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|A CurtainUp Review
People Be Heard
By Simon Saltzman
It seems that professional stripper and Mom Rita Dell Delaney (Funda Duval) was given the impression by Russell (Brian Hutchison), her abusive intermittently estranged husband, that she was signing her name on a lottery giveaway. Instead, she unwittingly signed an application for prospective board alternate. When she shows up, Rita is, however, wholeheartedly supported by gregarious board president Don Mesner (Conrad John Schuck). While the slightly dense Rita's only connections to the school are her young son Danny (Laura Heisler), who suffers from ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and regrettably to the now deceased board member ("he was a good tipper at the club"), Rita is eager to take her seat on the board. The audience assumes the role of community attendees.
We get an initial taste of the play's skewed brand of humor as Jim Schuler (Dashiell Eaves) opens the meeting with a eulogy to the deceased, whose name he keeps forgetting. What Christian fundamentalist board member Linda Yobiato (Kathy Santen) is unwilling to forget, once that Robert's Rules of Order are finally complied with, is her mission to change the school's science textbooks ("they are not kosher") because they don't include creationism as an alternative to evolution. This argument over natural selection vs. intelligent design reaches its nadir in a long-winded slide presentation that ultimately puts Rita, who heretofore has confused Inherit the Wind with Gone With the Wind, in a decisive position.
The public meetings' odd mixture of off-the-wall and dark humor is mainly exemplified by a starry-eyed woman who is convinced she is being sexually abused by aliens from outer space, and a rage-propelled father who wants the board to take action against a young boy who presumably has fondled his daughter in the playground.
Of course, there is time out for Rita to brush up ("I don't have the background") on science and religion at home, as well as try to cope with the fits of her depressed son Danny, who only reads comic books and whose recurring nightmares are dramatized with the presence of Ekaraxu, a menacing Darth Vader-like character (don't ask). But Rita also has to get on with her real job at the Wiggle Room where she dons various fright wigs and g-strings and gyrates and peels to choreography by Peter Pucci and sings simplistic songs like "It's Better to Love than Be Loved."
It must be said that Ms Duval has some nice moves that also get shown off to increasing advantage in a few other attention getters, including a hot little number atop the board room's long table, and even at a Sunni square dance (I'm not kidding) that she attends with Refik (Dashiell Eaves), a Turkish Muslim neighbor with romantic intentions.
The play uses strolling musicians - Steve Tarshis (Acoustic and Electric Guitar), Jonathan Dinklage (Violin, Electric Bass, Harmonica, Guitar) - who appear when needed to support Santen's divertissements.
Eaves has fun with his double assignment as progressive board member Schuler and Refik, the amorous Turkish suitor. Heisler makes the most her many roles (besides Danny) particularly as Pam, the prim and proper secretary, and a stripper who doesn't depend on adjectives.
But it remains for Annie Golden, who plays Margo, the proprietress of The Wiggle Room, a host of oddballs, as well as providing the voice of alien invader Ekaraxu, to get the firmest lock on the play's otherwise inconsistently comic style.
Long, whose plays include The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite,Shaker Heights, and The Virgin Molly, should have taken a clue from the first named show, because that is exactly what seems to be missing from People Be Heard. If you listen carefully, you can hear the beating of a noble heart with a political initiative. But it isn't supported by nearly enough satiric cleverness or dramatic clarity.
Roth, whose musical contributions seem more negligible than invaluable, understandably has none of his songs listed in the program. There isn't much to be said for Christine Jones' set design, Michelle R. Phillips' costumes, and Michael Lincoln's lighting, except that when they are on, they seem to work.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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