event.

Thornton's one-man play is an incomplete ode to hormones and a voyage from the geekish banks of self-doubt to the rocky shores of macho chest-pounding. Character sketches end before characters are ever established, and each character is on loan from the stock-character warehouse in Stock-Character, New Jersey, just north of Trenton where "third" is officially pronounced "toid." All of the characters, that is, but one.

As the show's narrator, a fellow who, Spalding Gray-style, is presumably Thornton himself, the unthinkably thin thespic is dazzlingly frank. His jokes work, not because they are gross (even if they are), but because they are honest, insightful. The believability of Thornton as a basically nice, if predictably underevolved young man on a solitary quest to gather some sense from the cosmic muddle of sex, love, and maladies, both phlegmatic and digestive, makes a somewhat scattershot piece of theatre more than somewhat moving.

Thornton is doubtless a "young dude," toting "the news." His deliciously inflammatory program notes boldly indict the less-than-with-it powers-that-be for encouraging theatre artists to provide "answers" to (I'm guessing here) "the big questions." With all the wonderfully reckless vanity to which no-account youth is heir, Thornton boasts that his is a theatre of questions, questions without answers.

To the eager upstart I offer some possibilities. The answers were writ on empty space before we as critters could wrap our itsy brains about the first slippery how's, what's, or why's. Thus does wild nature cleverly imitate Jeopardy -- America's most popular game show.

Trebeck son Dios, si?

All in the Family

I have in past columns conversely praised Playwright's Forum for its noble mission to produce only original scripts and blasted them for not knowing the difference between writing and word-processing. Harris Freedman's new play, Family Jewels, under the simple and seamless direction of Gene Crain, is an excellent example of why Playwright's Forum is such an invaluable asset to the global theatre community.

The true-life husband-and-wife team of Robert Macintosh and Laurie Cook-Macintosh play, respectively, a responsible but unfeeling brother and a wild, thoughtless sister -- aging yuppies, members of "the sandwich generation," caring for a gruff, failing father played to the false teeth by radio personality (Laurie's real, honest-to-gosh gruff dad) Fred Cook. This family of roll-up-your-sleeves and work-it-out actors, by simply listening (or choosing not to listen) and responding appropriately (in either case), have done better than justice to a flawed script with real potential.

Hypnotic one- and two-word sentences drone on Pinter-style, while spirit-of-Peter Schaffer, ancient images creep to the fore. Freedman can write great dialogue. Unfortunately, the meandering verbiage tends to replace, rather than generate, the play's action, and the lie is made clear via unnecessary clunkers, such as "Mom's jewels aren't worth any money, their value is purely symbolic."

Memory loss, grief, loneliness, and incontinence are the cruel rewards we all reap, given the great good-fortune of being so very long-lived. In this vein, Family Jewels aspires to absurdism. Brilliant themes of witchcraft tease beneath the play's surface, always (alas) fully disconnected from the play. It is a piece of theatre that, at this point, could be tweaked by the writer and made into something truly fine. Or it could slouch horribly toward movie-of-the-week status, depending on how the author uses his magic tool.

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