Sunday, October 2, 2011
Social Injustice, The Musical!
The other day when I told my friends I was going to Ford's Theatre to see a musical about a Jewish man wrongly accused of assaulting a young girl, one among my fellow dinner companions laughed out loud.
"IIII didn't raaaape you,
(This, mind you, was on Rosh Hashanah. Oy.)
Musicals are supposed to be madcap romps, I guess, like anything with Mary Martin or Ethel Merman in it.
Or, you know, West Side Story or Cabaret. Both dealt with prejudice, as does Parade by Alfred Uhry (book), Jason Robert Brown (composer), and Harold Prince (co-conceiver) and directed by Stephen Rayne.
The fact-based story involves Atlanta pencil-factory supervisor Leo Frank (played by Euan Morton), a transplanted Brooklyn Jew, who becomes a scapegoat when 13-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan (Lauren Williams) is found murdered in the factory's basement.
In the course of the trial and its aftermath, Leo comes to understand and appreciate his Southern (and Jewish) wife Lucille (Jenny Fellner), steelier than any of the other Atlanta magnolias and equal to the challenge of forcing the governor (Stephen F. Schmidt) to reopen the case.
On a Sunday afternoon, the theater crowd is typically touristy, but in my little area there seemed to be a large number of theater afficianados and not just Lincoln buffs. I overheard a word or two before the show and during intermission referring to the Broadway version; others remarked on the accuracy of the events (I didn't quite catch what one person said Uhry supposedly admitted to changing, factually, for the drama).
I, on the other hand, went in pretty ignorant. That's why I couldn't tell my friends why they shouldn't laugh at my going to a musical about an assault case.
Anyway, just as the actors began the performance by casually wandering up the aisles from the back of the house and strolling into position on stage, at least one couple in the audience got up and not-so-casually fled just a few minutes before the end. What they were anticipating, I knew not, exactly. (The young theater-buff sitting next to me had been weeping for the last few scenes.)
The powerful image of an onstage lynching has to be one of the most chilling pieces of stagecraft I've ever seen. It is not one I will soon forget.
ETA (Oct. 3): The ending that I described above isn't the end ending, which I missed because of my sight-line on the left side of the orchestra. At the end, Lucille wanders among her fellow Atlantans, not joining in their rousing chorus about how much they love being Southerners and all that. Her attitude is silent judgment.
But when she stands upstage center, I couldn't see her face at all. Did she join in the chorus or remain in silent judgment? Spoilers welcome, please!