Next Act Theatre goes absurd
We don't know if New York dramatist Rich Orloff intended to write "Big Boys" as a sample of the theater of the absurd. Milwaukee audiences don't see much of that stage genre made famous by Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter.
But "Big Boys," which is being given a sharp and punchy production by Next Act Theatre, fits into the category. Opening night theatergoers laughed a lot. As usually happens with this theatrical style, some are amused or stimulated and others not.
Here is the setup. Victor Burlington (David Cecsarini) runs an unnamed business that makes unnamed things, but it is big enough to require Rick Rasmussen's smartly designed smokestacks seen through an office window. By every measure, Victor is a megalomaniac.
Norman Waterbury (Norman Moses) could be named Mr. Milquetoast. He shows up in Victor's office to interview for a job, and the session is more of an existential smackdown than a personal evaluation.
The CEO torments and bullies the meek and decent applicant with his Darwinian life philosophy. Think Ayn Rand on steroids.
This is achieved with all sorts of way-over-the-top pronouncements and declarations from Victor, often expressed in spectacular torrents of words. He likes puns. Crude terms and images are part of his style.
There is a certain demented virtuosity in all of the aggressive spewing, but it becomes tiresome as the show moves through the first act. Then a sudden shift in the wind occurs shortly before intermission.
The browbeaten Norman rises from the dust to espouse the same dog-eat-dog convictions so forcefully promoted by Victor, who is now his boss. It looks like we have a play here.
Although "Big Boys" dates back about 10 years, it certainly could not be more relevant as our culture struggles to find the sweet spot between honor and success in business. Victor tells his minion and us, "the world wasn't built by nice people," and he accuses Norman of being "mired in niceness."
The play asks the ageless question, do nice guys finish last -- or at least out of the money.
Director Mary MacDonald Kerr wisely has the Next Act production speeding along at a brisk clip, and old pros Cecsarini and Moses don't need to go to the gym during the run of the show. They are effectively expending a lot of energy on the Tenth Street Theatre stage.
The "Big Boys" characters are meant to be cartoons, and that is what the two actors deliver. The show runs through Feb. 13.
Shakespeare in 38 Languages
Call it the Shakespeare Olympics. London hosts the summer games next year, and Shakespeare's Globe Theater is planning a spectacle of its own for 2012.
The company, whose theater is only a stone's throw from the spot where some of the Bard's plays debuted, will produce all 38 of Shakespeare's works, each in a different language. The most ambitious multilingual Shakespeare project ever attempted will begin on Shakespeare's birthday, April 23, and run for six weeks.
Among the languages that will be represented are Mandarin, Turkish, Arabic, Urdu, Maori and British Sign Language.
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