There's a wonderful slice of Americana playing just north of Williamsburg, VA where you can experience the curious phenomenon of the dance marathon as living history. Yousa, Yousa,
Yousa it's the Jack Marshall tour de force production of Marathon `33 (as in 1933) by the late June Havoc, now
concluding the season at The American Century Theater (to 8/25). Yes folks, over 4 months of continuous movement, compressed into 2 ½ hours, with one rest period.
How long will they and you all last?
The intersection of hard economic
times, heavy-handed promotion, and a desperate populace set against a backdrop of change - political as well as artistic -
will conjure up uncomfortable associations today. When entertainment is your only escape, vicarious competition may
be the best pleasure. To be sure, this sort of unscripted reality show has been with us from the Roman Coliseum and
vestigial elements linger on. Perhaps the only thing that distinguishes us from the degradation and humiliation
of the past is the consent form. How else to explain the popularity of competitive eating or extreme sports on one level
and NASCAR on another? The sponsorship and medical attention are there also, as is the transfixed public waiting
for the next flameout.
With over 30 actors (plus another 7 dancers
and audience members, one with an infectious laugh); a 6 piece band, a performance space and lobby tricked out as a working
dance hall (with concession stand) courtesy of Michael deBlois and company; and a platoon of directors, designers, and crew,
this is a huge show, a category buster. How big is it? If it were a ship, think aircraft carrier.
If it were an opera, it would be Aida. And an amusement park ride? Try Space Mountain, several trips
For those who haven't seen They Shoot Horses, Don't
They, which was inspired by the play, you can go to TACT's website for background information and an excellent podcast.
Or check out the positive reviews, with which I mostly concur. But the best way to understand the show is from the audience's
perspective. So how does it feel from the seats?
Marathon `33 is mainly non-stop action, starting
with numerous pairs of dancers, moving, talking, and cavorting about a dance floor. The promoter and staff, along with
a doctor and nurse, circulate throughout. There are multiple conversations - radio announcements, couples chatter, "audience"
encouragement - and activities at any given time. There's a lot going on constantly. Like a Robert Altman
film, you have to strain your ears to distinguish the dialogue and adopt a pan and scan mode with your eyes to take in the
action. Mr. Marshall invites you to move around the set to see the show from different perspectives. The director
suggests attending more than one performance - there is a ½ price discount available for repeat visits - to deepen
On the Air
It's conceived as a radio broadcast, so the emcee, played by vocally smooth and visually
debonair Bill Karukas as Ruddy Blaine verbally paints the action for the imaginary listeners, while you get to experience
it "live." Lots of musical effects emphasize the drama. The mix of jokes and period songs give it an
old-timey, variety show quality. To maintain interest, they'll even throw in a "wedding."
The Human Factor
play illustrates the human condition, with characters behaving badly and suffering, yes, but also sometimes acting nobly under
extreme stress. There's backbiting and dirty tricks to gain an edge, with cat fights and brawls - there's one
priceless Jerry Springer-like rumble. But these can alternate between touching vocal performances and moments of sacrifice,
where the contestants reveal their inner qualities. Extreme sleep deprivation induces hallucinatory responses
and episodes of self-revelation.
There's a "throwness" about "the ship of fools" cast - pros
and amateurs, some on their way up or down - who must react to the vagaries of a scheming world. Mainly they come from
the emcee and promoters such as Clyde Dankle (Craig Miller) who toss in impromptu competitions, such as grinds and races,
to whittle down the contestants or tighten up (or change) the rules (no 15 minute breaks), if not break them by fixing the
outcome. Some come, too, from the luck-of-the- draw pairings and their partner's stamina. Yet they keep moving
Vaudeville is giving way to radio, which will
be superseded by film. Amateurs will soon yield to professionals and the tabloid medium will migrate to print.
Everyone's holding fast though and this leads to some bad jokes and a lot of visual gags.
Life in the Theater
play can be seen as a metaphor for the performing artist. The competition's fierce, someone may undermine your efforts
(No!!), and endurance may prevail over talent. And should you be lucky enough to win, there are a lot of hands on your
purse: this production is run like a company store, with deductions for everything you touch. But even if you
fail, there's always hope: the next audition or the next show may be the one.
Going the Distance
This play is a mental workout for the attentive theatergoer. When the lights come down on this show, you'll
feel like one of the contestants, fatigue mixed with relief. It's a lot to process, and at high speed and volume,
but what an experience!
This is a laudable ensemble effort, with TACT's usual attention to
design. Of particular note is the lighting of David Walden which captures the contrast of mood throughout this split-staged
monster set, the costumes of Rip Claassen, which enable the actors to slip into character with ease and authenticity, and
the vibrant and supple choreography of Sherry Chriss.
is in order for musical direction by Tom Fuller and the Fletch Winston band, along with arrangements by Loren Platzman. All
are nicely integrated into Ed Moser's sound design.
script (1963) of Ms. Havoc gives, on the one hand, in terms of spontaneity, but takes away with the other, in terms of cohesiveness.
The main character of June/Jean (Jennifer Richter) - an ingénue who is a mix of petulance and wrath - seems out of
place in this cast. It's likewise hard to warm to her combative partner Patsy (an able Bruce Alan Rauscher) and
a relationship that's headed for elimination. Ms. Richter's best turn is in front of the mic, where she belts
out a memorable "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby to a Dixie Melody" while Mr. Rauscher's verbal and physical gifts are
exhibited in his Vaudevillian routines.
Good performances also
come from Ann De Michele as the sultry Rae, Mary Beth Luckenbaugh as the shimmying (and aptly named) Rita Marimba, Alex Perez
playing the clownish Abe, and Alex Witherow as the vigilant hard-ass Mr. James. And who knew that Steve Lebens as Scotty
had the vocal chops to match his actorly skills. But to all of those other talented performers who poured everything
into Marathon '33, we salute you!
Stars of the Show:
1) Bill Karukas, emcee, 2) Jack Marshall, director, and 3) David Walden, lighting design.
Special mention: Ensemble cast; Rip Claassen, costume design; Sherry Chriss, Choreographer; and Tom Fuller, musical
The sum and magnitude of the parts exceed the whole:
A High Recommended (3 ½ + out of 5 stars).
John F. Glass, August 7, 2012 - All rights reserved