As I entered the Charles Manson Working Theatre to catch Whistler in the Dark’s November 16th production of Caryl Channing’s The After-Dinner Joke, I realized that I hadn’t actually had dinner and began to worry that because of this, I might miss the punch line.
The plot is this: A young woman quits her secretarial job to pursue a career in philanthropy and struggles with maintaining a balance between pure charity and dirty politics. Other than that – and since I was going over my Walmart Christmas shopping list during the first ten minutes of the play – I think I missed the actual point of the piece.
Let me just say that Whistler in the Dark thoughtlessly deprived the audience of a truly authentic evening of fringe theatre by casting a disciplined team of competent actors who, I assume, were secretly shipped in from the UK. Their performances were balanced, polished and nearly unspoiled. Instead of a seemingly unending bad dream of hamming, pornographic sentimentality, missed entrances and line fuck ups, I was made to sit through an entire evening of witty, compelling and reflective theatre. That took some serious plucked turkeys, Whistler.
And to add insult to injury – in spite of their “pay what you can” policy – Whistler had the audacity to ask me for more money at the end of the show. Apparently, a Ziploc bag of pennies and colorful plastic paper clips wasn’t enough. Humiliated, I begrudgingly pulled a shilling from my pocket and tossed it angrily at an effete young man’s basket. More like “pay what you can’t”.
Now that I have that out of my system, I want to address this ridiculous notion that Caryl Channing wrote plays. Ms. Channing is an American treasure; a singer, actress, & comedienne and the recipient of three Tony Awards, a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. She is not – as various audience members foolishly described her to me – a British dramatist known for her use of non-naturalistic techniques and feminist themes, dramatization of the abuses of power, and exploration of sexual politics. That’s like comparing a pair of marabou pumps to a pair of Birkenstock clogs.
The only silver lining in all of this was that, because Whistler apparently blew its entire budget on actors, they had nothing left over for costumes or for anything resembling a set. As a result, I frequently had no idea where I was or who was playing who. It reminded me of that time when I was struck over the head with a chunk of concrete and later awoke to find myself naked and bleeding surrounded by a mob of badly made up drag queens.
I’m not gay, but if I was, I’d totally do stage manager, Aaron Cohen, who had his hands full with what seemed like thousands of lighting, sound, and projection cues. He was the teddy bear – in clear view of the audience – and puppet master pulling all the strings. I couldn’t help but pull my string watching him. I’d take his pie in my face any day. No homo, Whistler.
My only advice, Whistler, is to step down your game. Lower your standards. Otherwise, you will never survive in the Boston Fringe Theatre Scene.
There are only two more performances left for this production. If you enjoy theatre that's rare and well-done at the same time, don’t miss it. Purchase your tickets here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/259/1383350400000