One of off-off-Broadways veteran playwrights - a term that isn't the paradox it sounds since the movement is a good five years old - is Leonard Melfi.
Mr. Melfi's early plays were among the first done at La Mama and Theater Genesis, and his reputation has grown with theirs. He has received a $5000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Random House has published six of his plays in a volume called "Encounters" and his work has been performed off-Broadway as well as off-off.
Mr. Melfi's Times Square is one of the staples of the ever-wandering Cafe La Mama Repertory Company. During their just completed European tour, they performed it from London to Munich. Tuesday night they offered it at the cafe, giving an American audience (and Mr. Melfi) their first look at this very American play.
Unlike his earlier one-acters, which were realistic in tone if not always in situation, Times Square is frankly a fantasy. One might almost call it a ring dance, the center of the ring being the notorious intersecter of the title and the dancers being the sordid people who hang around there.
Except that, to Mr. Melfi, none of these people - not the chippie, not the hustler, not the con-man - is sordid. He presents them as wide-eyed children frolicking in a gaudy concrete playground of strangely innocent pleasures: rum Cokes, birch beer, and spin the bottle. Every night, for them, is New Years Eve; every dawn finds them sprawled about like dolls on the nursery floor.
The cruel event of the play seems to be the anonymous slaying of a lovely bride-doll named Marigold Sobbing, and her subsequent resuscitation via a kiss from a green-clad boy-doll named Mr. Fascination. Ellen Stewart, La Mama's mama, interprets this as a paradigm of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. I was reminded more of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but the message holds in either case: life cuts us down, love helps us rise.
The most attractive thing about Times Square is the freshness of the authors vision. Who but Mr. Melfi would have set a pastoral there? The most unattractive thing about the show is his constant harping on sweet-tooth images, as if The Good Life could be equated with a Hershey bar. This is possibly the most sugary show since The Sound Of Music.
The La Mama company, under the direction of Tom O'Horgan,
is gleeful and attractive. Kevin O'Connor's Mr. Fascination, with
overtones of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, was especially good - suave
but not slimy. The company continues tonight with Sam Shepard's "Melodrama
Play." Monday night they will perform Rochelle Owens's "Futz." All
reservations are gone, and admission is by contribution.
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