Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Joseph O. Patton: The Night they drove the Alabama Shakespeare Festival down

  Throughout a quarter of a century, I’ve experienced innumerable fond moments attending productions at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. And the glimmer never fades. When the lights start to dim on the Festival Stage or the Octagon, I’m always filled with an unbridled sense of excitement typically only felt on Christmas morning… or during the Iron Bowl. From the higher-brow flourishes of a Shakespearian work to a more down to earth offering such as, “Always… Patsy Cline,” I’ve never walked out of those Zeus-sized doors with any hint of disappointment in tow. Until “Menopause The Musical” came along….

  When ASF “staged” the production I was mortified to witness it, even more so because I was foolish enough to pay for it. Not because I’m some insufferable theatre snob but because the so-called play is simply awful. Want a synopsis? Hold on to your box seats! A group of women sing pilfered pop songs in which the lyrics have been bastardized and supplanted with sophomoric references to menopause symptoms. It’s like Beavis and Butthead for women experiencing hot flashes. And after the 37th reference to night sweats and cranky hormones, the awkward attempts at humor fade just a wee bit. Onto my description of the plot itself: There isn’t one. Each song is shallowly strung together by bits of vapid dialogue. Curtain.

  And to be fair, the performers cannot be faulted for simply doing their jobs, nor can the director. Each of the actresses exhibited a well-honed and disciplined voice and miraculously brought a lot of excitement to the stage. But you know what they say about applying lipstick to a pig… then there’s one about polishing something… but I don’t want to stoop to “Menopause The Musical” vulgarities by explaining in detail. And considering the musical’s commercial success, perhaps ASF will now offer something similar from the male perspective, replete with choreographed song-and-dance fart jokes, gratuitous butt-scratching and high-stakes belching contests.

  Now ASF has announced that - as if we did we didn’t get nauseated enough the first time - they’re bringing “Menopause” back to celebrate their coming 25th anniversary repertory season.

  “Menopause The Musical” isn’t entirely without merit… if you’re down for some off-color, knee-slapping, monster truck rally type entertainment, then by all means, haul ass on over to the Alabama Shakespeare when they flop this monstrosity back on stage. But it’s much more suited to a smoky bingo hall or rural community theatre. Perhaps ASF should slap a hand-scrawled banner over the front door when this shows opens, and temporarily change their name to the “Rooster Poot Players.”

  I am not remotely naïve. I fully respect that the theatre must make money. And embarrassingly enough, Hee-Haw type productions such as this draw massive crowds. (Apologies to Hee-Haw, because it was actually entertaining.) Slinging crack rock on a street corner is certifiably a lucrative endeavor too, but it doesn’t add anything to our cultural landscape. But if finances are an issue I’d rather ASF trim costs somewhere, even if it involves producing fewer plays.  Selling your soul and reputation simply to turn a few bucks isn’t worth it. The only consolation here is that the statue of that Willie guy which stands proudly on the immaculate grounds of the Blount Cultural Park faces AWAY from the theatre. Stay classy, ASF!

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

1 comment:

  1. Hi Joseph,

    I enjoyed your post and wanted to take a moment to comment on your thoughts.

    Our Artistic Director recently spoke to a group of hospitality professionals at a lunch meeting. He discussed this year's season, which also includes a world premiere by author and playwright Pearl Cleage which ASF commissioned, an encore production of the Broadway musical Peter Pan, two world premieres co-commissioned by the Department of Tourism based on little-known, real Montgomerians living here at the beginning of the Civil War, Julius Caesar, Much Ado About Nothing and an American comedy about the making of Gone with the Wind called Moonlight and Magnolias. He also spoke about his reason for bringing back Menopause the Musical, despite its obvious, un-apologetically populist nature.

    He described the energy that he observed in a number of sold-out performances of the show at ASF. Around 800 women and men of various ages, social classes, racial backgrounds, and religious views were dancing and singing together and having more fun than they'd had in years. That energy is different than the energy in a brilliant performance of Shakespeare or some other "classier" show, but it is no less valuable to those who are experiencing it. It is still that communal experience that only happens when humans gather with other humans in a theatre to watch other living, breathing humans tell a story or share an experience. Creating that unique, shared moment is what ASF is here to do.

    We know that producing this show is important to many of our patrons, even some who also enjoy those "classy" shows, too, because we've been getting the request to bring the show back since the day the first production closed. We know there are some who will agree with you, and it’s great that people love theatre enough to voice passionate opinions about the quality of art. Thanks for keeping the conversation going. When we stop talking, writing and disagreeing about art then we all really are in trouble.


    Meg Lewis
    Director of Marketing & Communication
    Alabama Shakespeare Festival