Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse (aka “The” Vineyard Playhouse) does many things well in its continued year-round operations, and one of the highlights to me is their summer series of Monday Night Specials, a one-off staged reading of a new script at some stage in its development. This summer I could only see one of the offerings, and so this past Monday I was in the audience for the large cast staged reading of A Month in the Country, newly adapted by playhouse artistic associate Carol Rocamora.
A large cast of at least 12 actors in a wide range of ages gave life to the story. The Playhouse often brings back actors who have been seen in fully staged productions for their readings, so not only did I know 5 of the featured actors, I had seen a few more of them in other projects, and there were a few that looked familiar from one thing or another.
In a staged reading, sometimes the presence of the script and accompanying music stand can serve as a distraction to the audience, along with the additional actors sitting and reading along. That was not the case with this evening. A subtle attention to detail and character moments, coupled with some quick thinking on account of the actors, ensured that I (and hopefully other audience members) quickly left the “real” setting behind and felt instantly transported into the character’s world.
In the second act, it became even more clear that the actors were comfortable with going the extra mile, as the play included not one but TWO rather passionate kisses between characters, along with implied other entanglements. Relate-ability was key here too, as it was clear that the actors were having fun with those big moments! (as opposed to possibly getting swept up in the heightened drama within a fully staged production.)
The Monday night specials continue to well represent some of the hallmarks of creative live theatre and dynamic in the moment adventuring that often leads to the most rewards.
As part of an extended stay back on my family homeland of Martha’s Vineyard, I was excited to attend a show at the Vineyard Playhouse, the island’s resident professional theatre, for the first time in several years.
This show, Search: Paul Clayton, took a historical docudrama look at an individual who was involved with Bob Dylan’s early career and genesis as a musician. Sadly, Clayton committed suicide in 1967 at the age of 36. He had humble beginnings here in Massachusetts (New Bedford) and then developed an affinity for the state of Virginia after attending school in the Charlottesville area. Later, he migrated for New York City and the early days of the folk music movement, where he remained until his untimely death.
The story focuses on Clayton’s music and some personal entanglements in a manner reminiscent of the recent film Inside Llewyn Davis. However, this story is ultimately told in a more upbeat way, in spite of Clayton’s personal difficulties and challenging social relationships. We meet his parents, briefly, a few of his New York acquaintances, and most importantly, the young singer Bob Dylan, played with winsome charm by Jared Weiss. Peter Oyloe as Clayton shifts back and forth between a narrator role and embodying Clayton. The show also includes a nod to the digital media age (I assume that’s how it was intended) in an early sequence using computer projected images and a digitized voice. The projection elements contribute to the story for about three-quarters of the show, most notably in a back projected road trip sequence.
While I sometimes have mixed opinions about musicals, this one moved right along, for the most part, and was carried by the commitment of its actors and uniqueness of the staging, with minimal props and a simple proscenium stage. It seems to be an excellent way for the recently renovated Playhouse to show off their new capabilities and facilities following a renovation.
I might have enjoyed it more if the songs all contributed to the advancement of the story (some did and some didn’t) and if the script chose to end at the downbeat suicidal moment, which is portrayed on stage. The ensemble demonstrates a tight cohesion in their musical performances, and some members slip in and out of different characters, which was entertaining if not always clear. Special credit must be given to Jaime Babbitt for a gusto-filled performance which she wasn’t shy of enlivening with a classic New York accent.
Music was also a central theme of the late – summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, which I caught with a friend in Maine at the beginning of this week. The film followed a familiar template origin story for its ragtag band of heroes, and it’s inevitable that a sequel will soon appear for the team. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a big studio film that took such an unusual approach to incorporating music into its plot, and I’m sure that will stand out the most in my memory of the film.