The action of Ann Marie Healy's play is set in Minnesota at the height of a blizzard. We learn almost at the very start that a middle-aged couple has discovered (off stage!) the dead body of their college-age daughter. The off-kilter actions and reactions that follow tell us, in a decidedly unique way, about a terrible emotional storm. It's a storm that does not confine itself to the mother and father but also involves the neighbors who drop in -- as well as the neighbors' two sons, who come along later.
What makes the play so "edgy" isn't the death that sets the it in motion. Rather, it's the eccentric speech patterns of its main characters, all of whom have a tendency to constantly repeat their lines in a sort of upper-Midwest spoof of Mamet or, more accurately, a spoof of the Coen Brothers spoofing Mamet -- minus the word "fuck." We found ourselves growing increasingly impatient with the play until the arrival of the neighbors; with that, the slings and arrows of outrageous dialogue soon began paying off in laughter as the jokes got darker and more revealing with each passing scene. The arrival of the neighbors' two sons sent the story into overdrive.
Healy has written a risky but rewarding play. Director Carolyn Cantor directed it with patience, trusting that the ultimate human truths of the piece would shine through all of the jokes. David Korins's set design was sensationally evocative and Junghyun Georgia Lee's costumes were tartly comic and revealing, as well.
The cast featured Marylouise Burke in yet another of her pixilated performances, this one decidedly deeper than her previous efforts. Daniel Ahearn played her slow-witted but sincere husband, Boots. Guy Boyd was the embodiment of an almost satisfied middle class while Rebecca Nelson was the matriarch with the mostess, ruling her husband and ruining her two sons, played with winsome honesty by Ted Schneider and Daniel Talbott. What a sensational ensemble this was!
We were prompted to write again, briefly, about last week's MAC Awards ceremony because we received a number of phone calls and e-mails about the event. As it turned out, many more MAC members wanted to participate in our informal poll concerning the quality of the show. The cumulative opinion is that the show was an even deeper disappointment to the cabaret community than we previously reported.
The calls and e-mails caused us to consider again how the show might have been most readily improved. One of this year's MAC nominees succinctly said, "If the theme of the evening was to have MAC Award winners sing MAC Award-winning songs, then why not ask the winners who are associated with those songs to perform them? Naturally, these performers have an advantage in putting the songs over." The only time director Gerry Geddes actually followed that prescription was when he had Helen Baldassare sing "The Girl Who Put the Sin in Cincinnati" (written by George Winters). It worked because it's one of her signature songs. But why wasn't Tom Andersen asked to offer his moving rendition of "Yard Sale," a song of his own composition? Why not have the MAC-honored songs done by the singers who have already honed them to perfection?
If the intention of the MACs is to show the world that many of our cabaret performers are outstanding talents, MAC has got to provide outstanding entertainment at its showcase event. This doesn't mean big stars, it means great performances. They exist by the truckload in cabaret -- and we'd like to see more of them at next year's MAC Awards show.
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